‘Individual agency’: Number of independent ASUC Senate candidates rises in recent years

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Karen Chow/File

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The number of ASUC Senate candidates who file and run independently has been increasing in recent years — there are 12 independent senate candidates this year, compared to the eight who ran in 2017 and the three in 2016.

Some benefits of independent candidacy include an escape from party allegiance, an increased focus on a candidate’s particular platform and a sense of freedom cultivated by campaigning alone, according to several independent candidates running for senate this year. There are downfalls to running without the support of a party, however, and some independent candidates noted that the advantages of running with a party include access to more resources and a solid voter base.

This year, the independent candidates are Billy Allocca, Nick Araujo, Nelson Ke, Imran Khan, Regina Kim, Aaron Bryce Lee, Stephanie Luna-Lopez, Ashley Nelson, Jose Ignacio Reyes-Hernandez, Ishan Sharma, Anna Whitney and Stephen Boyle, whose ballot name is listed as “furry boi,” according to the list of candidates who have filed their intent to run.

A common sentiment among independent candidates is that being part of a party constrains one’s actions — Reyes-Hernandez, a campus sophomore, said in an email that while working with Student Action on current Senator Jenica Bautista’s campaign in spring 2017, he felt at times he was “not following the party’s image.”

“(I) wanted to have full autonomy over my campaign and not be called out if I was not following the party’s image. … I wanted to be Jose, and Jose is not one of the most formal people but rather someone that is always down to talk, joke and have fun, and I wanted my campaign to reflect this,” Reyes-Hernandez said in an email.

Some candidates also mentioned that, without a party affiliation, they can focus more on their individual platforms. Kim, a campus sophomore, said running independently has given her the “individual agency” in order to “maximize time” spent on her platform — Kim is running on the single platform of basic needs.

According to another independent candidate, Luna-Lopez, running independently allows her to make her campaign more “personal,” and it gives her more freedom when running her campaign and supporting other candidates.

“It is my own work ethic and personality that is going to get votes, not necessarily just an affiliation,” Luna-Lopez said in an email. “You are more intentional about who you reach out to and how you do so; you get to make your campaign more personal and grassroots.”

Running with a party does have its benefits. According to Student Action party chair Bianca Filart, parties provide candidates with “election tools, campaign strategy” and “mentors” who guide candidates through the process of elections and campaigning.

Filart added that certain communities have historically run senators independently. One such community is the Middle Eastern Muslim Sikh and South Asian community, or MEMSSA, which is backing Khan this year.

Party-affiliated senate candidates are also given access to established voter networks and are helped through the campaign process, according to Allocca, who is currently the senate vice chair and helps to oversee ASUC Senate meetings. He added that party alignments help with campaigning but may hurt once candidates get elected to the senate.

“Once in senate, (senators can be) held back by being swayed to vote in line with one party,” Allocca said. “(There’s) some weird animosity between parties, who have a tendency to vote against each other — a competitiveness which is unhealthy.”

Taehan Lee, a campus junior and current ASUC senator who ran independently last year, said that during his campaign he tried to show “that running (independently) is not difficult, and that you have an equal shot of winning as independent or with a party.”

“Being independent is a natural state,” Taehan added. “We chose not to join a party.”

Contact Jarrett Visher at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Jarrett_Visher.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article misquoted Taehan Lee as saying, “We chose to (make) a political party.” In fact, he said “We chose not to join a party.”