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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Column: Legislative lockdown

Sandbox Politico

Last week I attended a Senate meeting to thank the six who would be terming out for their service — I legitimately meant it — and then the Senate proceeded to do something so incalculably stupid I immediately wanted to take it all back. They moved into an unscheduled closed session.

A closed session is a Senate meeting not open to the press or public with all derivative minutes kept secret.

Sound shady? That’s because it is. Closed sessions afford legislative bodies tremendous power because all actions taken therein are exempt from public comment or scrutiny.

However, they are also necessary in rare circumstances. ASUCD uses closed meetings to discuss legal matters pertaining to the Association, personnel matters such as hirings and firings and financial issues which could have legal ramifications.

The Senate must also give 24-hour notice of a closed session to the public and the media to ensure this extremely opaque process has at least some semblance of transparency.

But on Thursday, the Senate moved into a closed session on a whim, with no advance notice and for none of the aforementioned three reasons. ASUCD, how dare you.

How dare you show total disregard to the Brown Act, which requires all California Legislative Hearings be open to public scrutiny and comment.

But even ignoring the Brown Act, how dare you entirely abdicate the principles which it and any legitimate democracy are founded on.

In the introduction to his bill, Ralph M. Brown wrote: “The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

Well said, Sir. Even ignoring the statutory and legal implications of defying the act, to show such unremitting arrogance in deciding you should be able to keep government actions a secret is dangerous and morally harmful.

Why is it dangerous? Imagine if ASUCD could move into a closed session at will. What would budget hearings look like?

Senator: “Hey, I think raising all our salaries six-fold sounds like a great idea, don’t you all think so? Any members of the public want to object, oh that’s right you can’t. Bwahahaha” (lightning flashes behind the speaker).

OK, so perhaps that’s a somewhat hyperbolic example, but you get the idea. Democracy is meant to be slow to allow for cooler heads to prevent dumber ones from enacting stupid ideas. But closed sessions subvert the entire process. ASUCD, shame.

Why is it a moral harm? What Brown said in 1953 still rings true today. The people do not yield their agency to their elected officials, rather they temporarily delegate certain “votive” powers to them, but retain the right to seize those powers back should their representatives become irreverent or abusive.

Calling an instant closed session is ASUCD telling the student body, “You voted, you got me into office, now piss off, I’m running the show and I don’t value your opinion anymore.”

Immanuel Kant would call this “using people as a means to an end,” A.J. Hayek would call it a “totalitarian disaster” and former ASUCD Senator Jared Crisologo-Smith would call it an “egregious offense.”

For my part, I am left countering the only argument put forth that night as to why the closed session was legitimate — because it was accidentally printed on the agenda.

Are you serious, ASUCD? Do you really believe that qualifies as an argument? What if “Kill Justin Goss” was printed on the agenda, is that OK now? I mean, really listen to yourselves. Would any reasonable person abide by such a claim?

I find this whole affair unseemly, unpalatable and offensive. You overrode the will of the students who elected you without compunction and breached your own constitution.

The only saving grace is Senator Maxwell Kappes’, Senator Paul Min and Chair Sergio Cano’s leaving the meeting and refusing to participate in such a farcical display of legislative assembly.

The rest of you should be ashamed. For my part, I hope you used the closed meeting to create the ASUCD Ninja Unit. Lord knows you wouldn’t want to dirty your own hands when “Kill Justin Goss” turns up on next week’s agenda.

JUSTIN GOSS could really use some herbal tea as he is both sick and relatively pissed off. If you could send him some via jjgoss@ucdavis.edu, that would be much appreciated.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the print version to reflect Paul Min’s leaving the senate meeting.

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