The UF Student Government Senate devolved into finger-pointing and confusion Tuesday night as the Gator Caucus and Change Caucus blamed each other for the postponement of Senate leadership elections.
The 94 senators at the chamber’s first meeting after Spring Break were supposed to elect a new Senate president, Senate pro-tempore and two members at large, per the Rules and Procedures of the Student Senate. This comes after the Change Caucus secured a majority in Spring elections.
However, the Change Caucus wasn’t able to use its newfound legislative mandate. Roughly 50 former and current Gator-affiliated senators signed up for public comment, delaying the meeting’s leadership elections and ceremonial swearing-in of senator elects.
Change characterized the delay as a filibuster to stall the elections that would presumably replace Gator’s hold on the chamber’s leadership positions.
When the body will complete elections remains unclear. In the meantime, numerous unfilled spots on SG committees will stay empty, deterring their ability to complete their responsibilities in a timely manner.
The Senate leadership elections weren’t scheduled on the agenda beforehand because the Replacement and Agenda Committee, which curates the meeting agendas, failed to meet quorum Monday morning due to the absence of committee member and the Change Caucus’ new Majority Party Leader Sen. Evan Rafanan (Change-District D).
Multiple Gator-affiliated senators spoke of their disappointment with Rafanan’s decision to miss the Monday meeting during public comment, arguing his absence was politically motivated. The Gator-controlled committee was supposed to interview and select candidates for the four open senate seats during the meeting, but had to turn away the nine interviewees, mostly previous Gator affiliates or candidates, due to not meeting quorum.
Interim Senate President Catherine Giordano claimed Rafanan confirmed he would attend the meeting Sunday evening and suggested Rafanan’s absence was driven by political gain.
“I was utterly shocked and felt betrayed,” Giordano said. “You must hold yourself to a higher standard. I hope we can do better.”
Rafanan denied accusations of lying to Giordano and missing the committee meeting to push forward his caucus’ political agenda. He told Giordano Sunday evening he was unsure whether he could attend the meeting Monday due to a personal family matter, and couldn’t find a replacement representative for the Change Caucus in time for the meeting, he said.
Interim Replacement and Agenda Committee Chair Sen. Mara Vaknin (Gator-District A) also expressed her disapproval of Rafanan’s absence. She called his behavior an act of disrespect to his constituents and fellow senators and encouraged all members of the chamber to carry out their responsibilities bipartisanly.
“Differing views do not equate to disrespect,” she said. “The behavior that was demonstrated this week is a glaring example of the suffocating partisanship that plagues this chamber.”
Rafanan also said he was disappointed in what he perceived as a filibuster led by the Gator Caucus to stall Senate leadership elections.
“They’re afraid of change,” Rafanan said. “They know that if they did not filibuster this meeting we would have had control of the Senate. Gator strategy is to subvert democracy.”
Giordano refuted accusations of a Gator-led filibuster to stall Senate leadership elections and said she hopes to conduct the Senate leadership elections through bipartisan collaboration soon.
“Everyone’s opinion should be valued, heard and treated with respect,” she said. “Public comment allows students and constituents to speak about their wishes and air grievances to the Student Senate so we as senators are aware of our constituents. It is a vital part of our meetings.”
At the Fall Senate meeting for leadership elections, Gator didn’t show this zeal for public comment after their retention of the majority. After goodbye speeches, Gator quickly elected its choices for leadership. As long as new elections don’t occur, Giordano will remain the interim senate president.
Rafanan emphasized how if the Gator Caucus planned to have over 50 public comment speeches during a meeting intended to conduct business matters, the caucus should have made arrangements to extend the operating hours of the Reitz Union to 1 a.m. An extension would have allocated time for the ceremonial swearing-in of senator elects and Senate leadership elections.
“They talked about wanting to be courteous to the student body,” he said. “There were over 100 people in the Senate chamber today and [Gator Caucus] couldn't give them the common decency to conduct business on the legislative floor.”
Change Caucus members scrambled to suspend the remainder of public comment and move forward with business matters with multiple parliamentary actions throughout the meeting.
Rafanan motioned to postpone the remainder of public comment to move forward with the amendments to the agenda and carry out business matters around 9:30 p.m., which Giordano failed. Rafanan then moved to appeal Giordano's decision, which also failed after the chamber returned from a five-minute recess discussing the matter.
Less than a half hour before the 11 p.m. closing of the Reitz Union, Sen. Raj Mia (Change-CALS) moved to temporarily remove Giordano from her position as interim senate president and elect a new chair, per Robert's Rules sections 62:10 and 62:11. After Giordano failed Mia’s motion, Rafanan again moved to appeal Giordano's decision, which also failed in a standing vote.
The Senate meets every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Senate Chambers in the Reitz Union. The meetings are open to the general public.
Contact Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandasfriedman.
Amanda Friedman is a senior journalism major and the East Gainesville reporter for The Alligator. When she isn't reporting, she loves watching A24 movies, listening to Ariana Grande and reading books she found on TikTok.