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Thursday, September 16, 2021

ASUCD Senator Yara Zokaie steps down

Yara Zokaie, former ASUCD senator and alumna of UC Davis, officially resigned from her position on Oct. 18.

Although Zokaie currently attends law school at the University of San Diego, the former senator elected to retain her seat after graduating from UC Davis last June until the expiration of her term at the end of Fall Quarter. However, Zokaie was no longer on payroll and ASUCD President Rebecca Sterling informed her earlier in the quarter that she was ineligible because she was no longer a UC Davis student.

In her letter of resignation delivered to ASUCD last week, Zokaie states that the rigors of attending law school have rendered her incapable of serving as a long-distance senator, and that she has subsequently stepped down in the best interest of the student body.

For the past four weeks, the unexpected aftermath from the former senator’s decision rocked the third floor of the Memorial Union as a wave of frustration and polarization settled over ASUCD.

Zokaie resolved to keep her position in direct resistance to ASUCD President Rebecca Sterling, whom she believed was pressuring senators to vote on legislation as she saw fit.

Normally, once a Senate seat is vacated early, a “countback” is initiated to find the next runner-up in the previous election in order to fill the seat. However, since runner-up Charlie Colato also graduated last year, a replacement senator would be named by Sterling and confirmed by the Senate. Thus, Zokaie felt that vacating the seat would allow Sterling to select a temporary senator that would vote her way.

Such claims follow on the heels of accusations that various Senate members, in several private meetings, pledged allegiance to Sterling with their votes. Sterling denies any such meetings have ever taken place.

“There has never been a time where myself, or representatives from my office, have vowed with current senators to ‘stick together’ and vote the same — the Executive Branch does not even have a vote on the Senate table,” Sterling said in an email interview.

Sterling has also publicly announced her willingness to cooperate and find a temporary senator that Zokaie was comfortable with.

Earlier this quarter, Sterling issued a letter to Zokaie informing her of her illegitimacy as a senator due to ASUCD bylaw 703, which states that student leadership positions must be filled by enrolled students only. The ASUCD Constitution (Article I, Section 3) also states that “graduate and professional students may not vote in the ASUCD elections and cannot hold an elected or appointed office in ASUCD.”

Several members of ASUCD saw this action as an attempt to forcibly remove a member of the legislative branch, and as an abuse of power on behalf of the executive.

Sterling, however, stands by her actions.

“I relayed the message to [Zokaie] and the Senate table that both our Bylaws and our Constitution were being violated by allowing for a non-UC Davis enrolled undergraduate and enrolled professional student to serve as an ASUCD Senator,” she said. “I did not remove her, yet I did relay the message that she had removed herself from the position by making herself ineligible to serve. I did state the facts, I did not take any action, let alone any ‘forcible’ action.”

As of June 2012, Zokaie has not been scheduled to receive her usual salary as senator.

“As far as we know, [Zokaie] hasn’t been turned in for anything to be paid. She last received a check on the 20th,” said Kathy Wilton, office manager with ASUCD Student Services.

Sergio Cano, Internal Affairs Commission chair, feels differently than Sterling.

“She does not have constitutional authority to command the ASUCD Senate nor the ASUCD Elections Committee. The ASUCD Senate has sole discretion of how they wish to settle this matter,” he told The Aggie earlier this month in an email interview.

Cano believes that the matter should have gone to the ASUCD Court, because the issue centered around the interpretation of the Constitution and Bylaws. He also gave an argument against Sterling’s interpretation of Bylaw 703.

“I would agree that it is a constitutional matter at this point, since the ASUCD President has referenced Bylaw 703 as her prime directive for acting in her position. However, she has interpreted this to include ‘enrolled Undergraduate of UC Davis student,’ which does not explicitly state so, since enrolled student is ambiguous at this point.”

Under normal circumstances, such contentious issues are referred to the ASUCD Court for a final verdict. However, the Court is currently defunct in that it lacks a Chief Justice, who is appointed by the President. Sterling has yet to choose a new one. As such, conducting business with the Court is in itself another challenge.

“It is a difficult time to be in ASUCD since there is quagmire of opinions,” Cano said. “This is why the ASUCD Court should be the perfect venue to settle this as it is an indirect body away from political influence and they have the ultimate authority in interpreting the governing documents of ASUCD.”

Zokaie believes such difficulties within ASUCD are a direct result of the executive branch.

“I think ASUCD has become severely dysfunctional because of the executives’ incompetence and noncooperation,” she said.

President Sterling, however, wholly believes that Zokaie did not deserve to keep her seat.

“[Zokaie’s] attempt to continue serving after enrolling and beginning law school in San Diego was irresponsible, and disrespectful to the Association and the student body. UC Davis students deserve representatives who serve in their positions to better the Davis community.”

Reactions on the Senate table were also mixed.

“I think she should have resigned when she decided to go to law school,” said Senator Erica Padgett. “We’re at a loss of a senator to represent the student body on campus. I think she’s doing a disservice to the student body by not giving a replacement, and having worked with the President who was open and willing to find an adequate replacement, I think it’s a shame.”

Senator Justin Goss said he was initially in favor of Zokaie keeping her seat.

“I was more in favor of her getting to hold her seat and participation to some extent rather than let the President hand-pick a senator,” he said.

Senator Patrick Sheehan believes that Sterling, as president, should not have the option to remove any elected legislator.

“It was weird in that things like this should have gone to the Court, but the Court wasn’t in the position to do things quickly,” Sheehan said.

However, as time dragged on and tensions mounted, Zokaie’s recent resignation has left members of ASUCD questioning whether any of this was worth the struggle.

“I think it was an appropriate time for Zokaie to resign, where we don’t look like a super illegitimate body, but whatever effect she was going for was carried through,” Sheehan said.

Goss has also reconsidered his position.

“While I did think that protecting the Constitution was important, when it comes to this actual vacancy of the seat, the drama just isn’t worth it,” Goss said.

The senators agree that for now, things at the Senate table have returned mostly to normal.

“I just wish things had been resolved earlier,” said Senator Don Gilbert.

According to Goss, a replacement is being looked into but it could be a lengthy process. He said that the position must be stated as “vacant” online on the ASUCD website and a minimum of two-thirds of the applicants must be interviewed before the president can select the candidate that she sees most fit. The table is given the option to confirm the candidate or ask the Interviewing Committee to re-evaluate the applicants and present another candidate.

ADAM KHAN can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

In her letter of resignation delivered to ASUCD last week, Zokaie states that the rigors of attending law school have rendered her incapable of serving as a long-distance senator, and that she has subsequently stepped down in the best interest of the student body.

As of June 2012, Zokaie has not been scheduled to receive her usual salary as senator.

“As far as we know, [Zokaie] hasn’t been turned in for anything to be paid. She last received a check on the 20th,” said Kathy Wilton, office manager with ASUCD Student Services.

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