Anna Ellermeier / The AS Review
As the election results came in last Wednesday, The AS Review sat down with Morgan Holmgren, AS Vice President for Governmental Affairs, to ask him about the impacts the voters’ decisions will have on students.
The AS Review: What effects will the outcome of the election have on the students at Western?
Morgan Holmgren: The most immediate and direct impact will be 1033 failing. … 1033 passing would have had a huge impact on Western because it would have limited the state’s ability … to fund higher education. … Because higher education has its own built-in revenue source, it’s easier to cut budgets there than other programs that don’t have their own revenue source. So, 1033, had it passed, would have put the legislature in the position of almost being required to cut budgets at institutions of higher education. And that would probably mean higher tuition for Western students. … It failing will also probably mean that people … won’t have as difficult a time finding public sector jobs once they graduate.
If Referendum 71 passes [Editorial note: at the time of the interview, the result of Referendum 71 was unknown], it looked like something our students generally supported. Clearly, not every student on campus supported it but more students, I think, supported Referendum 71 than opposed it. So, politically that’s good for them. For those students that would like to be a domestic partnership at some point, obviously this means that that domestic partnership has a lot more value.
Outcomes of local election really are not going to have a huge impact on students. Most of the candidates kind of ignored student issues throughout the campaign.
ASR: Why do you think it is that candidates running for local elections do not include issues that affect students in a college town like Bellingham?
MH: Mainly because college students don’t vote. We had 300 people turn in ballots on a campus with 13,000 students. … I’m sure a lot of them mailed it in, but at the same time, you would expect more people to use the ballot box than just 300 out of 13,000. … At the same time, a lot of students don’t register to vote in Bellingham. … A lot of them stay registered to vote in their hometown because they feel more actual connection or [have a better] understanding of the political surroundings. Even though, while they’re here, they live the majority of their year in whatever town that college is in and it’s likely that those local elected officials have a much larger impact on their day-to-day lives than the students realize or than any local candidate would have in their home town.
ASR: What would you say the impact would be on the local candidates’ platforms if a larger portion of Western students voted locally?
MH: I think you would need a couple of things to get local candidates to really care about student issues. The first is you would need a larger percentage of students registered to vote in Whatcom County. Second, you would need them to ask for something from the local candidates, to … make it clear what their [the students’] political perspective is. Right now, [of] the students who are in Bellingham, very few of them know what’s going on in local politics or know what they would want to see out of the candidates. Even if they’re registered here, it doesn’t mean their necessarily educated on the issues. … It’s hard to judge local candidates a lot of the time on its own, and then if students don’t have the interest in judging them. And then [third] they would have to turn out the vote. Obviously they would have to ask for something, hopefully they would find the candidate who would represent those issues and then they would have to elect that candidate. Groups of people don’t just magically start getting what they want because the candidates know that’s what they want. You have to make it clear that those are the things you want.
ASR: Do you think that increased political participation in local elections among students would have a positive impact on the university?
MH: I think that the one thing that students would really see, guaranteed, out of political participation is a lot more respect from … the local elected officials. Right now, students are scapegoated (sic) a lot of the time as being all of and every part of the problem in Whatcom County or Bellingham. … Students are clearly part of the issue and it’s easier for local politicians to not go out there and say, “Well part of the problem is the people who vote.” No, they just go after the people who don’t vote and say, “It’s their fault. They don’t vote so we can rant and rave about them,” because there won’t be any consequences for that. … You’re always going to have the people who party a lot and the people who don’t in a college town. I don’t think there is a lot of discussion about the value that college students bring. … I think it’s more of just about the negative impact. There’s not as much weighing when it comes to local politics.
I think the tangible impact we would feel from voting … [would be] we would see a lot more student-friendly regulations in town. … I think a lot of it is just perception and I think that will have long-term impacts when issues about the students come up. Right now, the issues facing students in the city and county are WTA, rental issues, and then just communication between the local long-term residents and the students. There isn’t that communication, there’s not that mutual respect for the most part. I think students getting involved will allow the leadership in the county to stop using students as a wedge issue in Bellingham.