Without majority party, CalSERVE exerts newfound strength within ASUC Senate

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Kore Chan/File

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With the absence of a Student Action party majority in the ASUC Senate for the first time in three years, CalSERVE used its new strength to pass more bills than its rival, although individual dynamics continue to influence the ASUC Senate.

From 2010 to 2012, the senate was static. Eleven Student Action senators, six CalSERVE senators, one SQUELCH! senator, one Cooperative Movement senator and one independent senator were elected each year.

Now, nine Student Action senators, seven CalSERVE senators, two SQUELCH! senators and two independent senators represented campus viewpoints and controlled some of our campus funds. According to ASUC Executive Vice President Nolan Pack — who is chair of the senate and previously served as a CalSERVE senator — the absence of a Student Action majority has prevented a monopoly on power this year.

“When a party knows it can bloc-vote almost anything through, theres very decreased incentive to negotiate, and now nobody has a majority,” Pack said. “No one comes into the senate thinking they don’t need to negotiate with people and they can pass whatever they want.”

But Justin Sayarath — the 2012-13 executive vice president with Student Action — said the senate he oversaw was divided by individual beliefs rather than party lines.

“The (constitutional and procedural review committee) was very focused on changing the bylaws, (the finance committee) was really focused on saving money … and  Nolan was very focused on sustainability,” Sayarath said. “The senate was very focused on individual goals but also committee goals.

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Similarly, Chris Alabastro,  the 2011-12 executive vice president with Student Action, said the Student Action party majority did not have a strong impact on the dynamic of the 2011-12 senate.

“We had people voting completely independent of their party, and rarely would you ever see a direct partisan bloc,” Alabastro said.

Each senate class, composed almost entirely of new people with different personalities and platforms, looks at the idea of senate dynamics differently.

At its second meeting of the academic year, the current senate debated one of its most contentious bills. In response to student concerns about Janet Napolitano’s appointment to the post of UC president arising from her enforcement of immigration policies as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, CalSERVE senator Sean Tan authored a bill that stated that the senate would declare no confidence in Napolitano if she failed to meet a list of demands by the third week of October, which included holding annual trainings for the rights of undocumented citizens and ensuring that Secure Communities will not be implemented on UC campuses.

Some senators argued that students would feel uncomfortable with Napolitano leading the UC system. Others countered that the bill was introduced before they could judge Napolitano’s performance as UC president.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai said there was an aggressive atmosphere in the senate surrounding the the bill.

“By that second meeting, it was looking like the most divisive senate I’d ever seen, and it was difficult for people to be comfortable in senate space,” Mecklai said. “But I think over time, its definitely improved.”

Ultimately, the senate voted unanimously to pass the bill. According to ASUC officials, Napolitano failed to meet the list of demands by the stipulated deadline, and the ASUC Judicial Council reviewed and declared in effect the senate’s vote of no confidence.

Overall, the senate passed 64 of the 76 bills that were introduced this semester. CalSERVE senators authored 30 of these passed bills, Student Action senators authored 19, SQUELCH! senators authored eight bills and independent senators authored four. In some cases, bills were co-authored by senators from different parties. (Finance bills — authored by the ASUC finance officer — were not included in the party tallies.)

While in previous years, many of the bills were handled by the finance committee, this semester, the external and university affairs committee has reviewed the most. The deviation likely resulted from the implementation of a new process to pass a weekly budget bill. Prior to this year, all finance bills would be authored individually rather than compiled into a single one representing the entirety of the ASUC’s allocations for the week.

CalSERVE authored the majority of the bills passed through the external committee. Twenty-five of the 36 external and university affairs committee bills were authored by at least one CalSERVE senator, and Student Action senators authored 13 of those bills.  Many of the external committee bills from both parties sought to raise awareness of major global issues and the diverse cultures of campus communities. One bill, for example, discussed poor working conditions for factory workers in Bangladesh.

Tension in this year’s senate also arose in September when it considered approving plans for a new student supermajority City Council district that diverged from what a previous senate had endorsed. The original proposal encompassed the entire campus, the Greek community and a large portion of Southside residences.

But some students were alarmed by the exclusion of other campus areas, including the Northside co-ops. The alternate proposal failed to garner the senate’s support in an 11-9 vote. Berkeley City Council voted to adopt the original  ASUC-sponsored map Dec. 3.

“Definitely for me, (the no-confidence bill) and the bill on student redistricting were the two bills that made me rethink about a lot of things in terms of what’s the best way for our senate class to operate,” said. Student Action Senator Quinn Shen.