With the Gator and Change Caucus forced to come to a truce by the UF Student Government Supreme Court, functionality within the UF Student Senate has been restored.
SG Senate leadership elections Tuesday evening marked the end to a monthlong political standoff, sparked by the Change Caucus gaining a Senate majority in the Spring SG elections.
Sen. Oscar Santiago Perez (Change-District D) was elected Senate president, Nathan McGinnis (Change-Tolbert) as Senate president pro-tempore and Isabel Ponce (Gator-Business) and Johnny Liu (Gator-District C) as the two members at large.
"I am proud of the Senate leadership for coming together,” UF Supreme Court Justice David Allen, who attended the meeting, said in a written statement. “While some criticized the Court's stepping into the affairs of the Senate, it's clear that it was needed and worked.”
The Senate leadership elections come after a temporary injunction placed on the Senate by the court compelled the Gator and Change Caucus leaders to sign an agreement outlining how the caucuses plan to move past their ongoing political turmoil. Change Majority Party Leader Sen. Evan Rafanan (Change-District D) and Gator Minority Party Leader Santiago Alvarez (Gator-District B) signed the agreement Thursday morning.
Since the Spring SG elections, partisanship has grinded the body’s productivity to a halt — with multiple quorum busts, a perceived filibuster, the reinstatement of a retired caucus and an illegitimate Senate president election. The court's goal with the injunction was to reinstate harmony within the legislative body.
The agreement stated Senate leadership positions would be divided equally among the caucuses at the meeting, with Santiago Perez elected as Senate president, McGinnis as Senate president pro-tempore and the two members at large being elected from the Gator Caucus.
The chair of the Judiciary Committee will be a Change Caucus member, while the chairs of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, Rules and Ethics Committee and Information and Communication Committee will be Gator Caucus members, according to the agreement.
The document also emphasized that by the third Replacement and Agenda Committee meeting of Summer 2023, the Budget and Appropriations Committee should have four Change Caucus members and four Gator Caucus members, creating an equal power balance.
Rafanan is pleased he was able to help the Senate return to a functional state, he said before the meeting.
“It's never been about the committee seats or chairs,” Rafanan said. “It's been about coming to the table to enact the promises we made to the student body.”
While Rafanan doesn’t view the roughly equal power distribution as optimal for the Change Caucus’ ambitions, he said he’s glad both caucuses will have equal representation for when the Budget and Appropriations Committee makes allocation decisions regarding the nearly $23 million SG budget over the Summer.
Alvarez didn’t respond to The Alligator’s request for comment by the time of publication.
Tuesday’s Senate meeting was delayed until 8:15 p.m. to accommodate senators who attended the ceremonial swearing-in of the newly elected executive ticket: Student Body President Olivia Green, Vice President Clara Calavia Sarnago and Treasurer Nyla Pierre. Within 30 minutes of Sen. Catherine Giordano (Gator-District A) calling the meeting to order at 8:25 p.m., Senate leadership elections began.
Without interruption, Santiago Perez and McGinnis were nominated and elected with a roll call vote into their new leadership positions and sworn in by Allen. Soon after, the chamber nominated and elected Liu and Ponce for the member at large positions.
Senators also approved the appointments of three new Budget and Appropriation Committee members per the signed, court-ordered agreement: Sen. Owen Lekebusch (Gator-Business), Samantha Kinggard (Gator-District-D) and Colin Lasch (Change-Graduate).
McGinnis, who was elected in the Fall, said he’s excited to take on his new leadership role and supports the agreement addressing the Senate’s plans to move beyond its political disputes.
“I don't think that anyone in our party really wants full control as helpful as it would be for our legislation,” he said. “We're not trying to become a dominating party. We want to make sure that it is fair within Senate.”
Santiago Perez, the first nonbinary and Latino Senate president at UF, expressed appreciation for being elected into his new role and hopes to be a resource for all student senators.
“I am grateful that I am able to serve in this position,” he said. “I’ve always strived to work for both sides and to act in the best interest of my constituents. I intend to work for the entire student body.”
Santiago Perez also is relieved the Senate was able to break through its gridlock and return to conducting business in the chamber, he said.
“It isn't the most satisfactory to both sides of the aisle, but I think it is necessary to make our legislative branch active once again,” he said.
Contact Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandasfriedman.
Amanda Friedman is a senior journalism major and the Enterprise Editor at The Alligator. She previously wrote for the Avenue, Metro and University desks. When she isn't reporting, she loves watching coming-of-age films and listening to Ariana Grande.