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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Not all is as it seems with the new Impact Party

It’s that time of the semester again.

This Fall’s Student Government elections are approaching, and — at least for me — paranoia is running high.

SG appears to be a model of the unhealthy, dysfunctional two-party system we’re all accustomed to. If anything, the existence of a new, third party whose supposed aim is to overcome the deadlock and "unite" the two parties is the weirdest thing about it. But that new party is exactly what’s creeping me out.

Impact Party, as it’s called, sounds cool. No one likes deadlock. But forgive me if I’m skeptical.

For those of you who are new here or unaware of how things work, UF SG was effectively run as a single-party dictatorship for most of its history. Indeed, from 1999 until Access Party’s victory last Spring, SG was controlled by a single, shadowy coalition commonly known as "the System."

The System is a coalition of the most powerful members of the most powerful organizations on this campus: Florida Blue Key, the Greek houses, and (until last Spring) multicultural associations like Black Student Union, Hispanic Student Association and the Asian American Student Union (the "communities"). The way it worked was this: well-connected members of these organizations would broker power among one another. Deals between organizations would guarantee things like senate seats, appointments to control SG organizations like ACCENT and SG Productions, and funding. The result of these dealings becomes the ticket for the System’s front party.

Contributing organizations are expected to motivate their members to vote for the front party du jour. Since 2010, that party has been Swamp. Swamp’s scandal-ridden predecessor, Unite Party, ceased to exist in that year, but nearly all of its former leadership ended up running the then-new Swamp party, and the cycle continued. A method of reward and punishment used to secure uniformity and votes kept the organizations in line — especially the communities, who were guaranteed seats in the Senate if they went along with the System but could lose funding and influence if they did not. These groups opted to submit to hegemony until last Spring when they bravely supported Access party.

Within organizations, blatant social pressure is used to get members to vote for the System’s party. One appalling example comes to mind when a Unite party official praised a sorority for denying food to its pledges until they voted for the correct party. Outside challengers have it worse, from personal intimidation to tapping phones and destroying the cars and scooters of those who would speak out.

When an opposition candidate, Charles Grapski, ran for SG President in 1995, flyers of "his" criminal record for child molestation were posted around campus. Grapski later sued FBK for defamation of character and won his case.

Another classic move is for party functionaries to dispose of copies of the Alligator, should it endorse a non-System party (the Unite Party Senate president got caught doing this in 2010).

All of this information, by the way, is easily available in online archives of the Alligator, the Gainesville Sun and other newspapers across the state. Not exactly a secret.

A consistent part of the story is the System’s party rebranding itself after loss or scandal.

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I’d heard rumors that Impact was, indeed, this fabled third party. But I didn’t believe them…until I read that Swamp Party did not register for elections this Fall and will not be on the ballot.

The theory solidifies when you look at Impact’s leadership, most of whom were former Swamp officials, and many of whom donated $100 or more to the party, according to a Facebook post from a group titled Stop UF Impact Party.

I really do wish these were just incoherent ramblings and that I’m just a tin foil-hatted, paranoid conspiracy theorist. But that’s not the case. For the love of God, stay informed and come election time, make the ethical decision.

Alec Carver is a UF history junior. His columns appear on Fridays.

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