Students come face to face with lawmakers at Lobby Day

(2.25) ASA
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK: Aviation safety graduate student Matthew McCoy, student body president for the Polytechnic campus, clarifies points on his schedule at ASA Lobby Day at the state Capitol. (Photo by Molly Smith)
Published On:
Thursday, February 25, 2010
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The Arizona Students’ Association hosted its 23rd annual Lobby Day Wednesday, giving students an opportunity to meet with state lawmakers to discuss Arizona legislation pertinent to higher education.

More than 100 Arizona college students, including about 30 students representing all four of ASU’s campuses, showed up to help ASA lobby legislators. The nonpartisan, nonprofit student advocacy group represents Arizona’s more than 120,000 university students, working with the state Legislature to promote higher education.

This year’s Lobby Day focused on gaining support for three pieces of legislation — to create a state-funded work-study program, to establish a common course numbering system for all state universities and community colleges and to simplify and increase voter registration among students.

By having students meet with legislators, ASA board members said they hope to get the attention of the people who have the most power to control these issues.

“As students, we face a lot of issues, so it is important for us to come together with a united front,” ASA chairwoman and UA student Elma Delic said. “Today provides us with an invaluable opportunity to talk with legislators about these issues as one voice.”

Though the individual students had various reasons for participating in Lobby Day, they all shared the goal of promoting higher education.

“We’re all here because we are all pursuing degrees in higher education,” said Carol Ralls, vice president of communications for the Mesa Community College student government. “The decisions made here will have an effect on all of us, and when we have the opportunity to petition our legislators in this way, we have to take it.”

The day started with a review of lobbying techniques that many of the students learned in seminars last week. They were then split into groups of two or three with a group leader to meet with individual legislators throughout the day.

The group leaders were students and educators who are highly invested in ASA and familiar with the organization and the legislation it advocates for. Their main responsibility was to cater the meetings to the individual legislators.

ASA government affairs director Erin Hertzog stressed that students don’t have to know miniscule administrative details of the legislation in order to successfully advocate for it.

“You’re there to put a face to the bills,” she told students before their morning meetings. “You don’t have to be a resident expert; most of them are already familiar with the bills.”

Each group of students met with at least two legislators over the course of the day. Several legislators also joined the students for lunch.

Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, said he supports all three bills ASA is promoting, but still likes to hear directly from students.

“This gives us backup for arguments we, [as supporters of higher education], have been making for years,” he said “You’re giving us the information to go in there and say, ‘I met with students yesterday, and this is what they think about this legislation.’”

Schapira told students they really do have the power to influence what happens at their schools, including the tuition increases at ASU, UA and NAU.

“The University has three sources of income: what we (state legislators) give them, tuition and grants,” he said. “The last is contingent on what kind of research and work going on at the time, and so tuition is essentially based on what they get from us.”

Schapira went on to explain that as the Legislature cuts funding to higher education, the universities are forced to raise tuition in order to maintain the same level and quantity of services to make up for the difference.

“Don’t blame the University. Don’t blame [ASU President Michael] Crow. Blame the Legislature,” he said. “Make sure students know to hold the Legislature accountable. That’s who can really make the difference.”

Delic agreed that having students speak with legislators gives them the power to gain lawmakers’ support.

“It was extremely successful. For one, we got our voting information bill passed in the House today” she said. “Overall, having a huge student presence at the state Capitol shows the Legislature how important higher education is and how much impact students have.”

Political science junior Lauren Downey said she learned a lot by meeting with Tempe’s representatives.

“They gave us a really interesting combination of information,” she said. “It’s good to know they are there and support us, but they also provided information about what it’s really going to take to get it done and how hard it’s going to be.”

Reach the reporter at keshoult@asu.edu