2011 ASUC Elections Endorsements: Empty Seats

Rashad Sisemore/Staff

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The Daily Californian ASUC Election Candidates Forum 2011: President

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2011 ASUC General Elections Candidate Proposals »

End the Sale of Bottled Water Initiative Student Advocate Academic Affairs Vice President Executive Vice President External Affairs Vice President President

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Photo: Samar Shah   Photo: Ratha Lai   Photo: Elliot Goldstein

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Correction Appended

The stage was conspicuously less crowded at this year's ASUC Election Candidates Forum, hosted by The Daily Californian on Friday. The audience, without the draw of either of the two major political parties, was full of empty seats.

This year is unique in recent history - CalSERVE announced in early March that it would not be running any candidates for the executive offices, and Student Action abruptly reneged on its candidates' commitments to attend the forum seven hours before the event was scheduled to begin.

The Student Action candidates had no obligation to us as editors to appear at our forum. They did, however, have an obligation to all voters to explain their platforms and detail what they would do with their offices. By refusing to appear at the forum, they instead chose to avoid the only opportunity for voters to see all the candidates put themselves on the same platform and engage in relevant, intelligent discourse.

This choice - ostensibly to focus on grassroots campaigning - allowed Student Action candidates to avoid answering difficult questions and engaging opposing viewpoints. But dodging this check on vague statements and empty promises only undermines the democratic process.

The ASUC has incredible potential, as proven by its significant achievements in the past. But it could never attain that potential with the current Student Action slate. Julia Joung, Joey Freeman, Christopher Alabastro and Vishalli Loomba are unfit to be leaders.

We recognize that Student Action candidates will probably win the majority, if not all, of the executive slates - the party has become an efficient machine that is unparalleled in its ability to galvanize its base, and without CalSERVE providing a unified opposition, there is little in the way of their victory. But we also know that they are not qualified to lead and have determined our endorsements accordingly.

What follows are our recommendations, but ultimately the choice of who to vote for is up to you. Whatever your opinion, be sure to vote today, tomorrow or Thursday and exercise your role in our democracy. It's up to you to determine the future of both your campus and your student government.

End the Sale of Bottled Water Initiative: Yes

Few people would disagree that the production of bottled water comes at a high environmental cost, especially when clean tap water is a readily available and often significantly cheaper alternative.

It is this line of thinking that brings about the "End the Sale of Bottled Water" initiative. This initiative "respectfully requests" the campus to consider ending the sale of bottled water in all non-emergency situations and to increase the number of hydration stations and working drinking fountains.

At the forum, we were very impressed with the speakers for both sides. Their speeches were well-researched and informative, and both presented compelling arguments for and against the initiative. However, the advisory nature of the initiative, combined with the admirable goal of reducing plastic waste, lead us to recommend a "yes" vote.

This initiative is an important, if flawed, step forward, and while we agree with the end goal - that the sale of bottled water should be eventually phased out - we're unsure that the "pro" campaign has adequately thought through the financial implications of such a move.

With the campus enduring some of the deepest cuts it has ever faced and a contract with Coca-Cola providing a significant source of revenue, we question the timing of any move that would further reduce campus income in these difficult economic times.

However, this is not a fatal flaw - the passage of this referendum would have no binding authority, and could not on its own imperil any legal contracts. Its strength is in its representation of the student voice.

In collecting signatures necessary to have the initiative placed on the ballot, Rose Whitson showed that there is interest in such a move. If the proposal passes, administrators should definitely take action.

If the initiative passes, administrators should begin the necessary research into ending the sale of bottled water. Once the data is available, they should share it with students and explain why the request is or is not practical. If the cost is too high, then it should be rejected - but at least we will know it was the right decision.

Vote "Yes" on the "End the Sale of Bottled Water" initiative.

Student Advocate: Samar Shah

Unlike the other ASUC executive positions, the student advocate is traditionally an independent endorsed by the two major parties and faces opposition from third-party candidates only. Constitutionally, the office is obligated to provide resources to students charged with conduct violations. It's also responsible for the broader mandates of educating the student body of their rights and representing students in discussions with administrators on conduct issues.

Though many things that the office does are necessarily shrouded by confidentiality rules, it has attained somewhat greater prominence due to the protests of the last two years and their aftermaths. Now more than ever, the student advocate needs to be able to achieve two goals: better publicizing the services that the office provides and addressing problems within the current process.

