SGA presidential debate sets stage for March 8 election

Two days ahead of the election, presidential candidates Madeline Martin and Sarah Shield met for the first SGA debate since 2019.


CW / Caroline Simmons

Student Government Association presidential candidates Madeline Martin and Sarah Shield debated Sunday, March 6, in the UA Student Center Ferguson Theater.

Student Government Association presidential candidates Madeline Martin and Sarah Shield discussed transparency and accountability in front of 250 people at Sunday night’s debate. 

The winner of this year’s presidential election stands to make SGA history: This will be the first time a woman is succeeding another woman as president. 

Jackson Harris, assistant director of the UA Civic Engagement Center, moderated the debate — the first since 2019. 

Last year, there was no presidential debate because all executive positions were uncontested. Instead, the SGA hosted an Executive Council candidate forum

Following a backstage coin flip that determined the order of opening statements, alternating questions and closing statements, each candidate had three minutes to deliver her opening statements. 

Opening statements

Shield opened the debate by addressing the problems she has observed within the SGA. She said the organization covers up its mistakes, fails to address student concerns and serves its own interests instead of students. 

Shield’s platform features four points: mental health, student experience, athletics and accountability.

“I stand here today because it’s time for a change,” Shield said. “For too long members of SGA have failed to keep promises and swept their mistakes under the rug. Time after time I brought concerns to SGA and was assured it would be fixed simply for it to happen again.” 

Martin called for a deeper sense of unity on campus with the University and the surrounding community. 

She said that equity is important to her campaign and that she will work with students and staff to promote diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and policies. 

Martin said she is not running for president out of her self-interest but out of the interest of students.

“I’m not here to endorse my own agenda,” she said. “I’m not here to push my personal platform. I’m here to be a voice for all of you, because that’s what an SGA president is. It’s having that privilege and that honor to be in the room with UA admin and truly carry out where the students are concerned and how can we address that.”

Initial questions

Harris asked if either candidate is benefiting from organized student factions, primarily any public or secret student political organizations or parties. 

Shield emphasized her decision to run as an independent candidate on “no other platform than her own.” Shield said she disapproves of students running with the support of the Machine, a more than 100-year-old underground campus political organization. 

“The Machine is an organization that was founded on the premise of white supremacy, and it was founded to keep minorities out of power on campus,” Shield said. “It continues to be relevant, and it continues to cycle people through the leadership of SGA. And quite frankly, I think it’s very disappointing that candidates continue to run under this guise.”

Shield said recognizing the Machine’s influence in elections is necessary to “return SGA to the students” and encourage more students to participate in student government. 

Martin also denied endorsement by any student political organizations — secret or public. 

Elections Board

The moderation posed one question solely to Martin, inquiring about her purchase of 100 notebooks that Shield’s campaign team reported to the Elections Board as a violation of the Elections Manual. 

The notebooks included a cover page titled “Madeline Martin SGA President,” and cost $969.38, which is over the $750 spending limit for presidential campaigns. 

Martin said that these materials were purchased and made during her “exploratory time” as a candidate before she declared her candidacy, and she denied that the notebooks were campaign materials.  

“It is my SGA constitutional right that I can meet with friends, advisers and mentors here at the Capstone to discuss my best path at UA,” Martin said. “That is what these materials were for. I have never used them past my declaration of candidacy, and they have never been distributed to any student for any campaign material.”

The Elections Board dismissed charges against Martin, who accused Shield’s campaign team of obtaining her personal information without her consent. 

“How did the Shield’s team get those documents without my consent?” Martin said. “How did they publish personal information such as my home address, my credit card number, my phone number, and even have an invoice that I’ve never even seen before without my consent?” 

Shield said she and her team had nothing to do with the publication of Martin’s receipt, which The Crimson White published with Martin’s personal information redacted on Friday.

“It was reported to us, and we sent it to the Elections Board because that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Shield said. 

Shield said she believes the notebooks were purchased for campaign purposes. 

Shield’s campaign manager, Garrett Burnett, filed an appeal to the Judicial Board on March 6 in response to the Elections Board’s dismissal of all charges against Martin. 

Closing statements 

Martin concluded by sharing her four platform points: connection, outreach, equity, and professional and academic development. As SGA president, Martin said she would be a voice for every single student. 

“I will be your SGA president,” Martin said in closing.

Shield said this year’s election could be an opportunity for change, encouraging students to thoroughly research every candidate on the ballot. 

“If you want change, don’t vote for someone who was in power for the past year and didn’t follow through on the promises that they’re now promising to put in place this year.”

The election will take place on Tuesday, March 8, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on myBama.