SQUELCH! breaks from satirical tradition for a serious image

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While many ASUC candidates relied on holding signs or casually walking potential voters to class, SQUELCH! senatorial candidate Madison “FLASH” Gordon was busy zipping around Sproul Plaza in her trademark red-and-yellow Flash costume, campaigning for a spot in the ASUC Senate.

Despite her attire, the nickname and the general silliness, Gordon ran a successful, serious campaign for senate, pitching platforms that focused on nontraditional re-entry student needs and increasing funding for community service groups.

SQUELCH!, the student political party that celebrates satire, used to run candidates with even more outlandish campaign tactics than Gordon’s. The party became known for running a single serious senate candidate alongside several satirical candidates. In recent years, however, SQUELCH! has broken from that tradition in order to solidify its status as a serious third-party option for voters.

In an unprecedented win, SQUELCH! had all three of its senatorial candidates elected  this year. Since the 2006 election, SQUELCH! had only held one seat in the senate, until it secured two in last year’s election.

“Our reputation was that we were a satirical party,” said SQUELCH! party chair Jason Bellet. “Though an important part of our party character, it sometimes overshadowed the fact that we always had one serious and qualified senator.”

Last year, however, SQUELCH! changed its strategy by doing away with its satirical slate to focus on its nonsatirical senate candidates. The satirical candidates sometimes drew attention away from the serious one, overshadowing the work done by SQUELCH! senators once they were elected to office, Bellet said.

The party also shifted tactics by running Bellet, who campaigned on serious platforms, for president last year.

“We wanted to make it clear that Jason was a very, very real candidate,” said Shannon Thomas, a SQUELCH! party official. “We had been working months on his campaign, and we didn’t want anything to distract from that.”

Bellet lost the presidential seat by a slim margin, falling only about 400 votes behind CalSERVE’s presidential candidate and beating out Student Action’s in first-rank voting. That year, two senators running with the party, Grant Fineman and Emily Truax, were elected out of a seven-person, nonsatirical slate.

Fineman and Truax have taken their roles as senators seriously despite the humorous nature of their campaigns, working to promote the interests of the Jewish community and improve access to K-12 education, respectively. Truax has also supported the performing arts community, installing a director to address the room-reservation process and other concerns of performance groups.

This year, the party downsized the scope of its campaign, focusing all of its efforts on a three-person, completely nonsatirical senate slate. The candidates — Grant Genske, Madison Gordon and Dree Kavoussi — all won senate seats in the recent election.

SQUELCH! has historically drawn support from the Jewish and Greek communities — groups Student Action, one of the two major student political parties, typically relies on as well. It also frequently runs candidates from the performing-arts communities.

Along with sharing similar bases, SQUELCH! and Student Action have voted together on some contentious campus issues, such as when the senate took up the issue of creating a student-majority district in the city of Berkeley again in fall. Both SQUELCH! senators voted with Student Action against supporting a revised version of a redistricting map originally proposed by Student Action.

“I would describe SQUELCH! this year as functionally indistinguishable from Student Action,” said ASUC Executive Vice President Nolan Pack of CalSERVE, Student Action’s rival political party, in an email. “They are essentially part of the same voting bloc.”

Casey Berkovitz, however, who will be SQUELCH!’s party chair next year, said any voting similarities between the two parties are coincidental.

“As a small party, we are able to work across political lines,” Berkovitz said, pointing out that both Fineman and Truax have collaborated with senators from both major parties in the past.

Truax, for instance, partnered with CalSERVE senators to advocate Bay Area education reform and with External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai of Student Action to put on a veteran’s speaker panel this semester.

Student Action party chair Antonia Acquistapace acknowledged that her party and SQUELCH! have historically slated candidates from similar backgrounds, but said the parties remain close in order to make sure there is not “excessive overlap” in whom each party slates for senate.

Berkovitz described the base of SQUELCH! as more “nebulous” than those of CalSERVE and Student Action.

“There’s a community that can’t be defined along normal party lines,” Berkovitz said. “People are disillusioned, unhappy, feel that the ASUC can be more improved — and I think we speak to that.”

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