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Meet your new ASUO President, Helena Schlegel

If you ask Helena Schlegel whether or not she sees herself as a politician she’ll give you an honest answer: no.

Schlegel said her older brothers laugh about it because she’s not the type to get involved in politics.

“I like to keep up in politics because I think it’s things that affect our daily lives but I’m definitely not someone who in 10 years would see myself running for office or anything like that,” Schlegel said. “I just honestly got involved in student government cause I cared about student issues and one step led to another.”

Just because she never intended to be a politician, doesn’t mean she’s quiet. The Arizona native can speak about things she cares about long and loud enough to command the attention of a room, which she has demonstrated at campaign events and as an ASUO senator last year. With her involvement in multiple student groups, her history with the ASUO and her membership on the UO board of trustees, it would be difficult to make a case for lack of experience or awareness on Schlegel’s part.

A self-deprecating smile spreads across her face when she talks about herself. It’s when she talks about the teams she works with that any hesitation falls away and assurance gives strength to the passion in her voice.

It was never her intention to run for president. Schlegel, a Robert D. Clark Honors College student double majoring in Spanish and economics, said friends and people she used to work with in the ASUO began asking her to meet for coffee in the fall. What she thought were purely social meetings to catch up on work and classes were actually imbued with a more pointed objective: they began to ask her to consider running for ASUO president.

Schlegel said it was her original intent to get Casey Edwards, also a former ASUO member, to run for president. His goal was to persuade her to do the same.

But on Jan. 15, the UO Forward slate was set: Schlegel would run for president.

“She has always been a great advocate for students,” Edwards, a UO Forward campaign manager, said. “Also, it was really easy for us to get behind her.”

Over the next few months the team grew steadily and drew students from varying backgrounds. UO Forward decided to put forth two candidates for vice president: Francisco Morales-O’Connor and Claire Johnson.

Morales-O’Connor met Schlegel last year when he ran for Senate Seat 12 on the Ducks Like You slate and Schlegel worked as the campaign manager. Like Schlegel, he is majoring in Spanish and the two work for SafeRide. Their relationship grew this year when Schlegel asked him to run as one of her vice presidents.

“I thought it was definitely a privilege that I had, to work with Helena because I never thought I would have the opportunity again.” Morales-O’Connor said. He originally hadn’t intended to run this year.

“When Helena approached me I definitely took advantage of the situation especially since I just know how Helena works and how passionate she is.”

Johnson, the other vice presidential candidate, works with Schlegel on the Organization Against Sexual Assault. She said it was the enthusiasm of the campaign and her trust in Schlegel that drew her to run for Vice President.

“She doesn’t sugar coat anything,” Johnson said of Schlegel. “She makes herself known and I’ve never been surprised by anything, just always impressed.”

Despite her team’s confidence in their candidate, Schlegel’s presidential bid was hardly smooth. The ASUO Constitution Court banned UO Forward from campaigning halfway through the runoff election for using phone numbers gathered from an outside petition to campaign. The numbers had been collected before active campaigning was allowed and the court ruled that it violated elections rules.

UO Forward campaign manager Shawn Stevenson called the ban an attack on UO Forward’s constitutional rights.

“The Con. Court panel was an attack on direct democracy and grassroots campaigning on campus, and I’m really happy to see how the campaign stuck together, and we didn’t let it affect us, and I think a lot of that was because of Helena’s leadership,” Stevenson said. “And I am extremely excited to see what the future holds for the ASUO next year.”

The night before voting ended, the opposing campaign, We Are Oregon, filed another grievance against UO Forward for campaigning through the ban. Thursday, members of UO Forward returned to their old campaign spot with a ‘water-pong’ table and a sign that said, ‘political games are being played, and we just want to play.’

“I think that’s a true testament to our optimism in a way,” Johnson said. “I think that really shows that we were willing to stand up for anything at the end of the day.”

In the end, neither grievance kept Schlegel from the presidency. She and her vice presidents won by 192 votes.

The two slates will be working together again soon enough. Roughly half of next year’s elected senators ran with We Are Oregon. Schlegel doesn’t seem worried, she thinks that both of the campaigns care about about making student government more representative and will work hard for student issues.

Schlegel has an idea of the kind of president she wants to be.

“If there was a president that actually interacted with the student body and not just to get them to vote and then never talk to them again, I think that kind of president has a chance to make a difference in a different way.” Schlegel said.


Note: A previous version of this article stated that Casey Edwards was a former ASUO Senator. He in fact served on the ASUO Executive.

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Kaylee Tornay

Kaylee Tornay

Kaylee is the Emerald's 2015-2016 Hiring and Training Director. Formerly an ASUO reporter for the News Desk and writer for the Arts and Culture Desk, Kaylee has also interned for the Medford Mail Tribune and freelanced for the Bend Bulletin.
Ask her to discuss local journalism or for tips on throwing shade at people who take up too much room on the sidewalk.