Kristen Mitchell / Campus editor
For the first time in almost 50 years, an Undergraduate Student Government presidential candidate is running unopposed. For the first time in about 10 years, Ohio State students are expected to elect a two-term president.
USG President Taylor Stepp, a third-year in public affairs from Jackson, Ohio, is the only presidential candidate slated to be on the ballot when students can start casting their vote on Feb. 27. That hasn’t occurred since 1966.
But 50 years ago when Tim Neustadt ran as the only presidential candidate for Student Senate, which would become USG, things were different. USG was controlled by two political parties, the more conservative Buckeye Political Party and the liberal Student Congress Party, and the election wasn’t really unopposed.
In 1966 Neustadt, a junior at the time, wasn’t running against a candidate, he was running against the Free Student Federation referendum put forth by the Student Congress Party, calling for the abolition of the Senate.
Student government was at a crossroads.
The polarization of students was a direct reflection of the ongoing war in Vietnam, said Neustadt, now 67 and living in Los Angeles.
“The war was very real to the average student,” he said in an interview with The Lantern. “It was the ’60s, everything was being challenged … it was very alive.”
With the threat of being sent to war if men didn’t perform well in school, Neustadt described the vibe on campus as tense at times.
“Nobody trusted anybody, nothing was the same as it traditionally was,” he said. “The campus wasn’t all about football and fraternities and dating and getting out in four years and entering the real world.”
If you weren’t in school, you were going to the military. You were going to war, he said.
According to The Lantern archives, 4,814 votes were cast for the Free Student Federation referendum, but it wasn’t enough to disband Student Senate as the Student Congress Party had wanted.
With Neustadt’s presidency secured, student body leadership was on a path for change.
More than 10,500 students voted in the 1966 Student Senate election, which, according to a 1966 Lantern article, set a voter turnout record that has only been topped once, with more than 13,000 voting in the 1972 election, according to data on past USG elections.
When Stepp ran against three other candidates for president in the 2012 USG election, turnout was at its highest since 1975 with 8,279 ballots cast.
Stepp said running unopposed gives him the opportunity to focus on doing his job without getting caught up in the election, but Neustadt said it isn’t the best circumstance for the university.
“The good news is he’s going to win, the bad news is he’s going to have to look at himself and say, ‘What did I earn?”‘ Neustadt said.
The question could pose a challenge for the incumbent.
“He’s going to have an easier election than I did, but he may have a harder term. I sure knew where people stood,” he said. “Apathy is tough.”
Eddie Pauline, who was elected as USG president in 2001 and 2002, is the last person to hold the USG presidency for two terms. Pauline returned to the university more than three years ago and works as the director of the Buckeye Leadership Fellows Program, a Student Life-run program.
While Pauline was “thrilled” to see Stepp have the opportunity to run for re-election, he said he was disappointed to see that no other candidates chose to run.
“I’m shocked no one was interested in running,” he said.
As a two-term president, Pauline said Stepp’s familiarity with campus operations will allow him to accomplish more during his second term because there won’t be the learning curve that comes with presidential turnover.
“You can really focus on policy and making the changes you want to make,” he said.
According to past election results, there have been four two-term USG presidents, including Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who was elected in 1998 and 1999. Mandel ran against Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown for a U.S. Senate seat last November, but lost to the incumbent.
In a Wednesday interview with The Lantern, Mandel called Stepp a “strong leader with compassion and intelligence,” and had some advice for the candidate.
“Always do the next right thing, regardless of political pressure, regardless of media pressure. Just do right,” Mandel said.
The lack of interest or follow through with candidacy, Pauline said, could be detrimental to USG’s future and student wellbeing.
“My concern is that if students aren’t running this year, will the trend continue?” he said. “You can either look at it as a vote of confidence or an engagement issue.”
Former USG presidential candidate Niraj Antani prefers the first option.
“Obviously there are people interested in running as USG president … I don’t think it’s an apathy thing at all. I think it’s an acknowledgement of Taylor’s leadership, it is a vote of confidence,” he said.
Antani ran against Stepp in 2012 and now serves as senior counselor to the president. He said while he was disappointed he lost, he’s proud of what USG has accomplished under Stepp’s watch and what is to come in the future.
Since Stepp took office, USG has facilitated a mutual aid agreement with OSU Police and Columbus Division of Police, created a free bus service to take students to several cities throughout Ohio on select weekends and created a semester appeals board where students with problems relating to the semester switch can turn to for help.
Fellow 2012 USG presidential candidate Kyle Strickland attributed the unopposed election to the “messiness” of last year’s campaigning and the semester switch. With classes ending in April and campaigning starting on Sunday, Strickland said he believes contenders didn’t have enough time to form their campaigns.
Fear of running against an incumbent is not the reason why campaigns weren’t petitioned, Strickland said.
“I don’t think it’s because anyone was afraid to run against him,” he said. “There were several teams that were put together but it just fell through … people didn’t have the time to put stuff together.”
Stepp confirmed that several teams were preparing a campaign before he was sure he would run for re-election.
“There were probably four candidate teams that were not campaigning but were assembling people and recruiting people,” he said. “But now most of those individuals are working on our team.”
Had he not petitioned for candidacy, Stepp believes there would have been four other teams on the ballot, and “fully expect(s) someone to have either a joke (write-in) candidacy or a legitimate one.”
Stepp said if no one chose to run for president, a write-in campaign would have likely been established, and if not, the elected senate would vote on the president.
Write-in candidates are subject to the same USG bylaws as formal candidates on the ballot, including the same $3,500 campaign spending cap.
Students have between noon on Feb. 27 and 11:59 p.m. on March 1 to cast their ballots for USG president. The last day of Stepp’s term is scheduled for March 27.
USG Vice President Kevin Arndt is graduating at the end of this year, and Stepp is running for re-election with Josh Ahart, a third-year in public affairs who has previously served in the USG senate.
While not having to run against a competitor to keep his position is a relief, Stepp said he’s looking forward to continue focusing on his job throughout the rest of the semester.
“I’m excited that we can do this. I’m excited about what this means, because I believe it means we have a very unified organization and an organization that’s ready to move forward, and not focus on divisive elections,” he said.
Neustadt is still involved with OSU. In 2004 he set up the David J. Neustadt Scholarship Fund in Greek and Latin, a scholarship fund in theDepartment of Classics, which he studied while in school, named after his brother.
Neustadt said his involvement in USG was “invaluable” in developing his career in business, and the role the university played in his life was even greater.
“Ohio State is the biggest impact I’ve had on my life, because it was still a very nurturing place … they were always there for me,” he said.