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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Column: The paradox of ASUCD

Sandbox Politico

My name is Justin Goss. Former ASUCD Senator and recovering ASUCD addict. Think of this column as my coping mechanism to help with the separation anxiety.

The revolving door of ASUCD spins once again and six new senators are swept onto the table by the electoral gale force. As the dust settles I am left standing outside the Mee Room, my posterior hurting from the door bidding me farewell. Turning around I now have time to reflect on what I’ve learned during my tenure.

Paradox 1 — Elections: Let’s start by examining the candidates. Let’s not go one by one; save that for the news desk. No, let’s look at the big picture. We hear a lot about qualifications when the electoral maelstrom begins, but rarely do candidates have much student government experience; I certainly didn’t. Why?

Because at the end of the day, electoral politics are a popularity contest. On a college campus, to get elected you either need a strong electoral base, like a Greek house or other large community, or you need to be generally friendly and well-connected.

Herein lies the problem. Being involved in ASUCD consumes your life. When you’re good at it, you work tirelessly for the student body, like you’re elected or appointed to do. But as a result, you spend a lot of your life on the third floor of the Memorial Union (MU), or in closed meetings. And when you’re doing that, you’re not meeting people, you’re not making friends, you’re not winning the popularity contest.

What does this mean for our elected officials? It means it’s actually to a candidate’s detriment to spend time educating on the campus and qualifying themselves for the position. Because ASUCD itself is not a voting base, when elections roll around we all scatter in different directions as though we’d been startled by the bang of a latent gavel.

How do you fix it? If students were more knowledgeable of their student government they’d be able to look past the perfect smiles and flashy but unachievable platforms and elect people based purely on qualifications. What a beautiful idea. But that’s a utopia where we ride unicorns around campus instead of bicycles, so alas the paradox persists.

Paradox 2 — Slates and Politics: Make no mistake, ASUCD is not real politics. In the real world, politicians are accountable to their constituents and their party. If they vote against either one, they’ll be sanctioned. They either won’t be reelected or their party leaders will take away things like committee appointments and speaking time.

Not so in ASUCD. We already know students aren’t engaged enough to actively monitor their elected officials, and most of us don’t seek reelection anyway; so we can pretty much vote however we want.

As for slates being like political parties, trust me, it’s not at all the same. Slates can’t punish you. They can’t dock your pay or remove you from a committee or humiliate you by cutting your speaking time; you pretty much have free rein once you’re on the table. What does this mean?

It means when we talk about “petty politics” in ASUCD, we’re misusing the term. When Democrats scream at Republicans on national TV for not voting a certain way, it’s a good show, but it doesn’t really matter. That Republican is never going to change their vote. They know they will suffer far worse consequences for defecting from their party than being blasted by the press; their vote is locked in.

Not the case on the senate table. Our vote is our own, so our peers expect us to vote in a responsible fashion, and to be willing to change our minds. If a group of students comes to senate and screams at us, it’s effective. Seriously. We have no defense; these are our peers yelling in our faces. We may see them tomorrow in the CoHo or in class … awkward.

Same thing for relationships between senators. Politics don’t arise around the table because of slates or parties, they form between students who find ways to make friends with each other. And friends do each other favors — we’re more receptive to the opinions of people we like. So don’t talk about politics in ASUCD like a shady backroom affair. Trust me, the senate office isn’t big or clean enough to allow for that type of thing.

Understand this. ASUCD is a weird entity, but it’s a government for and by students. Meaning you as students can resolve some of these abnormalities … all you have to do is care.

JUSTIN GOSS enjoys tables, placards and gavels. If you’d like to yell at him about student government, or the real world, he can be reached at jjgoss@ucdavis.edu.

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