The Ryan Nelson Interview
TR: How did you get started in SG? And what inspired you to join the ranks of the Independent movement as opposed to that of the allegedly FBK-backed 'machine?'
Ryan Nelson: I started in SG under my mentor, Jeremy Martin. He was a Key, an older brother of Phi Sigma Kappa with me, one of the IFC VPs, and Chair of the Rec Sports Board. My transition into the Indie movement was actually very, very long:
1) In early January 2006 I sat down with Boyles about my involvement in his party (then called Engage). He maintained that no one who was planning a run for SBP in Spring '07 would be put on Exec of the campaign to even the playing ground. At that point those names being thrown around, courtesy of a lunch meeting with Boyles, were myself, Weiss, Moseley, Lola, Steven Liverpool, EJ, and Mierley. About an hour later I got a call from Laura who told me that Weiss was Party Spokesman. I was pretty pissed, and called Boyles out on this. Weiss was not as experienced with campaigns, and fairly new to SG (only being elected that fall), not to mention an obvious conflict of interest. Both Weiss and I had expressed intent on running for Pro-Temp that spring, and I wanted a fair chance. I repeatedly asked John about Pro-Temp, and he repeatedly claimed that he wouldn't promise it away, but that he would give everyone a fair shot. Boyles assured me he just forgot about Weiss, and there wouldn't be any problems with a fair chance regardless of Weiss' prominent position.
2) In Fall '05 I had a friend named Justin come out and campaign for Gator. Boyles, then Sen Prez, approached me after the campaign and told me he loved the guy's motivation and that he wanted him to come out and slate that spring. Phi Sig isn't quite AEPi et al, so to have the prospect of a fall senator (me) and a spring senator was exciting. However, on slating days I wasn't allowed to be involved in the slating decisions (see below for more detail). Concurrently, Boyles was in Senate that night and couldn't have as hands-on of a role as he would've preferred. The result was Swamp not slating Justin, and instead slating a random member of my fraternity for the BCN seat who had only come out to boost our slating numbers.
When I called Jeremy, an avid Jared supporter even when it was Jared-Goldberg for the Gator nomination, he went crazy. He tried to organize an emergency chapter meeting that night @ 2am asking that we publicly switch our support to Jared. I bartered back and forth and eventually got Justin an APC position, and the assurance that our house still had reason to support Boyles regardless. Jeremy finally agreed with me and we were fine.
3) For the next 2 weeks I tried effortlessly to get involved and help at every turn, but was never "allowed in the room" metaphorically. I wanted Swamp to reflect my views as a veteran SG politico, and I wanted to build the party with my ideas. None of that happened. Examples were having no interaction at the Swamp Party Campaign meeting when Lydia/Moseley were announced @ Patrone's place, and not even knowing about the party announcement (you can still see pics of that day on facebook of me and Boyles @ Writing on the Wall (with me wearing my Swamp Party sticker), and the meeting @ Hillel with Weiss/Mierley @ the front of the room running the senate candidates (his job also covered this).
I had no involvement in the party, no one listened to my ideas, and the platforms were both hollow. The only thing I had going for me was my belief in John.
4) Exactly 1 week before the election Adelle Fontanet contacted me and asked me to go to ice cream. She cut right to the chase and asked why I was still with Swamp. I answered, "Boyles." She asked why else, and Ihad no answer. After she left, I called Jeremy and asked for advice and he told me it was a horrible idea to jump ship this late in the game. He still liked Jared, but without political cover for switching (like going with a few other IFC houses) it wasn?t a good idea. I slept on it.
The next morning I passed Eric White on the 3rd floor (Growl producer and a friend of mine since elementary school) talking about how his fraternity brother Agrusa was Area Director for Reitz. I hadn't been asked, and I was fed up with just being another volunteer during my 6th semester in SG. It was the straw that broke the camel's back.
