2009 ASUC Elections Endorsements: Left Wanting

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Every year, The Daily Californian Senior Editorial Board makes recommendations to voters in the ASUC elections. The endorsements are primarily based on a forum the Daily Cal hosts for the executive candidates. This year, the board was entirely underwhelmed by the candidates. Rather than endorsing candidates for the executive offices,aside from student advocate, the board is presenting an elected officials' guide. Although we recognize voters may look to us as they decide their votes, we cannot in good faith endorse any of these candidates.

Judge the candidates for yourself. See their statements during the Daily Cal's elections forum by clicking this link.

Introduction

Today the ASUC is nothing more than an ineffective, inefficient and petty organization. Students should expect much more from their representatives, who spend months campaigning for spots in the student government.

Executive officers and senators have slowly yielded the autonomy of the student government to the auxiliary and let its voice to the administration go silent. Senate meetings are excessively long and consumed by useless political arguments of little actual consequence for students.

Year after year, students vote for candidates who pledge to increase the revenue of the student government, renovate Lower Sproul Plaza or make the association more transparent and accessible. Yet, in the last four years, the ASUC has spent a majority of its time organizing elections, fighting legal battles over who was or was not elected and holding town-hall meetings with no follow-through.

The failure to act purposefully is not the fault of a single party. Both CalSERVE and Student Action have held executive offices and garnered strong representations in the senate, and both have failed. In truth, there are few differences and many similarities between the groups. Each blatantly panders to student groups in their quest for support, and the elected officials from each follow their party bosses rather than acting based on rational thought. Indeed some of the best senators the ASUC has seen in the last several years have been independents and members of the SQUELCH! Party.

The only president in the last four years to accomplish a tangible goal was Student Action's Manny Buenrostro, who brought Gelateria Naia-albeit a poor business decision-to Lower Sproul Plaza in 2006.

In 2006-07, President Oren Gabriel and his Student Action administration defined its tenure by seeking reimbursement for some $22,000 in legal fees incurred unsuccessfully suing the ASUC over a Judicial Council decision. The following year President Van Nguyen, of CalSERVE, did nothing beyond maintaining the weak status quo.

This year, the campus has been roiled with intense racial and political tensions; students have been plagued by persistent threats to safety on the southside of campus; academic departments have suffered the first effects of massive state budget cuts.

But President Roxanne Winston-a member of CalSERVE-and her administration, have proved unable to effectively engage students or the administration to make the ASUC a key player in addressing these issues. Instead the ASUC has been wrapped up in the senseless $20,000 recall election of a senator.

ASUC presidents address the student body on special occasions, but otherwise remain largely unseen. They are not usual presences at UC Regents meetings, where fee levels are set and important policy decisions are made. One of this year's candidates even seemed to find a once-a-month meeting with Chancellor Birgeneau to be an honor.

For most students, their only interaction with the ASUC comes when they need to seek funding from the senate, which requires that they endure an intensely political and inefficient process.

The ASUC was not always so irrelevant. The association used to be an equal partner for the administration in running this campus. Even the athletics programs fell under the purview of the students. In the 1980s, the ASUC played an active role organizing the student movement for divestment in South Africa, significantly figuring in the university's decision to do so in 1986.

Yet student leaders lost their way in the 1990s, burdening themselves with millions of dollars of debt, and introducing the specter of the total loss of autonomy. In a 1998 deal to relieve debt owed to the university, the ASUC agreed to cede operational control of student buildings to a university unit, and now has its finances managed by the ASUC Auxiliary, a body that answers to the campus administration.

Over the last five years in particular, the auxiliary has become more powerful and eats up far more student dollars which could otherwise go to student organizations. Elected student leaders have proved far too willing to abdicate their financial responsibility to the organization, and instead eagerly await what amounts to their annual allowance from the auxiliary.

In this period of uncertainty and turmoil at UC Berkeley, the time has come for the ASUC to once again assert its power as one of the only autonomous student governments in the country.

Whoever is elected to serve the student body this year needs to restore confidence in the association by cutting down on petty political debates and raising the voice of students in key university decisions.

While we do intend to condemn the elected officials who have let the ASUC degenerate, we hope that all is not lost. Students serving in the next student government have an opportunity to begin the process of reasserting the responsibility of the organization, and regaining respect for it. This will mean taking on risk and setting aside the comfort of political parties. But maybe one person will be able to look back on their contribution with pride. And maybe the campus can once again share in that pride.

