Earlier this month, Texas A&M student Bobby Brooks was elected student body president, making him the first openly gay student to hold the position. At a school that has historically been one of the most LGBT-unfriendly schools in the nation, Mr. Brooks’s election gave some a reason to celebrate.
The campaign hadn't ended on a high note, however. One of Brooks's rivals, Robert McIntosh, had the lead when the votes were first counted. But then, the student-run Judicial Court disqualified him for voter intimidation. That decision was overturned, but Mr. McIntosh was then disqualified for a different reason: not providing receipts for glow sticks featured in a campaign video.
Then, in an even stranger twist, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry put both candidates into the national spotlight. Writing in the Houston Chronicle, the former Texas governor and proud A&M alum argued, “Apparently, glow sticks merit the same punishment as voter intimidation.”
“Every Aggie ought to ask themselves: How would they act and feel if the victim was different? What if McIntosh had been a minority student instead of a white male? What if Brooks had been the candidate disqualified?” he wrote.
Now, the university is pushing back against what it considers Mr. Perry’s implication that Brooks’s sexuality affected the court’s decision – and outside observers are questioning the secretary’s motives for getting involved in student politics.
“To suggest that the same decision of disqualification would not have been made if the roles were reversed,” said university spokesperson Amy Smith, “is to deny the Texas A&M of today where accountability applies to all.”
According to the student government’s election transparency rules, a “lack of receipts or Fair Market Value Form” for campaign items – such as the glow sticks waved in McIntosh’s campaign video – can serve as grounds for disqualification.
Both candidates had multiple violations reported against their campaigns, according to a list of reported violations. But in Brooks’s case, the student court found that only one – leaving a banner unattended – came with enough evidence to levy a minor sanction against him ($10 to the school's Election Commission).
But as the dust settles from the election, a bigger question is emerging: Why would the energy secretary delve into a university election in the first place?
In his op-ed, Perry voiced deep affection for his alma mater, saying that McIntosh’s alleged mistreatment “is precisely opposite from the values that I learned as an A&M cadet.”
But the Dallas Morning News indicated Perry has loose connections to the disqualified candidate.
“McIntosh, a senior, is the son of Dallas-based Republican fundraiser Alison McIntosh, who worked on Jeb Bush's 2016 campaign and Mitt Romney's 2012 run for president. Perry, twice a presidential hopeful himself, is featured in photographs with McIntosh's other children on Facebook," wrote the newspaper's Lauren McGaughy.
Whatever Perry's motives, some observers think that he should focus less on his alma mater and more on the federal agency he has been tasked with leading – a department that plays a crucial role in maintaining America’s energy supply and nuclear arsenal, but that faces a six percent budget cut next year.
As Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, told the Houston Chronicle, “the extraordinary part is that [Perry] took the time to do this when he should have so many bigger fish to fry in his current job."