It is for this reason that we endorse independent candidate and current chief of staff to the student advocate Samar Shah. While we were concerned that his experience with the office would inhibit any innovation, he showed both at the forum and in his proposal that he recognizes the structural and visibility problems that the office faces and has concrete plans to address them. Defend Affirmative Action Party candidate Raul Sanchez had an admirable passion but was so narrowly focused on representing protesters and undocumented students that he consistently ran out of things to say at the forum, ending early and failing to adequately answer our questions.

Furthermore, Shah's experience in the office and commitment to reforming the conduct process solidify him as the obvious choice. He is much more familiar with the conduct process than Sanchez, who showed multiple misunderstandings of the purpose of the office while at the forum.

Vote Samar Shah for student advocate.

Academic Affairs Vice President

The academic affairs vice president is responsible for a litany of duties, among them communicating with the Academic Senate and appointing student representatives to administrative communities. This position's importance grows every year, especially as the number of budget cuts and departmental consolidations rise.

Given the current financial crisis that the campus faces and the proposed solutions by all the candidates, we cannot in good faith endorse any candidate. Instead, we will provide a voter's guide identifying each candidate's proposals and weaknesses.

SQUELCH! candidate Rachel Horning rightly noted that many students are stressed out and spent much of her time attacking Student Action candidate Julia Joung. Defend Affirmative Action Party candidate Brian Mosley, while passionate about increasing minority enrollment and addressing what he perceives as a "racist" and "segregated" campus, had few specific plans and was unable to adequately answer our questions.

Joung chose not to attend our forum and instead was evaluated by the one-page proposal that she submitted to The Daily Californian. Unfortunately, her proposal is so vague and uninspired that it is impossible to adequately determine her qualifications. Her plans to increase outdoor study space outside of Dwinelle and other buildings is somewhat baffling - is not what is already there "outdoor study space?" Similarly, she fails to explain how her proposed mentorship program would be any different from various other such programs on campus.

Most importantly, she fails to explain how she would accomplish any of her proposals. How would she fund a greater number of webcasts? How, exactly, would she "empower students" by "demanding greater transparency" of Operational Excellence - especially if she wasn't at the most recent presentation on OE to the ASUC Senate, as Horning pointed out. Had Joung attended the forum, she might have been able to provide greater detail on these topics.

Because of these three wholly uninspiring choices, we are unable to endorse any candidate for AAVP.

Executive Vice President: Elliot Goldstein

The executive vice president is the second-most important representative of the ASUC, serving as the chair of the ASUC Senate and sitting on the ASUC Store Operations Board. Success in this position requires not only a strong familiarity and understanding of the way that the senate works but also broad knowledge of ASUC finances.

Elliot Goldstein's record as a highly visible and active senator, regular presence at board meetings and performance both at the forum and in the race as a whole make him the most qualified candidate we've seen in years to be executive vice president.

As the only senator who regularly goes to board meetings, Goldstein has an understanding unmatched by any of his opponents of how the board operates and the power inherent in its decisions. While we don't necessarily agree with him that the board is a "usurpation of student rights" - it is a majority student board - his opinion is based on experience. His clear understanding of the board's history should be shared by every senator, and we urge him to remember it and consider the opposing perspective before denouncing the board.

Goldstein is similarly qualified to serve as senate chair. His active role as ASUC senator and long-needed proposal to reduce superfluous laptop use reveal institutional knowledge that the EVP position requires, and his promise to fix the website shows awareness of problems that have long plagued the ASUC. We wish he had addressed more problems facing the senate, but we enthusiastically endorse him nonetheless.

DAAP candidate Katie Gilmore's recent endorsement of Goldstein effectively removes her from consideration, and her proposal to eliminate Robert's Rules of Order is a non-starter.

Student Action candidate Chris Alabastro, along with the rest of the Student Action slate, chose not to attend the forum. His vague one-page proposal belied the lofty goals on which his campaign is based. His ideas - such as ensuring a smooth transition for student groups leaving Eshleman Hall and the establishment of a $150 First-Year Student Group Grant - ring hollow without plans for implementation.

The truth is, we have little to say about Alabastro - because he had little to say to us. Had he come to the forum, the campus community would have a better perspective of how he would compare to the other candidates.

Vote Elliot Goldstein for EVP.

External Affairs Vice President: Ratha Lai

The external affairs vice president is responsible for advocating beyond the boundaries of campus by representing the ASUC at city, university and state-wide levels. Under current EAVP Ricardo Gomez, the office has shifted from a focus on lobbying to one of direct action, raising awareness among students about campus protests and days of action.