That was the day of the FLC debate in the Amphitheatre, which I attended and told Jared afterwards that I wanted to meet with him. I met him @ his house that afternoon. He, like John, promised a fair chance @ Pro-Temp without any promises. He also offered me a position as Volunteer Coordinator and help in running Unite. He and Nikki also disclosed a list of the positions Swamp had promised out. In retrospect, every one of those came to fruition. I told Jared then that I wanted to support Unite. That night was Senate, and I left early to go help with Unite. I called John @ about 11pm to tell him. We talked for about 2 hours, and ended the conversation cordially. He called back and offered me a spot on exec "right up in the front with Weiss" in exchange for continued support. I declined, ironically, as Mofsen was sitting next to me flipping through the 700 codes writing election complaints. I never reported it.
2 days later I showed up in Turlington wearing a Unite shirt, and wouldn't change it for the world.
TR: While many critics within what is called the GDI movement criticize the Boyles'-led Swamp Party, you actually interviewed over 200 prospective Swamp candidates; with the benefit of hindsight, why exactly were you allowed the great honor of interviewing candidates but denied the right to decide on which candidates the party should run?
Ryan Nelson: I actually found one of my interview files the other day. I interviewed some names you might recognize: Ryland Rogers, Jen Gurland, Dipesh Patel, Lou Delgado, Latia Wade. Let's use Ryland as an example (mainly because I like the kid and think he has potential): I interviewed him alone, and he had admitted he had no interaction with anyone in the party except me (I don't count Ghering, and Joe was on his way out). He was slated because Phi Delt needed a senate seat, the interview meant nothing. He's a great kid and a prominent senator, but the distinction is that his interview meant nothing.
I wasn't allowed in the slating room because 1) Laura's Eva-Peron personality (needing to be in charge of everything); 2) I wasn't on exec. Plus, the way FBK-Party slating works is the most important houses get the first positions, and then it's a trickle-down effect for less important houses and orgs (sorry Black Caucus, but guess why almost all of your slated senators for Fall '06 were in the most vulnerable district: Dist D). I guess it makes legal sense - the less people in the room the more plausible deniability.
TR: Were you reprimanded by party officials when you wouldn't settle for the runaround or the system-red-tape surrounding why you were being kept out?
Ryan Nelson: Not that I know of. They just told me "you know that?s not how it works."
TR: Like the 24hr bus service, universal grade forgiveness, and a 'more honest SG'....parties have been recycling tempting-but-usually-bogus campaign promises, promises that with their great-relevance to the general student body almost always guarantee plentiful vote-returns. The Sunday Bus Service issue, first flagged by the UF Voice Party (Spring 2005) had been copied by Impact and later other parties -- but little was ever done about it. Tell us about your work on the Sunday Bus Service Bill, what obstacles you were faced with, and what all came as a result of it.
Ryan Nelson: Lol, nice plug for Voice.
I wanted to really accomplish something big on our platform, so I asked Boyles to head a committee on SBS. He paired me with Agrusa and we set to work. The result was 2 months of research and a resolution in favor of SBS that Treasurer Cosimi and I sent to the FDOT. This was instrumental (as told to us by RTS officials later) in getting the FDOT Grant for a 2-year trial period of a SBS. Obstacles were few -most of the promises we make in SG can be done if you just spend a few hours a week working. I treated SG like a 3-credit class (and during election time a 192 credit class). I spent at least an hour a day calling university officials or doing research on past bills, calling RTS, etc. Agrusa helped a lot with this bill too, and I owe its success equally to his work with me.
TR: You are a member and past president of Phi Sigma Kappa, tell us what your fraternity means to you and what's done for you. There are few tried & true Indie Greeks, but most folks assume one has to be either or, when this is clearly not so. Your take?
Ryan Nelson: My fraternity is one of the most important things in my life. Quick fun vignette for those interested.
I was never supposed to be a Phi Sig. My roommate freshman year was Kyle Epting who would later be a Cabinet Director and Kevin Reilly's opponent running for Theta Chi president. He and I went to Theta Chi together the first night of rush for 3-4 hours and loved it. He got his bid and afterwards the same guy asked me to follow him upstairs, but we had to leave for a floor meeting in Hume. The guy who had taken Kyle just told me to, "make sure I come back tomorrow." That night a friend of mine called me and congratulated me on getting into Theta Chi..? I had asked her to check with her ex-boyfriend who was a brother, and he had checked their list confirmed that I was good to go the next day. I went back the next night and some guy playing Frisbee in the front yard told me to come back in 5 minutes when they were open. I kinda wandered around frat row for a few minutes, and got a call from my ex-girlfriend who told me to stop by Phi Sig. Thinking what the hell, I walked down the row into Phi Sig, and never left.
