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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Column: Lest you repeat it

Feel that? You knew it was coming — the lurid clouds swirling ominously on the horizon as the gathering gale approaches. So hide the children, batten down your tables lest they be flipped. This, my friends, is a rant, and it’s about to rain policy up in here.

ASUCD Senate, why did you approve Senate Bill 42 and change the necessary votes required to suspend a bylaw from a 2/3 supermajority of 8 votes, to a 3/4 super-duper-majority of 9? Do you know what the bylaws are? Did you consider the implications? Do you have any grasp of political theory?

No, no and no you cry into the wind? Let’s explore.

What are the bylaws? Here’s the good citizen answer. The bylaws are the neutral governing documents which ensure the fair operation of ASUCD (yawn).

Here’s the real answer. The bylaws are the institutional memory of the Senate and they reflect its current political composition. Wait, Justin are you saying the bylaws are inherently political? Duh.

Consider who votes on them; the senators themselves. Consider what causes someone to write a bylaw. Notice there are no bylaws restricting a senator’s ability to go skydiving on Wednesdays. No, we make laws in general to protect against harms we’ve seen occur in the past.

Seriously, if you knew the history of the governing documents, you could attach names and motive to each one. Want me to tell you about the Carly Sandstrom (former chair) Separation of Powers bylaw? Or how about the Paul Min (current senator) Campaign Finance rules. Or even the Don Ho (former controller) Get your Ass to the Senate Meeting rule.

Bylaws are pointed, they are targeted, but they are not neutral. What they are is a reminder to the senate that these precautions or checks exist for a reason and you should think very carefully before suspending them.

Say a bill comes along that breaks a rule. The senators ought to consider why the bill and the rules conflict, determine if this is an extraordinary case, and then weigh the competing values of that bylaw against the bill.

Did you undertake this introspective process when you passed SB 42, Senate? Probably not. Do you have any idea what changing the required vote means?

Ask former Senator Jared Crisologo-Smith if he would approve this bill. Do you think cultural celebrations would have received funding last year if we’d required nine votes to suspend the necessary bylaw? Don’t bet on it.

Ask KDVS 90.3 what they think. Do you think they would have their shiny new tower if we’d needed nine votes? I can guarantee they wouldn’t. Don’t you get it?

These instances required the bylaws to be suspended because they were important and extraordinary.

Let’s venture out of the sandbox for a moment and talk political theory. The founding fathers believed government should tailor its goods and services to the interests of the majority, with some of those interests inhibited by the opposition of the minority. Essentially, government output equals the majority will, minus minority dissent. At the end of the day though they believed a simple majority should suffice to dispense with most policy debates.

The framers did realize, however, that government can be erratic, and in certain cases greater checks should oppose an irrational or defiant majority.

Hence, even though it made them uncomfortable, they instituted the supermajority as a tool to slow down the government process. They realized this tool was in some aspects undemocratic however, as it could bar the will of the majority and dilute representation.

Do you see now, ASUCD Senate? The framers recognized rules and policy are inherently political and weighed the importance of efficient policy against the fear of a tyrannical majority, inevitably concluding that one interest superseded the other. They intentionally compromised a fundamental democratic principle because they found a higher order interest.

But what did you find in SB 42? What compelled you to pass a bill which diluted the power of the majority and actually gave senators less power to represent the students who elected them at the table? For your sake it better have been unusual and profound.

Senators, I urge you to fall on ASUCD President Rebecca Sterling’s desk and beg for a veto. Not only does this bill undercut the entire purpose of a democratic student government, but it has a gaping constitutional loophole in it. (And if I can see it from Lower Freeborn, you can bet Chair Cano can see it from his ivory tower).

But most of all ASUCD, for bylaws’ sake, shape up, and learn your history.

JUSTIN GOSS enjoys the occasional rant. If you would like to see him suspended for such behavior, you and eight of your friends may contact him at jjgoss@ucdavis.edu.

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