The Arizona Desert Lamp

Unpacking the cult of the presidency

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 6 May 2009

Augustus CaesarThis had better be the last post on this matter, but today’s Wildcat article does bear further comment:

And as Bruce sits in the library studying for his finals before his presumed graduation, he is left to ponder his legacy and what he has left behind to the incoming class of ASUA executives and senators.

“I haven’t been in the library in a while,” Bruce said, referring to the countless twilight hours he has spent in the ASUA offices.

It’s a little jarring to see any of the usual suspects outside of the formal setting, yet it serves to remind you that, yes, they are students. They have finals to worry about and papers to punch out, house parties to stop in at and friend disputes to resolve. This is no different than seeing Obama sneak in a smoking break, or a weary post-presidency Bush gleam at the idea of time back in Texas. Especially with a story like this, rhetoric can often get out of hand (although citing commenters is kind of an attack on a strawman).

Yet at the same time, these are ostensibly our leaders, a fact that they have not ceased to remind us of over the past two years. Over Bruce’s tenure the power of the executive has consolidated itself so effectively that he was near deified status among the ASUA crew. One can look back on the constant kowtowing of the Senate, who never dared to challenge the executive until that executive was Chris Nagata. One might have observed the tearful paeans of dedication to him at the last Senate meeting.  For a guy who is so normal and just human, he was treated in a rather different light during his tenure.

Ex-Vice President Anderson should be right when she says:

“It didn’t come down to one person,” she said. “If we didn’t try, we couldn’t have done this.”

Bruce denies this, claiming that Anderson’s legacy will not be affected; it’s a cute little pas de deux between friends. The real problem is the absolute refusal – even now – to release any documents, to provide any narrative of exactly who knew what, when. Was the Senate provided with secret reports, updating them on the status? Did they ever sign off on the final deal? If this isn’t just about “one person,” then who are the other people involved? If this is indeed our government, why is the information hidden? If ASUA is all about meeting student demands, why not meet the demand for a little more information on this debacle, so that we may avoid repeating its errors?

Yet of course she isn’t right – it did come down to one person and his trusted janissaries. For the past two years, the de facto motto of ASUA has been, “Tommy says relax.” If Tommy signed off on something, then it was good. This is the way things have worked for two years now, and it is only now, when this mentality is being questioned, that its very existence is being denied by ex-EVP Anderson. It’s a well practiced strategy of this outgoing administration: smile, pretend like everything is fine, occasionally ignore history and facts, and move on.

The lesson here should be that no one man or woman – not Caesar, George W. Bush, Chris Nagata, Evita Peron, Benito Mussolini, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, and not Tommy Bruce  – can be a government alone. When government becomes not about its laws, but about its rulers (Local Exhibit A), it is a reckless force – hence, the need for checks on the various aspects of authority. This lesson has been forgotten in recent years, and it is a trend that Gene Healy has documented exhaustively in his book The Cult of the Presidency. This should be required reading for the incoming ruling class; they will not read it. Next year’s editors at the Wildcat should read it as well; after all, it was in their opinions board ASUA endorsements that they composed the best distillation of the Bruce administration to date*:

Bruce’s list of projects and accomplishments this year is so long it’s tiring. Childcare, general education reform, campus sustainability, special events, academic advising, tuition, fees and textbook costs – the list of issues Bruce has tried to tackle (mostly successfully) goes on and on. In fact, for the second year in a row, Bruce ran out of time explaining all of his achievements to the editorial board. That’s usually a bad sign, meaning a candidate has tried to take on too much and will usually achieve nothing. But Bruce has done an almost superhuman job single-handedly shouldering most of the burden of student government. [emphasis added – EML]

Never mind the rule of law, though –  as President Bruce never ceased to remind us, he has spent the last two years working diligently on behalf of the students. Shouldn’t they be tripping over each other to write full-throated defenses? We did get one letter to the editor in his defense, but I wouldn’t exactly call it representative of the student body. The signatories read as follows:

Robert N. Shelton

UA President

Chris Nagata

ASUA Student Body President

Dr. Meredith Hay

Executive Vice-President and Provost

Dr. Melissa Vito

Vice President of Student Affairs

Michelle Perez

Director, Center for Student Involvement and Leadership

David Martinez III

Student Regent, Arizona Board of Regents

Michael Slugocki

Chair, Arizona Students’ Association

David Roost

Executive Director, Zona Zoo

J.C. Mutchler

Chair, Arizona Faculties Council

This is the constituency that ASUA now serves; it is their student government, and unlike the students looking in from the outside, they have a vested interest in ensuring ASUA’s legitimacy.

Finally, there’s this:

“Be nice to Tommy,” Anderson said over the phone in a tone that hadn’t been heard since the former executive thanked Bruce for “two amazing years” at the ASUA meeting two weeks ago.