I served as everything in my chapter, and was named nationally as one of our top 10 leaders. Phi Sig gave me a home away from home, my lifelong best friends, and so many life lessons. Unless you go Greek you really can't explain your devotion to your chapter. It's a tradition in my family (my uncle was a KA here, my aunt an AOPi, and my sister's a ZTA), so that made it all the more important to me. My best memories with my family were with Phi Sig, my most trying and successful leadership roles. I wouldn't be who I am without it.
You cannot be accepted by mainstream Greeks and mainstream Indies. Of the 100+ members in each, I dare you to name 1 AEPi, SigEp, Sigma Chi, ATO, DG, DDD, ZTA, KD, etc. who is also an Indie SG supporter. The cultures conflict too much. You can, however, be Greek (not a mainstream, social house though). Bigger houses regulate your lives more (ask ATO about their pledge dress-code) and thus have a bigger say in who you support politically. With Unite, we had 7-8 houses behind us, including a very confused ATO who actually tripped and fell after the election results they were running back to Swamp so fast.
There will always be a Greek party because Greeks are so socially adept. We clump together socially (e.g. Swamp Monday nights) so it only follows that we, for the most part, do so politically as well. Its not bad until we start requiring voting and telling our members who to vote for (party and person).
TR: Josh Czupryk wrote a letter to the Alligator accusing you of making claims that only students involved in Greek organizations had the motivation necessary to get involved in SG. Did you say or imply such a thing, were you taken out of context?
Ryan Nelson: Josh and I may have been good friends in another life. He's a Greek, Christian, Democrat - and those 3 things are huge parts of my life. Anyways?
My article was not taken out of context, and some of Josh's points were valid. Here was my point, and you can decide: 73% of cabinet can be filled by qualified Greeks (this was how much of cabinet was greek-appointed by Swamp). It is possible, and I know a whole lot of Greek students who could do the jobs well. Let me make this clear - THEIR BEING GREEK HAD NO EFFECT ON THEIR QUALIFICATIONS. But that number is ridiculously unrealistic as an appropriate cross-section of our campus. I did the math and sent it to John (public request his email) you are more likely to die 3 times by getting struck by lightning than that cabinet happening.
It led me to research their applications in depth, and many were bad. I'll use Athletics Cabinet Secretary Chris Marhefka as an example because he chose to chastise me on his facebook profile for weeks afterwards. He had no experience with UAA or RecSports, and what the hell has been done by that cabinet now 6 months into the term? Nothing. He was and is not appropriate for the position.
He was given the job as one of 15 who applied of those 13 positions. I asked that Boyles reopen applications and maybe use the commercials advertising budget he fought do dearly to keep to better advertise the positions (I know he tried, but it wasn't good enough). I thought it was a legitimate request since applications for the Cabinet Directors for Greek Affairs and Multicultural Affairs went through this process since not enough qualified applicants applied. Boyles declined.
My argument was that not every student has a listserv or chapter meeting to benefit from. You think Marhefka would've applied if he wasn't in SigEp and Mose/Clay hadn?t told him to? Please.
TR: An anonymous reader of TR submitted this. 'When your term in senate came to an end, you wrote a nasty to email senators attacking the body and expressing disappointment at others individually. What did you hope to accomplish by sending this email and/or your behavior towards the end of your term?'
Ryan Nelson: My speech in chambers was inappropriate, but my email was not. The style of my speech was critical - and I guess it was flat out revenge. No nice sugar-coating. Swamp made my life hell for 6 months (destroying every bill I wrote, blocking me from Pro-Temp, Judiciary Chair, and VICE-CHAIR for God's sake, and keeping my fraternity brothers out of every SG appointed position since then (not to mention the fun barbs I suffered every Tuesday) so I figured making them mildly uncomfortable for 5 minutes would make me feel better.
