In the first debate of a series leading up the Associated Students election in mid-April, candidates running for president and internal vice president squared off Tuesday in the UCen.

Presidential hopefuls Chaz Whatley, from Students’ Party (SP), Bill Shiebler, from Student Action Coalition (SAC), and Torrin Brooks, from the independent party — unofficially named “A.S. Holes” — took center stage at noon in the Hub, answering questions posed by a moderator and from some of the roughly 70 people sitting in the dining court. Each candidate was allowed two minutes to make his or her opening statement and two minutes to answer each question.

Following the presidential debate, Adam Graff (SP) and Joanna Thomas (SAC), both vying for the internal vice president position (IVP), appeared in front of the audience and followed the same debate format.

SP and SAC members sat on opposite sides of the dining area in the front row of the audience, wearing their party’s colored T-shirt — red for SAC and green for SP — and cheering for their candidates after each question was answered. Brooks also received support from a smaller group of students in the crowd wearing plain clothes.

All three presidential candidates said rising tuition fees was the most important issue facing students. They also said they would like to be more easily accessible to students, either by holding longer office hours or going out on campus or into Isla Vista and talking to students.

Whatley said SP represents all students better, regardless of their background or beliefs.

“My first priority if I get into office, is to hold a town hall meeting,” she said. “Students’ Party has no agenda — students set our agenda.”

Brooks said he would be fiscally responsible if elected.

“If elected, I will focus all of my attention on the campus and students, whether by making myself more accessible or by better spending money to make this a better place,” Brooks said.

Shiebler said he is running for president with the backing of a coalition of student organizations, including the Black Student Union, El Congresso, and the A.S. Womyn’s Commission. He said SAC’s history speaks for itself.

“Actions speak louder than words — we have been around for 10 years,” Shiebler said. “We created the Isla Vista Tenants’ Union … I think we stand for fundamental things on campus: accessibility, accountability and diversity.”

During the internal vice president debates, Graff and Thomas articulated different opinions about roles of the job. Graff said the position requires a candidate to be knowledgeable about the A.S. Legal Code and enforce it.

“The internal vice president role is an administrative role,” he said. “You have to know the code … unless we get the internal stuff down, there’s no way we can properly represent students.”

Thomas, however, disagreed and said the Legal Code should help students achieve their goals, not serve as bureaucratic roadblock.

“Everyone can read the legal code and understand it,” she said. “You can teach a monkey the Legal Code. We should be accessible to students.”

The next A.S. elections debate is scheduled today at noon in the Hub, where candidates for external vice president of local affairs and external vice president of statewide affairs will debate.