Senator James Renton
James “Jimmy” Renton, freshman music education major.
The Northerner: Why did you vote the way you did? Why do you think impeachment was brought up?
James Renton: “It was quite a [sic] emotional thing to be able to do, just proposing the impeachment. First of all, I was literally shaking in my boots. But the reason I voted yes, for the in favor of the impeachment, is because I truly believe that she violated the Constitution—at least on one account. When looking back at the petition, seeing about the executive order, I can see where she got her defense from that. But in terms of the issue about the two senators—senator applicants who were denied—I don’t think that was within any right of her to be able to do that. And, in fact, next meeting, I am planning on proposing that we still hear from them because that is my firm belief that it is our job as the Student Senate to make the final decision not [Goodwin]. The Constitution states and I agreed with Chairman Delgado on this during, you know, the actual debate was, you know, the veto power in the constitution regards legislation. Appointments aren’t legislation. Legislation would be like resolutions or initiatives. So I firmly believe on that account, she violated the Constitution. And I believe that their argument that it’s not the senators’ job to interpret the Constitution, I think that argument was just weak to put it simply because there’s nowhere in the constitution saying that we can’t interpret the Constitution. It doesn’t say that we have to go to the Judicial Council like they were saying. And I never really got an answer on that, like, you know, where exactly in the constitution does it say that? So I was trying to find where they were basing off their argument. And, you know, I went in convinced that President Goodwin violated the Constitution. And I was not convinced otherwise. So my vote going in was a yes. And my vote coming out was a yes because I just was not convinced at all.”
TN: What factors specifically played into you voting to impeach her?
Renton: “I would say what really solidified my decision was there were a bunch of students there. When I was appointed back in—what was it October, I think, October, September—well, I was the runner up in the freshman election, and I ran on a platform of representing the students. I went in there big ideas. Because of the university’s budget, kind of had to table my big, you know, recycling idea. But I went in there and when I was being given the chance to be appointed in front of the Student Senate—what President Goodwin denied those two applicants who were unanimously put forward. When I was in that position, I said, ‘I’m here to represent the students.’ And I believe that our slate was unanimously appointed to the student senate and I was part of that slate. Obviously, Karla Arango was part of that slate, Kaitlin Minniefield, Mia Potter, you know, they were all part of that slate with me, along with a few others. And we were all unanimously appointed as senators. And having the students there when I asked that question, you know, I went up and said, ‘if you’re in favor of the impeachment, clap’ and you could just literally hear the room and the hall outside fill up with applause. And then when I asked, you know, vice versa for who was against, you only really got claps from senators who ended up voting, you know, against the impeachment. And that really solidified my decision right there. I’m like, this is what the students want. And I’m here to represent them. And, also, I firmly believe she had broken the Constitution. So you know, there were two strikes. And, obviously, listening to everything, the students were convinced too. Even though they didn’t have a vote in it, they were convinced.”
TN: What are you going to be doing now to represent the students—specifically students of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community—because the impeachment failed and many of them spoke at the meeting about how they don’t feel represented or protected?
Renton: “What I’ve been working on is, over the past couple days, I’ve been drafting up a couple of resolutions. One is about something that we were really emphasizing—at least I know I was—was accountability. I’m working with actually two senators who voted against the impeachment. Talking with Senator Sullivan and Senator Abraham, you know, they just weren’t convinced by what was laid out in the actual articles. And they weren’t convinced and that’s why they voted against it. I’m not going to hold a grudge against senators who voted against it because, obviously, we need—our body is very divided. And we need to come together to actually make some change. So what we’re working on is an accountability resolution, which we have actually been reaching out to student organizations to get their opinions on it because we want to make sure that there is student support behind it. Because, ultimately, that’s what we’re there to do. We’re there to represent the students.”
TN: What is your plan as a senator moving forward in SGA?
Renton: “So, basically, the resolution, first of all acknowledges that there is an accountability problem in the Student Senate and just in SGA in general. And then it talks a little bit about how the impeachment really brought about this issue. And then when it goes on to establish is something where it’s where students can be more involved in it. Basically, this resolution would create a form that students can voluntarily fill out at each midterm and final regarding every executive cabinet member in the Student Government Association, rank their transparency from one to 10, their accountability from one to 10, and then simply say if they disapprove or approve of that member. And then also, there’s questions of ‘are there any other SGA members outside the executive cabinet that you approve of?’ Or ‘are there any other SGA members outside the executive cabinet that you disapprove of and why?’ And, basically, the responses for each person will be recorded, and then it will be reported to a new accountability committee. And if a person, let’s say if the president for example, had over the 50% of the responses for them marked as disapprove, that would allow the accountability committee, that would be established if this resolution goes into effect, to look into and investigate stuff and look at actual responses regarding disapprovement and decide what the SGA should do moving forward. Whether it’s just warn the person, introduce a petition for impeachment or really any punishment that they see fit.
