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Saturday, April 17, 2021

A new party has emerged with promises to overcome gridlock in the Student Senate chambers.

Senator Chris Boyett created Impact party, which is a combination of members from both Swamp and Access parties, to clear roadblocks in Senate. In addition to Boyett, former Director of External Affairs Blake Murphy, former Access Sen. Saneh Ste. Claire and former Swamp Sen. Susan Webster make up the party.

But some senators are skeptical, seeing it as a ploy to rebrand Swamp and erase an election defeat.

• • •

In Summer, little was accomplished in the Senate chambers due to party-line voting. With the success of Access party taking the executive ticket in Spring and a large portion of Senate seats, there was a two-party system in Student Government again.

Six of the 13 agency head positions — Accent chairperson, Action SG chairperson, Chomp the Vote director, External Affairs director, SG Productions chairperson and SG Productions comptroller — remained vacant for 105 days.

In July, motions were made to postpone the first reading of reforms to the Student Body statutes after the Senate received the papers only 27 hours before the meeting. Two of these reforms — the 500 and 700 codes — were vetoed Tuesday by SG Student Body President Joselin Padron-Rasines because she said the codes were unconstitutional.

She vetoed the 500 codes because of a clause that would allow for three members of the Senate — the Senate president, Senate president pro-tempore and Budget and Appropriations chairperson — to vote twice for members appointed by the executive branch, once during the nomination process and once during the Senate approval process.

The reforms to the 700 codes would have provided for a single SG-sponsored debate, which Padron-Rasines said restricted the freedom of speech.

Impact party President Chris Boyett, former Access senator, said the party’s goal is to fix gridlock in the Senate by combining members from both Access and Swamp.

Boyett said he is confident in the success of his new party.

"I think that our ideas are refreshing," he said.

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Swamp majority leader Sen. Charlie Brown Jr. (Agriculture) said he agreed with the ideas of the new party. He said the Senate’s purpose is to serve the Student Body, and to do that, senators must work together.

Brown said he still has to decide if he will join Impact, though he would not discourage any of his party members from doing so.

"I do believe unification is in order," Brown said. "I think that the gridlock came from misunderstandings from both sides."

But Minority party leader Michael Christ (Access, Graduate) said it’s just Swamp rebranding itself.

"I knew they were going to change the name right after the (Spring) election," he said. "I guarantee that they’ll present no new ideas other than a face-lift: A new party name, a new slogan."

• • •

Sometimes parties can rebrand to appeal to a new base of voters, said Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at UF.

"These rebrandings typically happen after losing an election," McDonald said.

Some key Swamp members lost their seats when Access took the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Senate seats in the Spring 2015 election. One of those was Susan Webster, but she quickly found her way back in the Senate chambers as a replacement senator for District A and has stayed an independent senator since returning.

Webster said she joined Impact because it will better represent students by having members from both Swamp and Access.

"I saw the gridlock between the two parties, and they were losing sight of the students," Webster said. "Impact will take views from both sides of the aisle."

She said the party is not a re-branding of Swamp, as some members of Access may believe.

Although the party is still developing its platform, many senators have expressed interest in joining Impact, she said.

"In the coming weeks as the campaign moves along, we’ll be announcing our platform," Webster said.

• • •

As Impact starts its campaign, Access will need to figure out its next step.

"I think the students will see through this just like they did Swamp," Christ said. "Hopefully, after this Spring, they’ll get out of the way because we’ll beat them and take over the Senate."

Christ said Access will continue to be a voice for students.

"They say their name is Impact," Christ said, "but in order to make an impact, you have to give access to every student."

McDonald said Access can respond in two ways: by mobilizing more voters or reaching out to Swamp members.

But the number of people who join Impact will determine how Access will need to respond, he said.

"It could be that Impact has no impact – that it’s only four members," McDonald said.

Contact Ariana Figueroa at afigueroa@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @ArianaLFigueroa

Follow Caitlin Ostroff on Twitter @ceostroff

While new party members say Impact is a clean slate, the party’s name has a history.

According to SG election result records, Impact party first formed in Fall 1985, when the party won a majority of seats. The party disappeared after that semester. Impact resurfaced in Spring 2005 when it won five Senate seats, but narrowly lost the executive offices to Gator party in a runoff one week later. Impact won six Senate seats and disbanded after Fall of that year.

Impact was even registered as a party in Spring of 2015, but Boyett said it’s not the same party.

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