Student Action breaks tradition, shifts focus to sole executive candidate

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Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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Student Action, one of the two dominant student political parties in the ASUC, is breaking from tradition this election season, throwing the bulk of its party support behind a sole executive candidate.

While the party typically runs a full four-person executive slate, this year, it is focusing its energy on the campaign of its presidential nominee, ASUC Senator Pavan Upadhyayula.

Since it was founded in 1995, Student Action — which in its current form represents the Greek and engineering communities, among others — has frequently secured a majority of the executive seats. The party, however, experienced a dramatic turnaround during last year’s elections when its rival party, CalSERVE, secured three of the four executive seats typically occupied by partisan candidates, including the office of the president.

While CalSERVE and Student Action have run partial executive slates in the past, this is the first time Student Action has ever run a single executive candidate.

Upadhyayula is competing against CalSERVE candidate Naweed Mohabbat, Defend Affirmative Action Party candidate David Douglass, BearFeed.org candidate Pierre Bourbonnais and independent candidate Raman Veerappan in this year’s elections, which will take place on April 8, 9 and 10.

Upadhyayula, who is running alongside 15 Student Action senate candidates, is the face of the party this election season. Instead of the party’s traditional slogan of “Every Student, Every Year,” the phrase “We Stand with Pavan” has appeared frequently on party members’ and supporters’ Facebook cover photos and profile pictures, although the traditional slogan is still being used on other campaign materials.

This election season, the presidential race — in comparison to the other executive contests — has garnered the most attention, as it is the only race to pit candidates from both major political parties. Denim Ohmit, CalSERVE elections coordinator, said there is more pressure for his party to promote its presidential candidate.

“The opportunity to make a clear distinction between Student Action’s and CalSERVE’s very different visions for the ASUC lies in the presidential race this year,” Ohmit said in an email.

When Upadhyayula learned that he was the only executive candidate on Student Action’s slate, he said he was not overwhelmed by the challenge.

“People have come up to me saying, ‘Aren’t you scared?’ But I’m not. I think this is a really exciting opportunity, more than anything,” he said.

Since Student Action has often held most of the executive seats in the past, by running a small slate, the party opens up a chance for third-party candidates to be elected, though such a candidate has not won the presidential or any of the three vice-presidential executive seats since 1996.

Student Action party chair Antonia Aquistapace said by focusing on Upadhyayula, Student Action hopes to show they are willing to work across political lines. If elected, Upadhyayula will inevitably serve alongside executives outside his party.

This situation is not unknown to Student Action. Though the entire Student Action executive slate won in 2011 and 2012, Safeena Mecklai, the current external affairs vice president, serves with three CalSERVE executives.

In recent years, CalSERVE has expanded its base to represent more communities, drawing support from transfer and re-entry students and formally aligning itself with the Cooperative Movement Party. The party has also nominated senatorial candidates representing the progressive Greek and engineering communities this year.

“Because the presidential race is the only one featuring candidates from both major parties, naturally students have paid more attention to this race than others,” Mohabbat said in an email. “It’s very important, however, that students take the time to examine the distinctions between all parties and all candidates.”

DAAP presidential candidate David Douglass said this was an exciting moment for his party, which is running a full executive slate.

“Student Action isn’t prepared to fight independently, and CalSERVE has shown it will go along with the administration,” Douglass said. “With the possibility of (DAAP candidates) being able to elected into the ASUC, the ASUC can be a true fighting institution for students. I’m excited.”

SQUELCH!, which has historically run satirical candidates, has been a third-party presidential contender for the past two years and fell just short of electing presidential candidate Jason Bellet last year.

SQUELCH! is not running any executives this year — though it is running a nonsatirical senate slate — but two of its party members, Senator Grant Fineman and senate candidate Dree Kavoussi, have thrown their support behind Upadhyayula.

Fineman said he supports Upadhyayula, saying he believes Upadhyayula shares the values and interest of the Jewish community on campus.

Aquistapace said that, as a single candidate, Upadhyayula also appeals to the undecided voter.

“When students see a candidate running independently, it signifies to them that this student is powerful and can run alone,” she said.

Savannah Luschei covers student government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @savluschei.