I apologized for my speech in my email, and again here I apologize for the style but none of the sentiment. People like Keith - I apologize for calling you out publicly, no one deserves that. However, my email was exactly what I thought of everyone. What I hoped to accomplish? Getting everything off my chest (showing everyone that their actions do not go unnoticed), closure.
To those offended by my email - welcome to public office. I have always, always maintained a separation between business and personal life. I suggest you do the same. If you want to make friends, join a fraternity. If you want to work and be honest about your work, join SG.
I don't know why it was considered "nasty"? It was mostly individuals that I had something to say to, and did... I just re-read my email, and I don't think I was rude at all. I didn't call anyone hollow names, but I sure as hell categorized them as I saw fit:
1) I called Swamp leadership liars for putting tuition in their platform when the Fall elected officials have no control over that. The survey is all well and good, but that was happening with or without a fall Swamp majority. Oh, and we used to have surveys of what the students thought back in the day, we called them elections.
2) I told Keith he was subservient and trite, and that he (almost single-handedly) made me hate SG and politics entirely.
3) I asked John to go back to his days in Senate (e.g. SNAP busses Summer 04) and produce something with his position of influence, because he hasn't yet. John may have been implicated in promising away more positions than ever, but damnit can he accomplish some good work when he puts his mind to it. He hasn't yet as SBP.
4) This one was nasty, I was pretty pissed at Weiss, and most of this was out of jealousy that he was being treated to the climbing-of-the-ladder I thought I had earned. It's still true, but just worded way too harshly. Josh is amazing (Indies?get to know the kid first) but I swear he couldn't bend over backwards for FBK more. Stand up for policy in chambers, Josh, not just politics.
5) I told Arturo and Sam why I thought they weren't qualified for their jobs. If you find this rude, then please read a dictionary definition of public office.
Other than that I mainly told people why they were good, or why I admired them. I blasted moderates for not speaking up when they knew better, and to this day I swear that is the problem with SG and Government in general.
TR: Citing Sen. Gavin Baker (UNITE) from his official homepage, Mr. Baker states: (a) "Action had a very tough time getting quality candidates." Is this statement accurate & if so, what factors contributed to the shortcomings of the latest GDI venture?
Ryan Nelson: Tommy and Gavin never saw eye-to-eye, but I think Tommy ran the party very well. In fact, we ran the party exactly as we hoped we would (minus, of course, the winning aspect). Seriously though, we wanted to run a party based 100% on factual, realistic platform points and an aggressive advertising campaign for the average, non-SG involved student. We did just that, but realized it was to no avail versus the system.
TR: Tell us about your run for senate president and what obstacles stood in your way. What is it like trying to speak to your colleagues on a one-to one basis? Did you run into a lot of partisan-loyalty and/or subtle intimidation tactics? Also, just because you didn't win the senate presidency race doesn't mean you can't tell us what you would have done, had you been elected, so tell us.
Ryan Nelson: I never ran for Senate President; I ran for Pro-Temp. Speaking to new senators 1-on-1 is futile - they are scared senseless and I have never once seen a new senator vote against party lines for Senate Exec. The only Swamp-supporting senator to my knowledge that voted for me for Pro-Temp was Lindsey Johns, and I respect her dearly for it. I was in Senate 3x as long as Josh and wrote tons more legislation qualitatively and quantitatively. But I wasn't an AEPi. Kinda sucks. Josh is great, but he needed to wait his turn. Ceste la vie.
Intimidation tactics? Yeah, I'd say so. Sundeep called Jeremy offering 2 taps into Key if we put up a Swamp banner and condemned me as "not speaking for the house." Carmody told me I would be blackballed forever, as would all my fraternity brothers. Can't imagine why I'd want to leave SG.
Whew, what I would've done as PT and subsequently Senate Prez. Started PT-ordained committees for some revolutionary ideas, reapportionment with facts, separated Greek housing from Districts A and B, the bus trip to Jax/Tally, eliminate Senator-privileged VIP tickets to Accent shows, establish an auditor and comptroller for the Finance Office, perform a 3rd party analysis of SG Org Budgets using Zero-Budgeting, contract the CoE?s IPPD Program to fix RTS Busses internally instead of just throwing money at the idea, instituted a cap on SG finances, redone all the statutes with all the senators voicing their opinions in a special senate meeting on any night that wasn't Tuesday, requiring bills include legislative and budgetary effects when presented, eliminating I&C and recommending a Press Secretary for all of SG instread (a lot more but its all written down on an excel spreadsheet on my broken laptop).
