Partisanship has inhibited the success of the 2012-13 ASUC Senate class. More than just embarrassing, this pathetic division is based on an illusion of partisan differences that has been augmented by missteps of the ASUC executive vice president’s office.
In order to effectively enact change, the two major parties in the Senate, CalSERVE and Student Action, need to face the fact that they are the same and work together.
The more objective observers in the senate chambers have already condemned the detrimental effects of ASUC partisanship. According to minutes of the Sept. 19 senate meeting, Cooperative Movement Senator Jorge Pacheco noted that “the party bullshit was inappropriate” and that “what parties were doing was damaging to their communities.” At the same meeting, the minutes note that Independent Senator Sadia Saifuddin pointed out that “when she walks in the Senate Chamber, she doesn’t see people as belonging to CalSERVE or to Student Action” but that “party divisiveness” still persists. These independent and third-party senators sit week after week witnessing the petty debates, snarky comments and aggressive interactions between members of the two major parties.
In an email, Shelley Shi, co-president of Volunteers Around the World, complained that “the decision made on (the student group’s) bill was intertwined with this problem” of partisanship. Political campaigns and student groups will be given fragmented support until partisan divisions dissolve.
Last year, ASUC senators co-authored bills across party lines and respectfully debated contentious issues. Yet this year only five of 108 bills submitted to the senate have been co-authored by Student Action and CalSERVE senators. Student Action and CalSERVE agree on almost every issue, with the majority of both parties supporting Proposition 30, Take Back the Tap and other important local and national legislation. With these apparent ideological similarities, the lack of cooperation between the two parties in formulating bills makes no logical sense. Politically aligned senators would only help to embolden their causes by bringing other senators into the writing process.
Checks to partisanship — implemented in previous years — have been neglected this semester. Former Student Action executive vice president Chris Alabastro chaired senate meetings last year and appointed CalSERVE affiliate Romeo Ferrer to be his vice chair. This appointment potentially led to senators feeling more comfortable with bipartisan leadership at the senate meetings.
Unlike his predecessor, current Executive Vice President Justin Sayarath appointed a former Student Action senatorial candidate to the position of vice chair, diverging from the bipartisan makeup of last year’s senate leadership. A hostile relationship between the two major parties is more likely without a chair or vice chair for CalSERVE senators to rely on.
Sayarath missed another opportunity to quell partisanship by mismanaging the annual Senate Leadership Training. Each summer the incoming senate class learns the rules and obligations of being a senator during a week of intensive training. In addition to learning about the ASUC, the senators bond during this trip in order to overcome party lines early on in the semester. Last year, the senators went to Marin for an overnight stay, thereby reducing the chance for imaginary differences to be fostered between senators of the two major parties. This year, senators did not go off campus for their retreat, and the bonding aspect of the training was virtually eliminated except for a few locally based activities. Relationships between many senators became highly political before they could earn each other’s respect.
Sayarath and his office must remedy the situation in the senate and facilitate more communication and cooperation between the two parties. Unlike the Democratic and Republican parties in American politics, CalSERVE and Student Action differ little politically yet fight as if they are more ideologically divided than the House of Representatives.
The parties do effectively bring diverse community concerns to the ASUC because they represent different communities. But through this representation, the two parties ironically place those student groups into the heat of partisan politics. Each party would independently support most student groups, but the rivalry between them can turn a student group and political causes into chess pieces for political games.
Student Action and CalSERVE have the ability to quickly mobilize students and retain institutional knowledge. Through the party mechanism, former elected officials give their successors tips and knowledge that an independent or third-party senator may not immediately receive. These redeeming qualities of ASUC party politics could outweigh the negatives associated with partisanship, but the transition this year in the executive vice president’s office did not safeguard the necessary institutional knowledge.
Partisanship has been leaving its baggage in Eshleman Hall while keeping its benefits elsewhere. For the sake of student groups, for the good of higher education this November, and for the integrity of the ASUC, unnecessary partisanship must cease and desist.
Contact Noah Ickowitz at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter @noahickowitz.