Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, spoke at UC Davis yesterday to endorse four Democratic congressional candidates.
The rally, organized by Davis College Democrats (DCD), took place on the East Quad at 11:15 a.m. and featured words from ASUCD president Rebecca Sterling, DCD president Aref Aziz, Reps. John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney and candidates Ami Bera and Jose Hernandez.
Most speakers had ties with the university: Garamendi served as a former UC Regent, Bera served as Associate Dean for Admissions at the UC Davis School of Medicine — his wife is also attending the UC Davis medical school — and McNerney has children who attended UC Davis.
Clinton previously visited UC Davis in January 2008 while campaigning for his wife, current U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, during her bid for the Democratic nomination for president.
“It’s great to be back. I love this campus every time I come,” he said.
Students and members of the public began assembling as early as 7 a.m., while the rally was scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. An estimated 5,000 to 8,000 people were in attendance.
Charmaine Seguro, a third-year exercise biology major, arrived early to get a closer view of the podium. Being a middle-class student, she said she was glad Clinton was arriving to speak about why students should support President Barack Obama and the middle class.
“For me, I can’t imagine [Mitt] Romney being president for the upcoming year … I’m just hoping for the best,” she said.
Clinton stressed the importance of preserving Obama’s education reforms by voting for Proposition 30 and against Proposition 32 and electing Democratic candidates to Congress.
“We don’t need any lectures on self-reliance. We need a road map to another future … Making it possible to pay your loans means more of you will do it,” Clinton said.
Prop. 30 aims to increase the sales and use tax by a quarter cent over four years and would prevent a possible 20 percent increase in public university tuition. Prop. 32 would place a ban on union and corporate contributions to local and state candidates.
“We need to make sure students don’t graduate with so much debt that they’re already behind the eight-ball,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez, who as a child worked with his family on farms, said that he understands university students today because he struggled to pay tuition and needed Pell and Cal Grants to complete college.
Aziz said that if students vote, education will become a national priority.
Following Obama’s election, Democrats in Congress expanded the Pell Grant program and made education more affordable for students, he said. Aziz was excited about Clinton’s visit and what it entailed for UC Davis as a university.
“President Clinton’s visit means the world to the UC Davis community. It is a recognition of the quality of our university, just how important it is for us to vote and the need for us to get everyone we know to vote because people always vote more when their friends do too.”
Bradley Bottoms, ASUCD senator and a third-year political science and sociology double major, helped organize the recent voter registration drive on campus and coordinated with volunteers to register students to vote at the rally. Less than half of citizens ages 18 to 24 are registered to vote, Bottoms said.
California now offers online voting in an attempt to increase the number of registered voters.
Garamendi stressed the ease in registering and its importance.
“If you leave this plaza and you’re not registered to vote, I’ll talk to you on your way to class,” he said in jest.
Garamendi, as a UC Regent, voted down every proposed tuition increase and is a strong supporter of students and research, according to the Garamendi for Congress campaign manager, Maureen Erwin.
“There’s so much at stake now for young people with regard to higher education funding, Pell Grants [and] the economy,” she said.
Bottoms believes that Clinton’s visit is a testament to the caliber of learning offered at UC Davis.
“The California Democratic Party could have easily hosted this rally at many other California universities, but they chose UC Davis. I assume they respect our multi-disciplined institution that has top programs in diverse fields,” he said.
Though the rally was hosted in support of the Democratic Party, members of the Republican Party were also in attendance.
Adam Castle, communications director for Davis College Republicans (DCR) and fourth-year political science major, attended the rally to circulate “Dan Lungren for Congress” fliers, but also to see a former president speak.
Bera criticized Lungren in his speech for his views on women’s rights and abortion. Castle said that much of what was said was rhetorically based or too focused on social issues.
“In general, I think when Democrats are talking about social issues, it’s as a distraction from the big one: the economy,” he said.
For Castle, the main takeaway from the rally was to vote — something he agrees all students need to do regardless of political affiliation.
Clinton said that he and Obama, along with the four congressional candidates who joined him on stage, are dedicated to the students’ futures.
“They know that we can build a new American prosperity in the 21st century. But it’s a long, hard road and we have to do the smart thing. We have to do it together. It all begins with you,” he said.
A debate between the Davis College Democrats and Davis College Republicans will be held Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. in Young 184 at UC Davis.
MUNA SADEK can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. JANELLE BITKER contributed to this article.
Editor’s note: The following video was recorded and produced by AggieTV, a separate unit of ASUCD.