Student Government Elections

The first week of Spring term was campaign week.  I was running for ASSU (student government) Senate, and there was only a one week period in between when we were allowed to start campaigning and when voting takes place. 

I actually decided to run not long before the start of the campaign.  Shortly before the campaign, the Students of Color Coalition had a public meeting where they talked with all interested people about why they needed people in the ASSU.  They talked about how the ASSU had done meaningful things for communities of color, and they also talked about how ASSUs that weren’t friendly to communities of color had done some very regressive things.  I didn’t have a ton of time to get my campaign together, but they inspired me.

It was like a real election.  That is, the difference was only in size, not in tactics.  There were endorsements: I was endorsed by the Queer Coalition, Stanford Democrats, and Students for a Sustainable Stanford.  There were speeches and handshaking: I spent almost every mealtime during campaign week talking to people at different dorms about why I was running (one of the executive slates even went so far as to kiss a baby).  I was interviewed for the Stanford Daily (though the topic was on how last year’s ASSU presidents, Jonny and Fagan, inspired people this year to run on public service oriented platforms.  Which is true in the sense that I would not be involved with student government whatsoever if Jonny and Fagan didn’t show me that Stanford’s student government had the potential to be a public service organization.  The article, though, almost made it sound like I wasn’t interested in public service before Jonny and Fagan.  Ah well.).

I made a youtube video – a low quality remix of “I’m On a Boat” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPtfNpGWYrA or search youtube for [Sam King I’m On a Boat] if you want to see my video) – with the help of Brennan Saeta, one of the computer oriented people in my dorm.  It got a bunch of hits.  Fairly good experience.  It was also cool to do video editing for once, even though, as the quality would indicate, both the filming and the production for that video happened in less than two days. 

I made tshirts with the help of my dad.  I made the design, and he cut it out onto an emulsion and did the actual silkscreening.  They turned out really well, and a bunch of people were wearing them during campaign week.  A few have even continued.  Who would have thought!

The last day of campaigning, I decided that tshirts weren’t enough advertising, so I got one of my artistically inclined friends to bodypaint me.  I think that this was the best part of campaign week.  With all of the stress of a week of talking to people, flyering, sending out emails, making calls, and getting endorsements, advertising myself shirtless for a day gave some much-needed relief.  And it probably got some looks.

The election turned out moderately well.  I got about 700 votes.  In previous years, people won with about 500, but this year there were a lot more voters, so I was about 100 votes short.  The executive slate, though, turned out the right way, and David Gobaud and Jay de la Torre won.

The most disturbing thing about the election was a ‘slate’ that rose up for the first time called “Students for a Better Stanford.”  There are about 0 issues that all of the people in the coalition running for senate agree on (their publicity materials stuck to taglines like “protect your right to party” rather than addressing the issues that the campus and our community faces).  They were nothing other than an advertising coalition.  But it worked.  Most of them got elected, even though the members of the slate were much more conservative in their views of Stanford (and in general) than the majority of people on the campus (because they didn’t agree on the issues, there were a few liberals, but most were conservative).  Because they were a senate ‘slate’ and no senate ‘slate’ had ever existed before, the elections commission wasn’t applying any rules that it set up to ensure a fair campaign.  For instance, it is against the rules to list the organizations that endorse you in the short statement that voters see when they look at the candidates’ names online.  I wasn’t allowed to say that the Queer Coalition endorsed me, but I think that most of the Better Stanford folks listed that they were on that group.  There were plenty of other rules that applied to them but didn’t explicitly say “senate ‘slates’ must do this” (the rules that applied referred to individuals and organizations endorsing individuals) because senate slates didn’t exist before, notably the limits on advertising.  It really sickened me, though.

What this made me realize about politics:

1)  People aren’t rational decisionmakers; name recognition is extremely significant.  In my campaign, I wanted to be idealistic and pretend that this wasn’t the case.  I made the campaign entirely issues based.  Every email I sent out and every flyer I put up had my stances on the issues.  Even my youtube video was mostly issues based – within the constraints of “I’m On a Boat.”  And, in the end, I didn’t win, whereas the Students for a Better Stanford did – similar to the Powell/Shultz cult of personality in American politics as a whole that I talked about earlier.

2)  I think that I could do some good things in politics, whether in the scope of Stanford or of other government entities.

3)  Winning isn’t everything.  I’m not in the senate, but I still got a seat in Gobaud’s executive, and I’m still doing some good work for Stanford.

4)  The good folks can still win.  Gobaud / de la Torre won in a landslide.


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Saturday, June 20, 2009