And that committee will consist of one executive cabinet member, two senators, one justice, and then a minimum of one, but a maximum of five, non-SGA students—so people from the general student body. This is to ensure that on the accountability committee, there are actual students not in SGA holding SGA accountable. Because, if we’re holding ourselves accountable, things can get mixed up pretty quick. You know, I wanted to make sure that, hopefully, there’ll be a majority of that committee being students and not SGA members. And, basically, the executive cabinet member would act as the moderator during debates within the committee. If there’s a tie, they’ll act as tiebreaker. And they’re, kind of, the committee chair. And then the justice is there to interpret, you know, any constitutional issues. And then the two senators obviously representing the legislative side of the Student Government Association. And then one to five students from the student body. Hopefully five because we want a lot of students’ inputs on this.
And then, let me go down here a little further, I actually have it like open right in front of me. Oh, and then to fill out these forms, students will be encouraged through social media initiatives from SGA and, hopefully, the University overall. And the process of appointing this committee will be left to the Student Senate. So like, you know, we would appoint ‘so and so’ as the executive cabinet member. And it would be a different committee each semester because the resolution states “at the first meeting of every semester, the Student Senate will appoint the committee.” So that’s just kind of like a rundown of it. But, overall, what Senator Abraham, Senator Sullivan and myself think is, this is going to encourage accountability. And we believe we can gather up the votes to get this passed from both sides of the impeachment vote. Because, ultimately, I believe we do want accountability in the Student Senate. Monday made that obvious. And, so, hopefully, within the next couple weeks, we can get this before executive board. And then, hopefully, before the Student Senate. But also in these next couple weeks, we’re going to be trying ramping up student support for it. And, you know, talking with students and getting their opinions on it because, obviously, this is meant to better serve them. And we want to make sure that, you know, this is something that they’ll actually like want.
So that’s kind of how we’re moving forward right now. And, also, just the way I personally am moving forward is I’m getting ready for elections. I’m getting ready to be supporting people who actually want change. And I’m very excited to see who may be announcing their candidacy for President of the student body. I have some ideas who but, you know, I haven’t heard anything official. And really, even if I had, I can’t say it because obviously people can’t announce until it’s allowed. But I have some theories on who might be running just based on looking at how people have been operating lately. And I’m feeling very excited for these upcoming elections. I think we’re gonna see a huge turnout, too, compared to other SGA elections. I mean like 100 or some odd people voted in the freshmen election this past fall. That’s not a lot. But, hopefully, we can see a good increase this spring especially with like the DSA Sunrise, Friends of Dorothy, you know, they’re all providing opinions on everything going on. And they’re definitely, I believe, we’re going to advocate for change, too. So.
Yeah, I’m very excited for the future. The impeachment, in my opinion, the Student Senate made their choice. I don’t agree with it. But I’m not gonna be, you know, protesting the choice when we can move on and start introducing some things that will enact change. And we’re close enough to elections where, I believe, if we just keep holding President Goodwin accountable, hopefully nothing else, like on February 1, will happen again.”
TN: What are your thoughts on all of these recent hate accounts that have been popping up on Twitter that are specifically targeting students of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community?
Renton: “I outright condemn them 100%. I’ve also been personally, on some level, attacked by them. And I’ve seen my friends, especially my transgender friends, you know, actually, like, hurt by this. At a Friends of Dorothy meeting, it came up. I’m the PR person for Friends of Dorothy, so we were talking about that. And I just outright condemn it 100%. I’ve been reporting it every chance I get. I’m kind of upset Twitter hasn’t taken it down yet. So, just, I encourage everyone to continue reporting it to Twitter. Because, at this point, there’s not much SCRA (Student Conduct, Rights and Advocacy) can do because we don’t know who’s running the account. So students can’t be punished if we don’t know who it is. But, eventually, if we do find out, then we would call on SCRA to do stuff. But, feasibly, they can’t do anything right now, nor can the University. All they can say is, ‘hey, we don’t like we don’t accept this either.’ But, you know, the best way of action is just reporting any accounts that pop up. And if we do it in numbers, it’ll get taken down eventually. And, also, just, I encourage people don’t give them a platform—don’t recognize their existence. That’s what I’ve been trying to do lately. If nobody’s seeing their message, then it’s not really doing anything, you know? So just as hard as it is—obviously, I’m not a transgender person—so for someone who is transgender, it’s probably a little hard for them to ignore it because, naturally, they’re going to want to say something bad just because they’re being attacked personally. That’s just human nature. But don’t give them a bigger platform than they already have. And, quite frankly, their platform is pretty small. So it’s best to just, in my opinion, ignore them. But if you can’t ignore them, report their account.”
