Political operatives learned the ropes as student regents

Chase Hunter//August 20, 2018

Political operatives learned the ropes as student regents

Chase Hunter//August 20, 2018

AZ Board of Regents logo

The foundation for the modern student regent in Arizona was laid by the last one who could not vote: Patrick McWhorter.

Student regents today serve only the first year of a two-year term as a non-voting member of the Arizona Board of Regents. Student regents get the same voting power as their professional fellows on the board in year two to confirm presidents of state universities, approve tuition increases, fund new university projects and to become a voice for college students at the state Legislature.

McWhorter, still working in Arizona as the state chair of Open Primaries Arizona, was not confirmed on time to become a regent because Arizona’s governor, Evan Mecham, was impeached and indicted in 1988 for misuse of state funds.

“We didn’t even know what governor was going to appoint us because if Governor Mecham was impeached and thrown out of office, he was a Republican, the secretary of state would become governor and she was a Democrat, Rose Mofford,” said McWhorter.

Mofford did become governor and McWhorter took his seat as a student regent months after she became governor.

In the clipped tenure McWhorter served as student regent, he made the best of it, offering arguments to improve affirmative action in state schools, create a state fund for financial aid and pass a bill to make the student regent a voting position.

“I literally carried that bill around and got co-sponsors,” said McWhorter. “Ultimately it passed – overwhelmingly – but as a regular law, it didn’t go into effect until August, so my successor Peggy Steffens would become the first voting student regent.”

Another change happened at the turn of the century when the regent position became a two-year term. The first year is to learn the ropes of the regent position and the second is to be an active member of the board, something McWhorter says he supported during his time as regent.

Several former student regents, such as Christine Thompson, used their experience as springboards to join the political process in Arizona.

“I knew before I applied to that position that I wanted to be involved in state policy at some level,” Thompson said. She now serves as CEO of the education advocacy group Expect More Arizona. “I really viewed that year on the Board of Regents, while I was in law school, as an opportunity to really see administrative law at work and be able to serve in that capacity.”

Expect More Arizona was working for increased spending for education and teachers long before the #RedforEd movement began and was a v0cal supporter of the teachers’ actions for it.

One former student regent is a director on one of the most important boards in Arizona: the Central Arizona Water Conservation District Board.

“It’s probably one of the most valuable growth experiences I’ve had over a two-year period of time,” Ben Graff, a director for the CAWCD, said.

As the 19-year long drought in Arizona continues with no end in sight, water is more than a resource, it is the prize in a contest for the use and ownership of it. Nearly all the places in the Valley have received less than 3 inches of rain in the last year, well below the average, according to the Arizona State Climate Office.

“I’ve always had a drive to be a public servant… In 2016, in addition to some of the other involvement I had in the community that it was time for me to put my hat into an elected office,” Graff said.

Graff wanted to serve and narrowed down his choices to three options: the school board for Paradise Valley, the state Legislature, or the Arizona water board. He felt that of all the issues Arizona faced, the water board would be where he would have the greatest impact for the public.

“I think the student regent position was a good example of just who I’ve always been,” Graff said.

This story has been updated to clarify that student regents are able to vote in the second year of a two-year term. Their first year is served as a non-voting member of the Board of Regents.