Hawkeye Caucus recruits student lobbyists

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | MARCH 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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A new student group is working to create a movement from the inside-out.

By organizing a coalition of students, Hawkeye Caucus wants to take a more active role in Iowa higher-education decisions.

University of Iowa Governmental Relations faculty formed Hawkeye Caucus this fall to inform lawmakers about the benefits the university brings to the state. Though it began with only professors, students are now taking up the cause.

Abbey Moffitt, one of three interns for the initiative, said it is vital for students to have a consistent presence on the political stage because they are directly affected by such issues as decreasing state appropriations and tuition increases.

Hawkeye Caucus became an official student organization this week, and officials plan to start from the bottom when recruiting students.

“We’re an advocacy tool for everyone, and we’re trying to reach out to Hawkeye fans across the state,” Moffitt said.

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The interns have reached out to different student organizations around campus, such as UI Student Government, University Democrats, College Republicans, and many others to find participants.

Moffitt said they are planning a trip to Des Moines on April 5 so students have another opportunity to lobby legislators about potential tuition increases.

Every UI college — from Pharmacy to Liberal Arts and Sciences — will be represented at Hawkeye Caucus Day, she said.

Members plan to showcase the UI’s benefits, Moffitt said, including the number of state pharmacists and doctors the university produces, as well as the attention gained from athletics and academic achievements.

State legislators said they support of student lobbying organizations and would be receptive to such a group.

Sen. Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa, said he encourages any constituent to come to the capitol often.

UI students — including graduate-student groups, medical students, and undergraduates — have made several trips to the Capitol this semester.

“I don’t think one trip is enough,” Rielly said. “If you’re concerned about a particular cause, it’s great to come to the Capitol.”

Sen. Merlin Bartz, R-Grafton, said students carry more credence because they are the ones directly affected by tuition increases.

“You know that they’re putting a special effort together as opposed to sending an e-mail,” he said.

Tysen Kendig, the UI vice president for Strategic Communication, said student participation in Hawkeye Caucus is a benefit for lobbying purposes.

“Students are what we’re all about as a university,” he said. “Certainly, when you’re talking about any effort to help people understand the importance of the UI, much of that is centered on the student experience here.”

The faculty-led initiative notified legislators about the group last fall. But before beginning their lobbying efforts, Moffitt said, they want to build a base of motivated members.

“Now that [legislators] are aware, students can hop on board, and it really makes an impact,” she said.

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