TR: You have told me privately you will not be running for president in 2007. But, between candidates that fear running for office, candidates that do as they're told by their elitist-secret-masters, candidates that are driving whatever's left of the Access/SA GDI-Party-Template into the ground, and candidates that run with Indies b/c Greeks don't want them...you could actually be a really viable, strong, passionate, and motivated leader. Why have you decided to kill a bright career of public service? Are you going to let the playground bullies and the 3rd floor shit-talkers get you down?
Ryan Nelson: Sadly, yes. I'm not as strong as I wish I were. They are not at all the only reason, nor even the major one. I came out of the closet this summer, and in doing so scared my mother beyond belief regarding my holding public office. Stories like reading "Spic" on the side of La Casita when Gil Sanchez ran for SBP are very real threats, and we were both scared of those possibilities - especially since to my knowledge I would be the 1st openly homosexual candidate for SBP in UF history. We like to think we're progressive, but I don't know if I trust all 50k students with my personal safety just for SG's sake.
Also, on paper I'm another Jared. Frat boy gone Indie. A Frat President, too. I want the Indie's to win, and truth is they already face votes against them because of me.
Plus, I work 20-30 hours a week to pay for school. My Dad is a hospital technician, and my mom is a nurse. We have 4 kids in my family. I pay for my fraternity with my Nat'l Merit Scholarship, and right now I have no idea how I'm paying for rent in December. I don't have $10,000 lying around to donate to my campaign like John did -his dad is a prominent Orlando lawyer who can help him with $ issues. I just don't have the money.
Also, I flat out refuse to promise a damn thing to anyone at all. I don't know what support, if any, I would have (just reliving Action this fall).
And finally, I'm just too tired. I can't take those people anymore - it just wasn?t worth it to me. All my friends outside of SG, and all my family, beg me on a regular basis to get out of SG and I finally listened to them, and it feels great. Believe me, at least 5 times a day I think about the changes I could make and how fighting the good fight is almost worth it even if we loose, but I?m just not strong enough for that.
TR: As we near the end of our Q&A, I'd like to list a few names and beside these names I'd like it if you could say a few words on either what you think of them or what comes to mind. Names without comments beside them will be omitted all together from the interview.
Gavin Baker: Indie to the core. Kevin Bacon syndrome (burned out too fast). Great mind for budget.
Nikki Grant: Tactful yet true at the same time. Best upholder of Senate Rules I know. Best friend to others I've seen.
Josh Weiss: Best political mind in SG. Mediocre execution of his influence on policy. Will be more of a Joe SBP than a John SBP (i.e. he's corrupt, but at least he'll do things)
Mike Patrone: Nice guy, but not a politician. His bills were good-hearted, but lackluster. A reverse victim of circumstance.
Andrew Hoffman: The enforcer! Great senator, opinionated and powerful.
Chris Chase: Concrete vision for Cabinet gone for naught. Best debater I've seen.
Ben Grove: Future Indie leader. Motivated and dedicated to the cause, not the position.
Tommy Jardon: The next Karl Rove. Cunning and bold in his actions. Afraid of no one.
Adam Roberts: Who I'd like to become (well, an Adam-MacKenzie hybrid of sorts). Devotion to public service (TfA), candor, and passion. It?s weird, but once you meet him he doesn?t resemble ragweed at all.
Lauren Mierley: Screwed worse than me this spring. Not a great public speaker, amazing at budget work and policy work (i.e. the 800 codes committee with Lola).
John Boyles: Talent gone to waste in an overly-politicized environment. Exodus 20:16.
Nina Dejong: One of my only SG crushes back in the day, lol. Part of the indelible Access Fall 04 crew. Saavy, organized, and focused. Great future.
Bruce Haupt: Absolutely, 100% crazy. Damn I love the kid. He'll stand up for you in a pinch.
Arturo Armand: Great guy, one of the nicest I've known in SG. Not most qualified for VP. Greta public presence.