President

The ASUC president, while the most significant executive seat, is also the most vaguely defined by the constitution. Charged with monitoring "the health and well-being of the (ASUC) and the student body," the president serves as chief representative of Berkeley's largest constituency to the administration and the UC Regents.

The president must go beyond simply being a powerless figurehead-a characterization not disputed by the current candidates. First and foremost, this individual must be willing to take a stand for students in his or her relations with the chancellor, campus administrators and the regents. Meeting with the chancellor should not be, as Student Action's Will Smelko described it, an honor-it should be a productive, regular occurrence.

The partisanship of this year's senate has absolutely no place in this office. Being opinionated is, of course, expected of a politician but these opinions are only valuable if they are relevant to students' interests. Personal battles and party politics are a meaningless distraction.

Knowing the capacity of this office as it once was, the opportunities for the president to effect meaningful change are endless. With the right person at its helm, the ASUC could cease being a "pretend" organization filled with college students imitating the behavior of petulant toddlers, and instead restore the power of this student government as it once was.

The prospects of this organization improving in any real way under the leadership of the current candidates are certainly slim to none. CalSERVE's Oscar Mairena rightly recognized that the auxiliary's extending power has hurt the ASUC and students; however he provided no specifics as to how he would roll back the effects. Mairena, whose senatorial record is far from impressive, also has valuable, though obvious, insights as to increasing the auxiliary's revenue; these positives, however, failed to convince us that he would do anything more than continue the trend of ineffectual executives. Smelko plays the part of politician superbly, but doesn't possess any revolutionary ideas for the office. He has proven networking skills, but Smelko is more likely to collaborate with the administration than to fight it on students' behalf--a quality that's incompatible with achieving substantial improvements. Perhaps the sole candidate exhibiting any true passion, Ronald Cruz of the Defend Affirmative Action Party, refreshingly presents himself as a strong advocate for underrepresented students. He is the closest to a true leader amongst the candidates, yet his narrow-minded platform makes a Cruz presidency an unreasonable alternative. Beverly Elithorp, of D.A.N.C.E., addressed important issues, but lacks ideas of substance.

Executive Vice President

The executive vice president is the second-highest ranking ASUC official and the chair of the senate. This year, the highly inexperienced Executive Vice President Krystle Pasco exacerbated the distracting and irrelevant bickering of senators, culminating in excruciatingly long and unproductive senate meetings. In his or her capacity to moderate meetings, this individual must not only be extremely knowledgeable of parliamentary proceedure, the bylaws and constitution, but also capable of effectively passing this knowledge on to incoming senators before the school year begins.

More so than other executives, the executive vice president must serve as a neutral facilitator with a major focus on efficiency. Making appointments, giving committee assignments and keeping track of finances require an absolute separation from partisan bickering. With a more limited ASUC budget next year, the executive vice president must work to ensure that senators are spending money in a fair and responsible manner. This individual must maintain the transparency of the senate's operations, and ensure that senators are being held accountable for their actions.

Of the five candidates, Chad Kunert of SQUELCH! seems the most capable of improving the senate's efficiency, given his third party status and senatorial experience. A strong public speaker, Kunert would be able to moderate meetings, yet he proposed no specific ideas on reducing the role of party politics in the senate. Student Action's Tu Tran also presents valuable and concrete ideas, such as appointing a finance officer early on and defining specific uses for the contingency fund. However, it's unclear if Tran possesses the commanding personality necessary to effectively chair the senate. Though Kifah Shah promoted herself as "facilitator" more than anyone else, this CalSERVE candidate is completely unfit for the position of executive vice president, given her heinous displays of partisanship time after time on and off the senate floor.

Academic Affairs Vice President

The Office of the Academic Affairs Vice President is constitutionally charged with carrying out ASUC events that have an academic component, such as the bookswap, leading ASUC's relations within the Academic Senate and appointing students to various campus academic committees.

With ongoing and increasing budget cuts, the academic affairs vice president needs to play a crucial role in voicing student concerns in the budgeting process. Now is the time for the individual in this role to actually make things happen. The restructuring of International and Area Studies, the drastic cuts to the physical education, arts and East Asian languages departments are all issues of critical importance to students. Students deserve an effective advocate to promote their interests to administrators, rather than simply complaining after changes have already been made. The academic affairs vice president needs be intimately involved in these decisions and truly hold administrators accountable when they make decisions without student input by publicizing his or her efforts.

