Rep. Matt Gaetz op-ed: Vote for Amend. 12 to create fairer process for university representatives

By on October 25, 2012

The following is a guest op-ed from Representative Matt Gaetz. 

Government works best when it is open, honest and unshackled from the control of special interests. No part of government, no matter how big or small, should operate as a pay-to-play racket. This is the fundamental premise underlying the proposed Amendment 12 to the Florida Constitution.

Florida’s colleges and universities are governed by the Board of Governors — a constitutionally created body. Florida’s university students enjoy representation in governance through guaranteed membership on the Board of Governors. That’s a good thing. It allows students to fight for lower tuition and against changes that would water down Bright Futures scholarships as well as the Florida Prepaid College Plan for affordable tuition.

Amendment 12 merely fixes how students are selected to serve on the Board of Governors. Currently, a quirk in the Florida Constitution requires a university’s student government association to join a private lobbying company, the Florida Student Association, in order for the student body president of that university to qualify to serve on the Board of Governors. Dues to the FSA have ranged into the thousands of dollars depending on the student population of the school.

To my knowledge, no other area of Florida government requires joining a private company for participation. Moreover, no private lobbying association such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation or other prominent entities is provided a special seat at the table by the Florida Constitution exclusively for its members.

Proposed Amendment 12 replaces the FSA’s primacy with a council of student body presidents from all of Florida’s public universities. The student body presidents would then select a chair of this council to serve on the Board of Governors. No possibility of dues. No pay-to-play with a private lobbying company. Just a fair, free, democratic process.

Some FSA leaders oppose Amendment 12. No surprise. They have argued it is merely an effort by Florida State University, the most prominent university to opt out of participating at times in the FSA, to realize the benefit of student unity without paying the costs. The FSA suspended its dues requirement earlier this year to try to undermine support for Amendment 12, but it could reinstate the requirement if the amendment fails.

We should not let the FSA stand in our way.

There are some amendments on the ballot this year that sharply divided members of the Legislature. This was not one of them. It was co-sponsored by members of both parties. It passed in the House without opposition, 112-0. It sailed through the Senate, 37-3. Republicans andDemocrats disagreed over plenty of other issues during the legislative session, but they agreed that voters should have a say in this matter. Due to the work of members in both parties, it is now up to you to make the assignment of students to the Board of Governors a fairer process.

I am a former member of the Florida State University Student Government Association. When I was a student (not all that long ago), FSU was a member of the FSA. I found it to be a valuable organization. That said, no private association — regardless of its value — should function as the exclusive portal to governmental representation in our state.

Vote for Amendment 12. Fix this quirk in the Florida Constitution and brighten the promise of fair representation for Florida’s university system.

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