The Arizona Desert Lamp

Rumble in the Rincon Room: Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 10 March 2009


Debating the Ghost

First up was the administrative vice president “debate,” which pitted Sen. Gabriella Ziccarelli against an invisible and mute opponent. Sen. Ziccarelli proceeded to rifle through her three “O”s (wait . . . did you say “O”s?) of ‘outreach’ to the community; ‘opportunity’, which consists of ASUA providing for an accredited course; and ‘openness’, which has nothing to do with actual transparency, and more to do with Potemkin village forums and publishing a sort of ‘ASUA Update’ section in the Daily Wildcat. Under questioning from current Administrative Vice President Patel, Ziccarelli revealed that, among other things, she wants solar panels on dorms (“It’d be a really great way to push the whole green movement”) and for the Women’s Resource Center and Pride Alliance to “feel stronger.” Her favorite program under the AVP’s jurisdiction is the Freshman Class Council. The most bizarre response may have been a mishearing on my part, as she fairly whispered her answer; yet I am fairly convinced that when Sen. Ziccarelli was asked what students ASUA does not represent, she answered, “Native Americans.”

Then, we had the executive vice president “debate,” in which Sen. Emily Fritze faced off against another sullen invisible creature (perhaps they’re the ones that are underrepresented). Sen. Fritze opened up by advocating for an ASUA blog; the establishment of a ‘volunteer database’ that would hold the contact information for all position applicants; and the revamping and reordering of the club advocate position and official club visits from the Senate. Current EVP Anderson led the questioning, much of which hinged on the somewhat important question of President-Vice President relations. For the past two years, ASUA has operated under an extremely strong presidency, which has come at the expense of both the Senate and the Vice Presidents. Regardless of who wins the race this year, the next President will be far less powerful, while his subordinates will both be very experienced. Sen. Fritze said that she would like “to take a more proactive role” when it comes to the Vice Presidency, and that she feels that she would be able to take control in the event that Sparky the Sun Devil kidnaps the President. 

Following a ten-minute break to recover from the intensity of these debates, the presidential debate begins, which features two people, debating – at the same time. In the right corner, we have Shane Cathers. Mr. Cathers is the only candidate whose name will appear on the ballot. He has his own website,, along with his own blog. Here are some thoughts of his on transparency. Here is his complete platform. He has no previous connection with ASUA; in fact, having just arrived in Tucson last August, he has relatively few roots at the UA.

Chris Nagata, on the left, is the write-in candidate. He has been involved in ASUA for three years, spending much of his recent time as a board member for ASA. His complete platform can be viewed here

Right from the get-go, Mr. Cathers was determined to put everyone in the room on pins and needles. “Do you mind if I walk around?” he asked, less than a minute into his speech. 

“Uh, well,” Bruce stammered, “if you could just stay. . . I mean, if you really want to. . .” He did, apparently.

Mr. Nagata, meanwhile, remained at his podium. He also opted for alliteration, substituting Sen. Ziccarelli’s “O”s with “P”s (next year, we’ll have “Q”s — quixotics, quislings, and quinoa). His first platform is “Protect,” which you would think would concern campus security, but is actually about your pocketbook. Naturally, Mr. Nagata has yet to put his money where his mouth is. Mr. Nagata was scarcely able to declare his defense of your pocketbook before he launched into “Provide,” in which he vowed to expand the services currently offered by ASUA. Finally, we have “Progress,” urging that ASUA have “a very transparent nature and an open commitment” to the student body.

First question, offered by moderator President Bruce, asked what the biggest ABOR decision was. Mr. Cathers is “not fully familiar with ABOR,” but he believes that, “they have a very strong connection with ASA. . . they may have helped with the push for legislation to keep prices of textbooks down.” (Incidentally, this mentioned legislation is routinely touted as one of ASA’s finest accomplishments. ASA Board member Michael Slugocki would disagree:

Michael Slugocki, a political science senior and vice chair of the Arizona Students’ Association, which helped draft the initial legislation, said the new bill is not nearly aggressive enough with the amendment. 

“The bill is essentially meaningless without the price disclosure,” he said. 

Slugocki said the bill now is basically a statement from the legislature to publishers that only says they don’t like their practices, but doesn’t do anything about it. 

“It loses all power,” he said.)

Mr. Nagata described the heroics of his own ASA in fighting textbook prices and tuition hikes, before lamely finishing by saying, “Unfortunately, we were not able to see [those objectives] through.” 

Then, Mr. Cathers fields a question on the “largest weakness of the current ASUA administration.” He begins by describing how students “have a very cynical outlook. . . on government in general.” This is news to this government cynic. The answer, then, is that we must “bring ASUA closer to eye-level with the students.” 

ZonaZoo: Mr. Cathers does not have one; Mr. Nagata is a three year member. This led the only follow-up question of the night. 

