Student Government presidential candidate John Lawler was 10 years old when he served in his first elected position as president of the Oak Trailer Park club. As president, Lawler threw birthday parties for children who could not afford them and planned community activities.
Eleven years later, urban studies senior Lawler and computer science sophomore and running mate Terrence Maas are planning more than hosting community birthday parties.
Standing at 6-foot-8-inches, Lawler is asking the entire student body to “go big” on reducing tuition and costs and bringing forward creative solutions. Lawler has served as the College of Liberal Arts representative for the past three years. He said he wants to demolish the brick wall in SG by changing the way the SG represents the student voice on campus by getting outside students involved.
“Student Government, right now, is not about the people,” Lawler said. “It’s an institution.”
Some of Lawler’s goals include creating a UT chapter of the Texas Student Association, an organization that would bring together students from all universities to talk about issues in higher education. He also wants to allow beer sales at sporting events to create funding for academic programs and work to increase profit sharing from the University trademark.
Many universities, such as the University of West Virginia, accumulate up to $750,000 from alcohol sales on campus and also see their alcohol-related incidents decrease by 30 percent once the sales start. He said SG has been accepting the current budget crisis as something out of their control and have not thought about how to contribute to a solution. SG has been too complacent to push for these bold ideas, Lawler said.
He said one of the problems he has with SG is its top-heavy structure, which gives most of the power to the president and vice president. Lawler said the best way to get students involved is to show them the results of SG legislation. He said, if elected, he will drag his desk out in front of the Tower for office hours to be more accessible to students.
Running mate Maas said he heard about Lawler and went to see “him in action” at the Jan. 17 meeting when Lawler first proposed legislation for a tuition referendum. A New York native and a director on West Campus’s Inter-cooperative Council, Maas said when he saw Lawler, he was convinced Lawler was different and that he could get things done.
Maas said he and Lawler can deliver results, and how they go about doing so is important.
“You can reach one conclusion one way if you have somebody just arbitrarily decide it,” Maas said. “And if you reach that same conclusion by going through a process and asking everybody else — it’s completely different.”
Lawler said he is one of the few representatives in SG to expand SG’s involvement off-campus and with the city of Austin. He served two years on the local West Campus Neighborhood Association, an organization that reviews any proposed recommendations to the area by the city and addresses resident concerns.
While serving on the Association, Lawler opposed the 400 proposed parking meters on West Campus last year and spearheaded the SG resolution calling for a tuition referendum on President William Powers Jr.’s proposed tuition increase. Students will be able to participate in the referendum via electronic ballot during the SG elections Feb. 29 and March 1. Henry Davidge, a computer science sophomore at Yale University, went to boarding school with Maas and said Maas was an independent thinker with a knack for coming up with creative solutions. He said people serving in an entity like student government can get out of touch with their constituents, and Maas’ experience living at a co-op and representing people he sees every day will be a great asset.
“People don’t know how populist he is,” Davidge said. “He’s obsessed with how government should be based on the people and what the people say.”
Davidge said he was impressed when Maas mentioned the policies he would implement as vice president, instead of focusing on being elected, a characteristic prominent in student government candidates at Yale.
John’s sister Katie Lawler, a 2009 UT alumna, ran his campaign for liberal arts representative back in 2009. She said John was the one who got her to care about what SG did, and convinced her that SG made a difference in students’ lives. Katie said in high school, John would ride with their father to community planning and zoning meetings for fun.
“I think something that sets him apart is his authenticity,” Katie Lawler said. “He truly believes and loves what he does, and I don’t know if you can say that about other candidates. If he wins or loses, he will still go to neighborhood association meetings after.”