Though taking a stand against administrators is an intimidating task, the academic affairs vice president would best serve students as an advocate.

With his familiarity of the current academic affairs office, CalSERVE's Isaac Miller comes with the most knowledge and experience. Yet despite his desire to be more involved in the administration's decision-making process, he does not have a concrete plan and we do not anticipate a great difference between him and the current office-holder, Carlo de la Cruz. In the elections forum, Student Action candidate John Tran appeared rather unaware in terms of the responsibilities of the position. The only other serious candidate is Defend Affirmative Action Party's Talya Hezi, who possesses an extremist desire to mobilize the student body against the administration and does not recognize the value of working with administrators to achieve common goals.

External Affairs Vice President

The chief liaison between UC Berkeley students and outside entities, the external affairs vice president leads all governmental lobbying efforts at the local, state and national level.

With the likely prospect of another fee increase this year, the external affairs vice president ought to lobby state legislators on a far more regular basis. Unlike past efforts, lobbying does not mean busing a few dozen students to Sacramento for an ineffective protest. Instead this person needs to track legislation and seek out specific legislators to sponsor bills. On a campus level, the external affairs vice president should engage in letter campaigns, calling and advocating for a bigger slice of state funding.

Moreover, this individual ought to be attending every single UC Regents meeting, and utilizing the public comment period to express students' interests as often as possible. On a local level, the external affairs vice president must be in constant contact with city officials and network with them to address crucial issues like nighttime safety on the Southside.

Student Action's Dani Haber proposes some good ideas to tackle the safety issue, such as deploying more police and installing blue lights, and has existing connections with city officials. However, in her dedication to the safety issue, Haber completely ignores other important issues at stake, like student fees and lobbying Sacramento. CalSERVE's Joan Jones was more personable than Haber and seems open to the input of students in developing lobbying priorities. However, Jones didn't go beyond vague rhetoric to detail what issues she would lobby for, and her hesistance to support more police patrolling Southside is worrysome. Defend Affirmative Action Party would be most effective in this position of all the executive seats, and their determined efforts to pass the DREAM Act and other legislation serve as a good example of how the office ought to conduct its lobbying campaigns. But candidate Issamar Almaraz did not attend the forum, and her relevant qualities are unknown.

Student Advocate

Unlike the other executive seats, the position of ASUC student advocate is not embroiled in the partisan politics of the rest of the organization. As the campus public defender, the student advocate offers advice and representation to students and groups involved in various kinds of disputes with the university. Though its activities are not of a public nature, more publicity and outreach could allow students to better utilize the resources of this office.

As is often the case, one candidate is clearly far more qualified for this position than the others. This year, that candidate is Hassan Khan. Having served in the office of current Student Advocate Matt DeMartini, Khan possesses impressive knowledge about the position. Not only would he serve as an effective student advocate, but his idea of overhauling the Code of Student Conduct could be a valuable improvement.

Vote for Hassan Khan for Student Advocate.

Note: An earlier version of this endorsement misspelled Hassan Khan's name.

Amendments

Vote "yes" on all six propositions to amend the ASUC Constitution. Two propositions correct typos in the constitution. The third proposition would remove specific language from the constitution dealing with polling locations, an improvement because it would lend more flexibility to the Elections Council and eliminate a need for future amendments on this issue. The fourth proposition changes the number of students required to put a proposition on the ballot from 1,000 to 10 percent of the student body. The percentage is a better reflection of the actual student voice and helps account for online petitions. Two amendments deal with the procedures for an ASUC official's recall. Students should have to provide a "a list of specific reasons" to recall any elected official. The egregious cost of a recall election should only be required if a recall is desired by a significant number of students. Twenty-five percent of the previous year's voters rather than 1,000 students better accounts for senators' proportional representation, the growth of the student body and use of the Internet in acquiring the minimum signatures.

Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a proposition on the ballot would change the constitution to require a "specific list of reasons" to recall an elected official. In fact, the constitution would change to require "a list of specific reasons."

Tags: DAILY CAL ENDORSEMENTS, ELECTIONS, ASUC






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