At only 27 years old, graduate student Daniel Watts is running for the highest statewide office in an attempt to raise the issue UC students are most invested in: lowering or eliminating tuition costs for public education.
Watts graduated with a degree in Political Science and History from UC San Diego in 2006, when student fees cost $6,141. As costs rise into the quintuple digits this year, the issue has gained prominence everywhere.
The Aggie asked Watts 10 questions about his campaign, his perspective on public education and Stephen Colbert.
How did you decide that you wanted to run for governor, and what does your platform consist of?
None of the other candidates are making the cost of college a priority in their campaigns, and I’m running to force them to address the issue. My platform in 2003 had only three words: lower student fees. This year, it has two: free college.
What have the results of your previous campaigns been like?
Politicians listen when another candidate threatens to siphon off their supporters. My 2003 gubernatorial campaign threatened, if only briefly, the voter bases of the major candidates who had not pledged to lower student fees. When the recall campaign began, no one was talking about education. But after TV and newspapers covered my candidacy, three of the five top candidates had prioritized college affordability. Sadly, Arnold wasn’t one of them.
What do you have to say about the current state of California and what would you offer as possible solutions?
Solution to everything: free college for every college-eligible Californian. I’m at the law school; we’re paying over $34,000 this year, and the Regents hiked our fees by another ten grand. Imagine the boost to California’s economy if every law student had $10,000 to kick around, let alone $44,000.
Your YouTube video definitely has a kind of irreverent feel to it – how seriously do you consider yourself as a candidate in such a high-profile election? What are your goals?
The goal is to force Jerry Brown to promise free college. If we have to compromise, and Jerry Brown only promises to lower rather than eliminate student fees, I’ll still have accomplished more in six months than UCSA has in six years. My YouTube videos … get more attention with humor than wonky political talk.
Give us your take on the UC system’s financial difficulties specifically.
My goal is to force Jerry Brown to make a pledge: To restore funding to higher education, allowing the Regents to lower student fees, preferably to nothing. I’m not insane; I know I’m not going to be the next governor. 450,000 votes is feasible, by the way: That’s only 10 percent of what Arnold pulled in 2003.
Do you think the California political process has passed the point where ordinary citizens with ideas and ambition can realistically attain positions to create change?
The same year I ran for governor, Barack Obama was a college professor. Today he’s the most powerful human on the planet. Rebecca Cohn, a former California state legislator, sits in class with me at law school. Every ordinary person has potential to do the extraordinary.
Do any of the big-ticket candidates seem to address the issues you think are most important in a significant way?
None of them have pledged free college, [and] none have made lowering student fees a priority. The Republicans have dismissed student support, and the other Democrats take it for granted. Unless I’m on the ballot, I guarantee that student fees will rise again next year. I would bet my life on it.
Do you approach politics from a cynical or idealistic standpoint? Do you poke fun at the idea of an announcement for candidacy with tongue in cheek or with your heart on your sleeve? Perhaps a little of both?
I idolize Stephen Colbert. I don’t have corporate donors to placate or special interests to mollify. Politics can be fun, and I have the freedom to invest my entire personality, all my humor and sarcasm, into this single issue: College should be free.
If you had to point towards a main source of California’s trouble, where would you emphasize? Past governors, the legislature, the people, the system in general?
The buck stops with the governor. The legislature, the Regents, the cities and the unions all pay attention to the governor and react to his priorities. He guides the state and sets the tone. It’s been almost a decade since the governor set a positive tone for college affordability.
Anything else you’d like to say to the people of California as both a candidate and “one of us”?
I need you to give me a dollar. A single year of law school exceeds the entire cost of four years of undergrad tuition. When I ran during the recall, I used my Wheel of Fortune prize money to pay the filing fee. That’s not an option this year, so supporters should PayPal a couple bucks to email@example.com. I’ve raised $80 so far, which is a start, but I’m a long way from the goal.
And to vote for me, you’ll need to switch your party registration to “Democrat” or “Decline to State” for the primary. Voter registration forms are all over campus. Check me out at youtube.com/governorwatts, twitter.com/governorwatts or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BRIAN GERSON can be reached at email@example.com.