While we did not see the same enthusiasm and commitment in this year's candidates that we saw in Gomez, we were nonetheless impressed enough with independent Ratha Lai to endorse him.

He is not the ideal candidate - admittedly, his plans for the office strike us as incomplete, and he has much work ahead to ensure they come to fruition. But he has a significant history of working with city leaders, and he shows a commendable familiarity with local issues such as the Southside Plan.

DAAP candidate James Gambrell showed a poor understanding of the current state of the EAVP's office, puzzling us with his assertion that Gomez - who has been arrested twice since assuming the EAVP position - isn't a true activist. Gambrell's message that leaders must include the entire student body is a theme we agree with, but we do not see the polarizing DAAP as being able to unite the campus. If the party wants a serious chance at being elected, they need to adopt a less hostile tone and work to better understand local issues.

Student Action candidate Joey Freeman chose not to attend the forum and was evaluated based on his one-page proposal. Unfortunately for everyone, his proposal had many talking points but few details. His history of lobbying and idea to create a system to alert students of important legislation sounds promising, but he does not adequately explain how he would turn these ideas into real action. Furthermore, his most ambitious proposal - to lobby for a city council district of students - belies his experience with the Los Angeles City Council and suggests a very poor understanding of how both redistricting and how his office work.

Vote Ratha Lai for external affairs vice president.

President: Stefan Montouth

The president of the ASUC is the most powerful student executive, with the potential to be the most prominent student on campus. However, success is far from guaranteed. It is the most broadly defined position in the ASUC Constitution and requires confidence and motivation.

Over the years, we have seen multiple presidents with varying degrees of effectiveness. Student Action President Will Smelko in 2009-10 exceeded our expectations to become a powerful and vocal advocate for students. Current President Noah Stern, also from Student Action, has been significantly less visible, with participants in the forum noting that his election scandal overshadowed any significant accomplishment.

This year, as budget cuts continue and the number of protests continues to rise, a strong and passionate leader is of paramount importance. Next year's president must confidently and convincingly advocate for students while maintaining a deep grasp of the complex financial and social issues facing the university. This requires an experienced leader with specific goals and well thought-out plans. This requires Stefan Montouth.

As a senator with CalSERVE and also as an intern for two years in the ASUC Office of the President, Montouth has amassed considerable experience working in different branches of government. His familiarity with Operational Excellence would serve him well during his presidency, when he could provide administrators with the students' perspective.

Other plans - such as publishing a student-oriented midyear organizational report for the entire ASUC and hiring grant writers to facilitate the seeking of grants - are inventive proposals that we would like to see implemented.

Montouth is no stranger to activism, having participated in the Blackout protest and worked with administrators during the Wheeler Hall ledge occupation. We have every confidence that he will approach student mobilization responsibly and know his experience will be beneficial for the entire campus.

Other candidates were either totally off the mark or, in the case of SQUELCH!, not running serious campaigns. We were pleasantly surprised by Emily Carlton, of SQUELCH!, who noted activism is not mutually exclusive with cooperation with administrators, a message DAAP candidate Lauren Ballard would do well to heed.

Ballard showed herself to be totally unfit for office when she complained that issues such as the Store Operations Board or internal ASUC structures were irrelevant to the average student. If she truly believes the ASUC and its financial responsibilities to be unimportant, then she should not have any say whatsoever in their administration.

Student Action candidate Vishalli Loomba, as with the rest of the Student Action executives, declined to attend the forum and instead submitted a vacuous, myopic proposal that failed to adequately address any significant issue currently facing the ASUC. An evaluation of her based on her proposal alone - as she and party chair Shahriyar Bolandian believed to be sufficient - makes us strongly doubt her ability to succeed as president.

The ineptitude of her proposal is exemplified by her only concrete idea: to require 10 percent of savings from all cuts to be reinvested in scholarships and other financial aid. This idea would only hurt affected departments further by forcing administrators to make deeper cuts in order to achieve savings goals. Other proposals, such as the idea that she would create student achievement awards or facilitate "artistic competitions," fail to address any of the important issues facing the campus and reveal that no thought was put into these words.

Vote Stefan Montouth for ASUC president.

Clarification:A previous version of this article may have implied that Rose Whitson gathered the necessary number of signatures to place the "End the Sale of Bottled Water" initiative on the ballot.


Correction: Sunday, April 10, 2011
A previous version of this article said that Brian Mosley was the Defend Affirmative Action Party candidate for EAVP. In fact, James Gambrell is the Defend Affirmative Action Party candidate for EAVP

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

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