Social Justice: President Bruce asked Mr. Cathers how well he thought that ASUA deals with social justice.”Social justice?” replied Mr. Cathers sensibly. “Well, if you want to relate freedom of speech to social justice. . .” Music to my ears. As if that weren’t enough, he goes on to cite FIRE’s dismal rating of the UA, arguing that the school needs to improve its standing. (Unfortunately, his official platform offers ‘free speech bulletin boards’, which remind me of nothing more than the ‘free speech zones’ instituted during the Beijing Olympics. Ah, progress.) For a moment there, there was a glimmer of . . . something.

Mr. Nagata brought things crashing back to earth. “Unlike my opponent, I believe that social justice pertains to diversity rather than freedom of speech.” What kind of diversity, you ask? “If you look at the composition of the office, we only have one African-American.” Nothing like the old quota-system of diversity, which inherently judges people – or, the necessity of people, anyways – by the color of their skin. We don’t need alternative viewpoints and qualified individuals, the argument goes – we need African-Americans and Native Americans. Unfortunately, Mr. Nagata is right when it comes to the ‘proper’ definition of social justice — which is exactly why social justice should no longer be an official function of government, whatsoever. 

Unity Center: I have yet to hear a single candidate, at any level, offer anything outside of an “on the one hand. . . on the other hand” answer. Mr. Cathers is worried that by putting all of these groups together, they will be isolated from the rest of campus. Any chance of replacing CSIL offices with the Unity Center’s?


-Uncompetitive elections are swell!

-As far as the presidency goes, it’s a no-win situation. Ideally, this would be the perfect opportunity for knocking out the usual crowd and getting an outsider in. However, Mr. Cathers lack of knowledge on the Arizona Board of Regents and the proposed GRO policy change are troubling. Perhaps we’ll soon go through throes of Brucetolgia, sighing wistfully whenever we see an exclamation point.


13 Responses

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  1. Laura Donovan said, on 10 March 2009 at 8:23 am

    Cathers is a fascinating guy with an interesting life story, but I don’t think he has a chance in this election. He doesn’t seem as well researched or uptight, which is kind of essential in a president. As much as I’d love a “ginger president,” Nagata is probably going to win. We all know Gabby and Emily will work extremely hard regardless of what happens.

  2. Dave said, on 10 March 2009 at 9:06 am

    Needs more pictures of President Camacho.

  3. Dustin Cox said, on 10 March 2009 at 9:06 am

    I’m afraid this post misses the point that Chris Nagata made in relation to social justice and diversity: It is, in fact, important to have a diverse representation of students working in the ASUA offices. That not only includes a diverse representation of viewpoints, but also students from diverse backgrounds. As it is now and has been, ASUA is constantly criticized for being an elite club for white, anglo-saxon, protestant, able-bodied, heterosexual males of the “Greek” persuasion. It is rare that anyone from outside that grouping gets into power or appointed within ASUA. And when they do, the variation is only a difference in gender (white, anglo-saxon, protestant, able-bodied, heterosexual FEmales of the “Greek” persuasion). Chris Nagata has it right when he considers diversity as an important contribution to the makeup of ASUA. People from all over campus, from different backgrounds and specialties will bring a fresh, balanced approach to a traditionally stagnant organization.

  4. Evan Lisull said, on 10 March 2009 at 10:01 am

    Mr. Cox, your comment merits a post of its own, so I’m afraid that you’ll have to wait for a more full-bodied response. For now, though, a question out of curiosity: which presidential candidate brings more “diversity” to the traditional stagnant ASUA? Is it Mr. Cathers, a genuine outsider who is white; or is it Mr. Nagata, an Asian-American who has served within ASUA for three years?

  5. A. Hill said, on 10 March 2009 at 12:24 pm

    “If you look at the composition of the office, we only have one African-American.”

    ugh, puke.

    yeah let’s order some more brown folks out of the catalog. get a couple queers while you’re at it. then our set will be complete!

  6. A. Hill said, on 10 March 2009 at 12:34 pm

    mr. cox, just a question: do you comb through the family trees of ASUA members, looking for any errant italians? do you follow them around on saturdays to make sure they’re not going to temple? have you set up webcams in their bedrooms to monitor their sexual preference? or is it just clear to you that everyone who’s white is also anglo-saxon, protestant, and heterosexual because they’re not greasy, hook-nosed queens?

    that’s all identity politics seems to be: a liberal’s desire to be surrounded by stereotypes.

  7. Amanda said, on 10 March 2009 at 11:50 pm

    A. Hill,

    For you to insinuate these things about Dustin Cox’s comments is just appalling. He has been fighting for diversity and social justice on our campus for years and is heavily involved in running Anytown Arizona and A-Town conferences. He knows what he’s talking about.

