On Friday, April 17, 2009, the candidates for the Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley witnessed a Student Action sweep for the executive board of the A.S.U.C. The winners included Will Smelko for President, Tu Tran for Executive Vice President, Dani Haber for External Affairs Vice President, and John Tran for Academic Affairs Vice President.
Independent candidate Hassan Khan won the Student Advocate position for next year.
This year, 11,016 students, or 31% of the student body, voted in the A.S.U.C. elections, which is a 5% jump from last year’s turn out.
In contrast to the single party-dominated executive board, the Senate was more evenly divided, with Student Action landing eight seats, CalSERVE winning seven, and the last five won by independent and third party candidates.
One SQUELCH! candidate, Emily “Joe the Plumber” Carlton, made it to the Senate, coming in at number eighteen. The SQUELCH! party is famous for providing the alcohol and making professionalism in the A.S.U.C. look completely overrated…in all seriousness, of course. Coming from a party that makes the A.S.U.C. look like one big circus, Carlton’s win is a big one. Her platform emphasizes fair allocation of money to the students and student groups, while being aware of where the money is actually going. Carlton promises to bring transparency, efficiency and responsibility to the A.S.U.C. as a senator.
The Berkeley College Republicans candidate, Rick Chen, was not elected to the Senate. Chen claimed, “I was disappointed initially, but I am excited that there was justice for John Moghtader and I’m happy that CalSERVE lost the executive positions. I’m also happy that SQUELCH! was able to win a place in the Senate.” With Chen’s loss, and BCR’s current senator, Tommy Owens, graduating this year, BCR will no longer have representation in the A.S.U.C.
Ariel Boone, a member of the Cal Berkeley Democrats, was able to land a seat in the Senate, running for CalSERVE.
The Student Action executive victory serves as a drastic change for the A.S.U.C., as this is the first time that Student Action candidates have won all four executive positions since 2006. CalSERVE has controlled most of the executive positions for the past two years, which ultimately created a Student Action fever during the elections. People wanted something different, something new.
CalSERVE can be thought of as the more liberal of the two parties, as its platform emphasizes multiculturalism, social equality and social justice, or basically the ideals behind a huge support system for affirmative action.
The Student Action party is concerned with accountability of the student government to get every voice heard, while also improving the quality of student life. The party’s goals include providing more accessible studying space, increasing student resources and research opportunities, working towards Lower Sproul re-development, and increasing student safety.
These platforms are all very stimulating, but how much do the students actually care about them? The not-so-impressive 31% voter turnout illustrates how detached the A.S.U.C. really is in student life. Apparently 69% percent of the student body doesn’t walk to class preoccupied with who their student government officers should be and what to do about such issues as former Senator John Moghtader’s recall.
Followers of A.S.U.C. news will remember the controversy about Moghtader’s involvement in a physical fight at an anti-Israeli event. The recall supporters brought into action a recall election, despite video proof of Moghtader’s complete detachment from the violence. Of the approximately 35,000 students that attend the University, 2,689 students voted in favor of the recall and 1,021 against it, which allowed the A.S.U.C. to take official action in Moghtader’s removal from office. At the cost of $20,000, Moghtader’s recall raises questions about the A.S.U.C.’s ability to budget their already limited spending.
At the election results meeting, Tommy Owens, current A.S.U.C. senator and BCR member, held a sign that read “Justice” and had Moghtader’s picture on it. After the Student Action sweep, Owens waved the sign towards the defeated CalSERVE crowd. The Student Action win was a happy one for Moghtader’s supporters.
One may wonder how such a large number of students can simply not care about the actions of the biggest student government in the nation. Maybe it’s the corruption, or maybe it’s the shocking political apathy of college students. Either way, the A.S.U.C. does not seem to be doing its job in reaching out to students.
Of the students that do vote, there are a considerable amount that feels quite strongly about which party they vote for, and others who remain uncertain about who are the best candidates.
Tikvah member Matthew White stated, “I voted Student Action all the way, and I encouraged all the people in the club to vote Student Action.” In support of Will Smelko’s candidacy for President, White claimed, “Will Smelko was one of the few people in the Senate who dared to defend John Moghtader.”
Mia Pskowski, member of the Cal Berkeley Democrats, believes that the executive board works better when it is split between two parties, and that the dominance of CalSERVE in the past created a strong want for change, leading to the Student Action sweep. Pskowski stated, “There was only a 30% turnout of votes, which means that the A.S.U.C. really needs to start reaching out to students.” Pskowski believes that it is important for the students to be knowledgeable about voting because the A.S.U.C. has a big impact on student life, including funding for student groups and Lower Sproul development.
Mariam Sarwary, member of the Muslim Student Association, stated, “I didn’t know the stances too well, so I didn’t want to vote for all of the positions.” Sarwary voted Isaac Miller for Academic VP under CalSERVE and for another MSA member for Senate. Sarwary claimed, “Many of the candidates focus on getting out their views and platforms, but they do not necessarily advertise their names well enough for people to remember who they are.”
As the new executives and senators of the A.S.U.C. embark on the 2009-10 school year, a new kind of student government will be in place since recent history, and the student body (or at least 31% of it) will await the changes promised by these new student government leaders.