TN: What are your thoughts on how the actual impeachment vote was conducted? Do you think it followed proper protocols and guidelines? Do you think it was properly conducted?
Renton: “I have a couple of opinions on it. Just, overall, just some of the things that were said. Obviously, everyone knows my opinion on the ‘petty and butthurt’ comment. I don’t think that comment was appropriate at all. But, overall, I think—and I have some sympathy for President Goodwin because obviously, she was in a tough spot. But there was just one thing that didn’t rub me exactly the right way. When Senator Minniefield was talking about being for impeachment during the ‘against’ time, she was constantly ruled out of order. But then when Senator Coates was talking about being against the impeachment during the ‘for’ time, he wasn’t ruled out of order at all. That’s just something that I didn’t think was handled properly. Am I gonna hold a grudge about it? No. Obviously, we need to be moving forward. But I think that could have definitely been handled better. That just rubbed me a little bit the wrong way. I was sitting behind Senator Coates, and I’m like whispering to myself ‘he’s out of order.’ I was gonna raise a point of order, but, by that time, I had raised so many points of order. By the time I was about to say “point of order,” he finished speaking, so there wasn’t really any point. So yeah, that’s just the one thing I think wasn’t handled properly.
And also, just some of the overall tones, especially from the top toward some people, I don’t think were appropriate. But they may have not been meaning to have a tone. I know, sometimes, I speak in a tone and I don’t mean to. So, personally, I can’t burn them at the stake for using, you know, bad tone. Personally, I’ve done the same exact thing. And I probably would have accidentally done the same thing. Because they were definitely in a tough spot. You know, when you’re being faced with impeachment, I can imagine it’s very emotional. I’m not gonna hold on to that as like a grudge forever. But overall, I think it went smoother than I expected. I went in, I mean, there was half of me who was completely like confident poker face, and half of me who was like, ‘oh, my god, this is gonna be a bloodbath.’ And like I said, when I was reading that petition, knowing I was starting all that, I was shaking in my boots. I could feel my legs like. I felt like a jellyfish. But I think it went smoother than I expected, which I’m very thankful for. And overall, people—despite at times things getting a little heated—overall, I think people handled it maturely. Obviously, some people on the other side from me, especially like, you know, the hate account, haven’t handled it maturely since. I think, overall, during the actual impeachment debate, it was, for the most part, handled well. There are just a couple things that rubbed me wrong.”
TN: What is your experience with learning about the impeachment process? Were you properly taught the correct procedures for when something like this happens?
Renton: “When I was brought on board, of course, we went over stuff in the Constitution. It’s kind of like a brief overview. You know, like, ‘here’s the bylaws, make sure you come in business casual.’ Just the general rule stuff. I wasn’t really taught about impeachment. I may have been, and I just forgot. I’m not gonna burn them at the stake for that. We were kind of given a brief overview of stuff. Because, especially, at that time, we were getting ready, we were ramping up on the alcohol policy resolution. So that was kind of on the front burner. And, honestly, going in, I never thought I was going to be the one proposing impeachment. So it was emotional.
I don’t remember being taught about the impeachment process. But also, last time there was any form of impeachment before Monday was probably like two years ago. And the last time a president was impeached was 2009. So impeachment doesn’t come up a lot in SGA. They probably didn’t talk about it. But I’m not gonna hold those words exactly to that because they may have talked about it. But just reading through the Constitution, it was pretty laid out. I mean, they tried to claim, you know, we had to go to the Judicial Council, but it doesn’t say it on the Constitution. In fact, they get their voice after the Student Senate if impeachment passes. So, you know, that’s just the one thing that was cloudy about the impeachment process, as I pretty much knew everything else, though, just from reading the Constitution.”
TN: Do you think it’s a conflict of interest that President Goodwin is dating Chief Justice Cleary?
Renton: “I think it is. In all honesty, I was not on the Senate when Chief Justice Cleary was approved. And she did say, I think, she said at the time he was approved, they were dating. I would have voted no on the appointment in all honesty because that is a clear conflict of interest. I was prepared, if the impeachment passed, I was prepared on using, again, the Constitution to call on Chief Justice Cleary to remove himself from Judicial Council proceedings regarding impeachment. I actually came prepared with hard evidence. And by that, I mean, a, picture of [a] Facebook profile. I think it was a clear conflict of interest. And I was fully prepared to call on Chief Justice Cleary to remove himself just for the sake of making sure everything was fair. Because, obviously, that’s what we want in an impeachment process. And, obviously, we work to make sure everything was as fair as it can possibly be. And if it would have passed, I would have been, you know, advocating and make sure it continued to stay fair. So I think it is a clear conflict of interest, just to put it simply.”