ASUC presidential hopeful Nicolas Jaber embraces independence

Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff

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In the throng of picket signs, shouted slogans and prospective politicians on Sproul Plaza during election season, Nicolas Jaber’s face is intentionally absent.

Unlike most candidates, Jaber, a UC Berkeley junior, won’t be found up on a poster or in any party roster. Running as an independent, Jaber said he has opted to eschew the rhetoric and campaign style of major parties in the hope of engaging students one on one in ideas and nuanced discussion.

Friends close to Jaber have said the best way to get to know him is simply to ask; the philosophy major has earned a reputation among his friends for his willingness to engage students anywhere in thoughtful discourse — on Sproul, in his fraternity house or on a quick outing to lunch.

“He’s known for those type of conversations,” said Fisher Johnson, a member of Jaber’s fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, who got to know Jaber through a chance encounter of Aristotelian politics. “I’ll go get (a) sandwich with him, and I’ll come back and realize we’re in a discussion about Kant and crazy stuff.”

Deliberation and nuanced policies are both the key and crux of Jaber’s campaign, as he has attempted to promote his serious campaign without diluting his message or succumbing to what he sees as the ills of the campus political culture.

“What I often see is that the most important qualifications for candidates are never addressed — what are your intentions, what are you like as a person, what drives you and what motivates you?” Jaber said. “We all have these stances on issues, but I want to get deeper.”

As Jaber is a junior, this year’s bid is his last chance to make such a change after two unsuccessful attempts at office. He previously ran for senate with Student Action in 2013 and as an independent external affairs vice presidential candidate in 2014.

His experience with Student Action his freshman year left him disillusioned with the party system and what he sees as “identity politics” in the major parties — students chosen for their backgrounds and identities, rather than their ideas — which he said have led to a more divisive campus climate.

“Student Action versus CalSERVE, undocumented versus documented, black versus white — so long as we abide by these distinctions that classify party politics at this school, campus climate will suck,” Jaber said. “Issues will be divisive, and progress will be null.”

Jaber intends to foster greater dialogue and unity through hosting two types of monthly meetings dictated in his platform. The first is a town-hall-style meeting between elected officials and community members — including faculty and staff — for an active discussion of perspectives and criticisms, while a general assembly meeting is intended to start conversation among club leaders and administrators on topics decided via online voting.

Jaber’s platform also seeks to address what he believes has been an “oversight” in the political discourse to adequately address the ASUC’s fiscal responsibility — and its budget of approximately $1.5 million.

Whether Jaber as president would have the authority to enact his most controversial fiscal policy — to reduce the ASUC budget by half — has been called into question by Dennis Lee, the current ASUC chief financial officer. Jaber, however, said the platform is less of a hard-line policy than an attempt to prompt serious discussion on the budget.

While he wouldn’t cut from clubs or student organizations, Jaber said he wants to examine whether certain spending habits, such as those in senate operations — particularly stipend allocations — are justified in the campus’s current fiscal landscape. If elected, Jaber said he would forgo the $4,000 annual stipend typically awarded to the president as well as the $1,500 stipend for the chief of staff.

With these measures, Jaber hopes to offer an alternative to the largely symbolic actions he feels have defined the ASUC for years.

“The senate needs to spend more time talking about how it can affect campus life, academic standards and student culture,” he said.

In the meantime, Jaber is aware of his campaign’s challenges. His application to create the Independent Party, which would allow him more spending money, was rejected by the ASUC Elections Council due to its violation of a bylaw, and he acknowledges his “supreme disadvantage” in lacking the infrastructure of the major parties.

No ASUC presidential candidate since 1995 has won without backing from either CalSERVE or Student Action, but Jaber said he is hoping that the “silent majority” of students disaffected with the current political system will triumph over the “loud minority” that currently dictates politics and discourse.

“I haven’t really seen anything come out of the ASUC in my years here,” said junior Nik Rajpal, Jaber’s friend and occasional political adviser. “I think (Jaber) would do a better job, simply because it seems he’s more thoughtful.”

Contact Alex Barreira at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @abarreira_dc.