    I think you misunderstood Dustin’s comment. He was simply saying what ASUA members are perceived to be “white, anglo-saxon, protestant, heterosexual, Greek, etc” because that tends to be the identifying make-up of the majority of ASUA members. Dustin does not need to comb through family trees or invade people’s homes. He has experienced the environment of ASUA as a former student body senator…he knows what the make-up of the office tends to be. He’s not an ASUA outsider making assumptions. I know exactly what Dustin means because I’m what one might call an “ASUA Lifer”…I have experienced the people and programs that make up ASUA for three years.

    No need to find “errant Italians.” There are several Italians in ASUA, including myself and two senators, among several others. We also have several members of eastern European heritage.

    There are several “brown” people (and that depends on your definition of “brown.” Are you referring to people who identify as Middle Eastern? South Asian? Hispanic?).

    There are also several members of the LGBTQ community (and that’s not just relegated to Pride Alliance and the WRC).

    We have several religious beliefs represented, from protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim, to Hindu, agnostic, and atheist, etc.

    And none of these people are there so ASUA can be surrounded by stereotypes (especially since most of them don’t even fit their respective ethnic or religious stereotypes).

    It’s true that there are racial, ethnic, and religious groups that are under-represented in ASUA. I have personally met only one member of ASUA in three years who identified as Native American. There is currently only one African-American director, but there are other African-Americans within ASUA, such as in FCC and in Safe Ride, and last year we had an African senator (yes, FROM Africa)…BUT we don’t need to go through a catalog to find diverse members.

    While I am against hiring people just to fill an ethnic/religious/etc quota, I do agree with Dustin Cox and Chris Nagata that our office needs to reflect the make-up of the student body…and that means reaching out to groups that may not be aware of ASUA applications, such as multicultural and religious groups, as opposed to just reaching out to Greek Life, honoraries, and current ASUAers. This also means hiring someone because they are the right person for the job and bring unique perspectives and goals to the position because of their background (whatever that may be)…and not just because they fit into an under-represented student group.

  8. […] President and VP Debate Coverage: Read Evan’s report from the executive debates. […]

  9. Dustin Cox said, on 12 March 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Mr. Lisull,

    To answer your question, I whole-heartedly believe that ASUA President-elect Chris Nagata is the way forward for ASUA. He will absolutely bring ASUA out of stagnation. He has a long view and solid understanding of ASUA’s strengths and weaknesses. He has a sober view of its monumental failures. This, along with his commitment to transparency and reform, are just a few of the reasons that 68% of voters waded through the electoral hurdles to cast a write in vote for him.

    But let’s be honest, I think we all know that this was a one man race from the beginning. Mr. Cathers – while seemingly a nice person – had no idea what he was doing or talking about. In fact, I would venture a guess and say that he was the single least informed/qualified candidate to run for ASUA President in recent history… and that is not an easy competition to win. Whether it was state law, the Arizona Constitution, the proper functioning of government, or anything at all to do with ASUA, the Board of Regents, or the general functioning of the university, Cathers had NO IDEA.

    So, in summation, I think the students voted for the right candidate – regardless of his skin color.

    You see, I think you’ve further misunderstood the whole point about increasing diversity and representation in ASUA: it’s not about ensuring quotas are filled, that would be ridiculous. It’s about reaching out to all qualified persons across campus when looking for candidates, directors, and employees instead of reaching back to the pipeline that primarily consists of friends and friends of friends of sitting officials. That pipeline draws from a very narrow portion of the student population. That pipeline – the place of comfort and familiarity for most current and past ASUAers – is exactly where the discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, “greek” affiliation, etc. occurs. It does not occur – as some of your readers insinuate – in the quest to open the doors of student government to larger, traditionally underrepresented portions of the student body, thereby creating diversity and promoting social justice.

    And yet, when folks like the hundreds of students involved in the Campus Coalition for Change begin to work to inform and empower non-traditional candidates to ensure equal representation, they are accused of wanting to, “comb through the family trees of ASUA members [and] set up webcams in bedrooms to monitor sexual preference.” Ridiculous.

    In any case, there is a group of qualified, dedicated, and newly-elected senators and executives to run ASUA next year. Thanks to the hard work of their individual campaigns and the Campus Coalition for Change, we have a great mix of experience, common vision, and diversity in our newly elected officials. This is the most diverse, empowered, and inspiring group of candidates the university has seen in all my years of involvement at the UofA, and for that I am proud.

    Also notable is the fact that the Campus Coalition for Change – a new organization committed to ensuring social justice, equal representation, and transparency in ASUA – will have 12 of their 13 endorsed candidates taking 12 of the 13 elected offices on May 1, 2009.

    Apologies for the length of the comment. I look forward to your post.

  10. Evan Lisull said, on 12 March 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Say what you will — but never, NEVER apologize for the length of a thoughtful comment.

  11. […] it looks my jovial “seize the social justice wing” comment is being considered as serious policy: Thompson said the decision of where to locate […]

  12. […] their general education is eligible for this prize. The sentiment can be questioned (and has been), but the bigger issue is that students are essentially being offered a reward for something that […]

  13. […] Chris Nagata […]

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