TR: What would you say has been the highlight of your career in public service so far? What piece of legislation that you either wrote or sponsored, are you most proud of? Lastly, whether it passed or failed, what bill would you say you had to fight the absolute hardest over?
Ryan Nelson: I was most proud to a piece of legislation that failed. When I spoke against Act of God - man that was a good time. As a new senator only weeks into my term I opposed Crystal, Bryson, Pughe - the whole bunch. Vocally too! I remember Nina giving me props and Hoffman shaking my hand afterwards; those were the days. Substantially though, I would say my resolution with Paden Woodruff opposing the Academic Freedom Bill in 2005. That was such a rush and accomplished so much. I'm also really proud of my work on apportionment this fall: to all those Swamp Party senators reading - say what you want but I owned that debate and you all know it, lol. You didn't have a foot to stand on, and I was pretty damn proud about how thoroughly I worked on that bill.
I had to fight the hardest over a TSF Special Request last fall. Treasurer Cosimi wasn't the best at communicating, and she changed her opinions haphazardly on the floor many times. The bill was rough, but it finally made it through line item vetoes and all. Also, my apportionment (although it failed) was horrible. As soon as Agrusa et al realized how right Rose and I were it took them 3 months to concoct some half-ass reasons why our idea wouldn't work (which of course had nothing to do with losing a Business and Journalism Seat and gaining Graduate Seats). We worked really hard on that one, and if anyone is up for it I still think it should be challenged in the Supreme Court.
TR:Thank you for doing this Q&A. What advice would you give students looking to get involved in SG and/or in other campus leadership capacities? Is there anything you'd like to say to the current members of the UF Senate that read this blog? And finally, what are you doing with your free-time from public office?
Ryan Nelson: Don't get involved in SG, lol. If you want to go to Law School then fine, but don't give it any more credit than it deserves. Spend time going to Senate meetings as a citizen, learning the ropes of campus, and innovating your ideas where they can't be exploited and/or blocked for the political gain of others.
To the current members of Senate: I do not hate any of you (no, not even you Keith). Don't get me wrong, I want nothing to do with most of you ever again, but civility is preferred over awkward silences. If I'm making your pita @ Pita Pit you can say hi. I'm not going to spit in your pita. I promise. (TR: HAHAHAHAHAHA)
Just remember this. Don't be assholes in chambers. I don't care if you defend your bill or your party, but you know the difference. Ryland supporting a static apportionment sucks, but he wasn't an ass about it. Patrone supporting his bill by mocking Action's platform and laughing at me in front of senate - that's being an ass. Not answering my emails until I cc the Alligator - that's being an ass. Pretending to be Colbert in some attempt to exact revenge - that's being an ass. Don't do it.
Never argue against something because it may cause "precedence" or a "slippery slope." You look stupid.
Don't "echo" what another senator said.
Don't boo, ever.
Don't ask questions designed to argue pro-con.
Don't leave after public debate to get Wendy's.
Don't ask to be added as a sponsor to a bill you didn't work on.
Don't speak/write about non UF/SG related issues.
Don't vote by looking at what the older senators are voting for. Don't be intimidated (the vote on paper is what matters, not raising your hand).
Don't mock the other party (this goes for everyone). Both parties want what's best, and are legitimately trying hard to do so. It's the top 10 officials on each side that steer the car, everyone else is just a passenger.
Sorry for that exhaustive list, I rant, go figure. In my free time I'll be planning a big philanthropic event for next fall. I don't want to divulge it yet for fear of it being destroyed out of lingering spite for me, or getting picked up as a platform issue or something. I want to use my time, treasure, and talent for something positive while I'm still here.
Anyways, to everyone reading, if you made it this far, know this. SG is a microcosm of the real thing. Right now it's cutting a deal for SAE to get support for the fall election. 30 years from now it's a special interest group offering votes for political support. Right now we're just requiring our pledges to campaign and vote for SG. 30 years from now we're committing voter fraud with the deceased voting in NY. Right now its Boyles putting in Arturo instead of Vanessa. 30 years from now it's Bush putting in his buddy as FEMA Director.
Just reflect daily on your morals, and ask what is the ends to be attained. And if the means justify them.