Independent, 3rd-party candidates challenge ASUC’s major parties

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As the 2015-16 ASUC elections draw near, independent and third-party candidates gear up for what have historically been daunting odds against the candidates of major campus parties.

Aside from the student advocate, an executive position that has been filled consistently by an independent in recent years, a third-party or independent candidate has not won an executive position in the last decade.

Nonetheless, about 14 percent of this year’s 59 candidates are not affiliated with a party, and about 24 percent are affiliated with third parties.

There are currently six political parties registered to run, including major parties CalSERVE and Student Action. SQUELCH! has run both satirical and nonsatirical candidates in recent years. The Cooperative Movement Party has also traditionally elected a single ASUC Senate candidate and last year partnered with CalSERVE to successfully run senate candidate Austin Pritzkat.

There are currently eight CalSERVE senators and seven Student Action senators on the 20-member senate. There are also three SQUELCH! senators and two independents.

The other two registered parties, which are not represented in the current senate, are the newly formed BASED. party and the Defend Affirmative Action Party.

BASED. party presidential candidate and freshman Pranay Kumar Chaurasia said he is running partly to comment on the current party system, which he said creates unnecessary divisions on campus.

“Some people may ask if I’m so against the party system, why make a party?” Chaurasia said. “If you run as an independent, you’re not given as much credence as people who are in a party, which is a sad reality of the system we have.”

Still, Chaurasia said he originally struggled to be taken taken seriously because of the name of his party, which references local rapper Lil B.

DAAP has consistently run candidates in the past few years. Candidates from the party, however, have never been elected to executive office, and none have been elected to senate in eight years.

Yvette Felarca, a national organizer for BAMN and DAAP’s campaign manager, said part of the challenge of DAAP candidates in getting elected lies in the fact that ASUC elections are viewed by many students as a “routine” that mirrors state and national elections.

CalSERVE was founded in 1984 and typically held a large number of executive seats until the founding of Student Action in 1995. Prior to Student Action’s inception, party control of executive seats fluctuated each year, with new parties forming and disbanding. By the late 1990s, the presence of other parties in executive seats had virtually disappeared.

Student Action then dominated the executive branch until the early 2000s, when Student Action and CalSERVE began to switch off controlling the executive positions. Since at least the mid-2000s, CalSERVE and Student Action senators have composed at least 75 percent of elected senators.

In regards to the ASUC’s predominantly two-party system, CalSERVE party chair Spencer Pritchard said “there are ups and downs to all systems.”

Student Action party chair Ryan Kang said he appreciates the hard work of independent candidates, but added that major parties can provide guidance and resources that independents do not usually have access to.

This year’s independent candidates include Sumayyah Din, who is backed by the campus’s Middle Eastern Muslim Sikh and South Asian Coalition, which has endorsed independent senate candidates for the past few years. Matt Holtzer and Eric Zhevel are also running independently for senate. Leah Romm and Jay Walker are independents registered to run for student advocate and academic affairs vice president, respectively — although Walker said Sunday that he would not campaign.

Cuahuctemoc Salinas, a senior running for senate as an independent candidate, said that he has been involved with CalSERVE since his freshman year and that even though he was not selected to be one of its candidates this year, he respects the party.

But Nicolas Jaber, a junior and independent presidential candidate was more critical of the major parties.

“I’m trying to change the culture of the independent,” Jaber said, adding that it is difficult for independent candidates to win because so many of them are not taken seriously.

Jaber initially attempted to run under the Independent Party because registered parties have a larger budget than independent candidates. The party name, however, was rejected for violating ASUC bylaws.

Last year, independents and third-party candidates generally spent less than the average CalSERVE or Student Action candidates.

SQUELCH! party chair Emily Truax said lowering the campaign finance cap would make elections more accessible to independent candidates.

“We need more parties like SQUELCH! that are small and … will pose a challenge,” Truax said. “The student body needs a more diverse party system.”

The 2015-16 ASUC general elections will take place April 7, 8 and 9.

Angel Grace Jennings covers student government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @angeljenningss.