We should be nice to the President who supported the idea of mandatory “sensitivity training” for a paper that dared to exercise its First Amendment rights? And the call comes from the vice president who lashed out at the Senate that dared to exercise its constitutional power to approve stipends?

At the end of all this, we must come to the astounding conclusion that not only does ASUA not represent the student body, but is increasingly fighting a full-fledged battle against it.

* – I was a member of the opinions board when this was written, but did not write this specific endorsement.


ASUA is thinking about going into the music business. It’s thinking about producing.

Posted in Campus, Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 4 May 2009

Chili PalmerShain Bergan should get a medal for all the great quotes he’s managed to get this year (here you go, Shain!). Take this doozy from his must-read Bash basher:

The lead up to such a large-scale concert began four years ago, with ASUA slowly building up its reputation through smaller shows until they had proven they could handle a big-time concert, Bruce said.

You have to prove yourself in the industry,” he said. “There’s a lot to be learned about what we’ve done.” [emphasis added – EML]

Despite the financial losses, Bruce still called the concert a success, as it can be used as a retention and recruitment tool for the university, Bruce said.

The music industry is tough – which is why a student government should have no business attempting to move up the ranks or establish itself within it. Tucson already has the Rialto Theatre and the Club Congress, which bring in well-renowned acts at far more affordable rates; for those who like their music at the margins, the bars along Fourth Ave. – especially Plush – offer a variety of options. Nearby Phoenix has even more offerings. Yet even if the UA were as isolated a desert community as it were in the 1890s, on what basis has its student government determined establishment in the music business as a top priority? The preamble to the government’s constitution states the following as ASUA’s goals:

the articulation of student opinions and interests both in the governance of the university and to the community at large; the encouragement of the greatest level of cooperation and communication between students and student organizations; the assurance that students have full access to quality higher education at The University of Arizona; the provision for programs and services of
benefit to students; and the encouragement of the highest level of excellence in education at The University of Arizona.

Arguing that a concert of this magnitude was done for “retention” purposes is disingenous at best (as an Eller student, Bruce should know about cost-benefit analysis by this point), and one must openly wonder if the UA even wants to retain students who stay in school only for the concerts. Yet the broader issue is this: neglecting basic democratic principles while working tirelessly on music industry outreach is bad government.

Such a concept is incomprehensible – literally – to President Bruce and EVP Anderson, who are both prizewinning marketing majors. In the course of three years (stretching back to Hertzog), ASUA has been effectively turned from a combative elected body, into a quasi-corporate firm. It is this mindset that pervades the organization currently, and goes a long way in explaining its seemingly bizarro nature. Naturally, a marketeer has no interest in transparency – for why should they reveal the company’s secrets? And what are national elections and climate threats, if not excuses to expand market awareness of ASUA through sponsored parties? So what if the Student Services Fee and the Elections Code subverted the democratic process – look at those awesome signs!

Students to ASUA: “WTF? Where’s the funding?”

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 4 May 2009

How Not to Get Money in a RecessionThe official Poverty Bash numbers are in, and it’s ugly. From the Star:

The first concert in Arizona Stadium since 1977 lost nearly $1 million.

The Last Smash Platinum Bash, which featured Jay-Z and Kelly Clarkson, ended up $917,000 in the red. The concert cost $1,420,000, and ticket and merchandise sales brought in only $503,502, according to student organizers.

. . .

The ASUA will apply its entire emergency budget reserve — $350,000 — to help cover the shortfall.

The rest will come from the UA BookStores, which has been sharing a portion of its revenues to support the ASUA since the 1930s.

There’s not really any way to spin this, and ASUA doesn’t really try:

Tommy Bruce, outgoing president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, blamed the event’s struggles on the economy.

“Nobody predicted the economy would be the way it is now last May,” he said.

This site can resemble a broken record when it comes to transparency, but here again is a case where more transparency might have helped ASUA. Bruce was insistent on keeping the concert super-secret throughout the planning process, ensuring that by the time the event was actually announced, students were already reeling from the effects of the economy. Had even a broad framework of the plan been released in the fall semester – something like “ASUA to host concert at Arizona Stadium” – students might have been able to anticipate the event, rather than being blindsided post-spring break.

All of this is incidental to Bruce’s main point, which has a bit of merit to it. Yet it’s curious how little sympathy he has had for this argument in the past, when it was coming from the state legislature. After all, they’ve been dealing with the economic downturn a bit themselves:

The Legislature’s budget staff announced Wednesday that its projection for the current $9.9 billion budget’s shortfall is now nearly $1.6 billion, up from $1.2 billion previously.

