UT's Student Government Winners Mix Substance With Satire
UT elects satirical candidates for student government
For a generation raised by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, it's only fitting that two satirical candidates won the student government election at UT-Austin, which has one of the largest student bodies in the country.
President Xavier Rotnofsky and Vice President Rohit Mandalapu, editors of UT's humor newspaper, the Texas Travesty,* are now at the helm of the university's student government, perhaps the most historic (or at least, comically memorable) election winners since Hank the Hallucination – a cartoon – beat now-noted political consultant Paul Begala in 1982. (Due to questionable circumstances, Hank never took office.)
Candidates Braydon Jones and Kimia Dargahi got 46% of the vote in the first round of voting – less than a majority – so the 26% support for Rotnofsky-Mandalapu, affectionately known as RotMan, was enough to force a run-off. Then, with the support of social media, RotMan won 59% of the 9,445 run-off votes – a record turnout. Rotnofsky said that the support was "very nice," and added, "I didn't know people liked me or found me attractive until now." Mandalapu, on the other hand, did not comment due to a fear that he is being bugged.
The duo was supported by college comedy site, Total Frat Move, who shared RotMan's first campaign video as well as their later attack ad (in which they attacked themselves) – notable because neither Rotnofsky nor Mandalapu have Greek connections, which have seemingly been a requirement in previous SG elections.
The Travesty candidates unquestionably benefited from their comedic take, which included campaign platforms promising that UT President Bill Powers will no longer be president of the university after their term – which, of course, will happen regardless. They also stressed the importance of transparency in student government, "mandating everyone in student government wear only cellophane so that they can be perfectly see-through," according to their website LetsTalkTexas.biz, a parody of their opponents' LetsTalkTexas.org campaign site.
But their jokes were far from empty. The pair has already filed a student government resolution that would support the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from campus, which was one of their original campaign points. The resolution is consistent with the campaign, addressing serious concerns of the student body while incorporating humor. According to The Daily Texan, the resolution included multiple pages of fact-based arguments about the statue's removal, but also argued that former Nickelodeon stars Drake & Josh "would have never supported a Jefferson Davis statue on the program." The two have also pledged to join forces with other student groups to oppose campus carry legislation (Mandalapu testified at a recent House committee hearing against the bill).
Neither Rotnofsky nor Mandalapu had anticipated winning, so questions remain about how exactly the new administration will conduct business and whether they'll continue their humorous approach. On the topic, Rotnofsky told the Chronicle, "We're going to try and get work done while maintaining a sense of humor about ourselves. People respond to comedy and honesty." Daily Texan columnist Jordan Shenhar explained their allure: "They lace their comedy with undertones of constructive idealism, rather than destructive cynicism. It isn't that Rotnofsky and Mandalapu want to turn student government into a joke. They just recognize that, as far as most of the student body is concerned, student government is already perceived as a joke." What can be expected from the new executive alliance in the short-term? Rotnofsky said, "We're getting coffee with many different people in student government. Apparently that's where a lot of SG work gets done – over coffee, a diuretic substance that loosens your bowels."
*Mac McCann is currently a staff writer at the Texas Travesty.