Budget director Richard Stavneak announced the increase during a briefing for lawmakers on the scope of the state’s budget woes. Legislators are contemplating cuts in most state programs.

When such cuts were proposed, President Bruce replied, “WTF? Where’s the funding?” Now, the tables have been turned:

That means less money for the ASUA over the next five years.

How much less? This year, the BookStores shared about $530,000 of their revenue with the student group. For each of the next five years that amount will be reduced by $114,000.

As a direct result of this master plan it will be the students, whether they be seeking club funding or the services that ASUA provides, who will be wondering where the money has gone. Meanwhile, the crowned Dauphin Nagata serves as a more ideologically agreeable Brewer figure – just as Napolitano spent and spent, leaving Brewer to pay the bills, so Bruce will leave Nagata will a rather neutered ASUA. Perhaps Nagata will be tempted to blame his former master for troubles down the road? Whatever happens, there’s enough irony here that Saraswati might come on down to Tucson and shower goodwill on all of us – and by good will, I mean G&Ts (it’s summertime. . .).

It’s not all bad news, though. From an intra-ASUA perspective, the association won’t be spending as prolifigately as they have, and will instead have to focus on more marginal matters – some of which will be related to good governance. From an external perspective, this snafu might just be enough to spark interest in ASUA that doesn’t relate to becoming part of the Family. Such a reformist movement – ideally, sponsored by a quasi-PAC organization akin to the CCC – would serve as a more moderate distillation of the anarchist fury that arose last year, and possibly bring back elections with competing ideas.

Still, I wouldn’t buy your fall semester books at the UA Bookstore if you don’t like how the profit is being spent.

UPDATE: Laura Donovan beat this site to the punch, and delivers a far pithier judgement. “Stop throwing concerts” is far from the worst policy proposal that I’ve heard.

‘Stead of treated, we get tricked

Posted in Campus, Media by Evan Lisull on 4 May 2009

Jay-Z, confusedThe Last Smash Platinum Bash debuted as a media coup, but now the event is looking to put ASUA in an unfavorable light. Take this scathing Daily Star article from last Friday:

The Last Smash Platinum Bash did not make a profit, nor did it break even. The only question is how much money was lost by the student group that presented it.

A full financial reckoning won’t be available for some time. But ASUA President Tommy Bruce told the Star last month that the concert would break even if about 13,000 tickets were sold at an average cost of about $75.

But most of the seats sold in recent weeks were discounted to below $75, and fewer than 12,000 were sold in all, according to an estimate from ASUA Associate Director Chrissy Lieberman. She said that some of the tickets were given away, but couldn’t say how many.

Why no sales figures? ASUA outsourced ticketing to a company from upstate New York, University Tickets, and the employee with all the numbers spent Thursday on a plane home.

Granted, there is the possibility for some press-release rope-a-dope from ASUA – the numbers could be much better, which will give Bruce the opportunity to gloat at a press conference in his final offical act. Yet assuming that Lieberman isn’t playing games with the Star, one should recall this passage from the Wildcat‘s liveblog:

The Arizona Daily Star reporter sitting next to me just said that he saw a tweet claiming security is now letting spectators without tickets into the concert free of charge.

Followed by this disclaimer:

On another note, it turns out ASUA is not letting people into the concert for free, as previously speculated. They are not offering additional discounts either.

At best, this was simply media speculation in error; at worse, ASUA officials are openly lying about the event. Meanwhile, according to the paper ex-President Bruce isn’t taking any calls, which is never a good sign (although current President Nagata might be worth a shot).

Then there’s the issue of the magic $300,000 reserve that the Star says is ‘gone’ with the projected numbers. The bigger issue, though, is the fact that ASUA has $300,000 on reserve, unaccounted for in the budget, unaccounted for by anyone outside of the executives. To give a sense of perspective, only $90,000 was allocated this year for club funding; and even with the $100,000 from the SSF, ASUA allocated only a total of $180,000 on SafeRide. Is this some local vestige of Al Gore’s lockbox? A hedge fund saved from the vagaries of Subprime Tsunami 2008? Whatever it is, it’d be nice to know exactly why, or how, an amount of money equivalent to 22.5 percent of revenue sources is just sitting, waiting to fill the holes in whatever multiyear project goes awry. We can only hope that these answers will provided under the new era of transparency.

Platinum Bash Reax

Posted in Campus, Media by Evan Lisull on 30 April 2009

Last Smash Platinum BashUnder the Sun’s own Laura Donovan managed to make it to the show:

Pretty much no one sat in their assigned seats, and the man on the loudspeaker said Kelly Clarkson would not come on stage until everyone retreated to the actual seats they bought. And nobody moved, so even though I got the cheapest ticket, I sat in seats worth $200 a month ago, and there was nothing ASUA could do to control this issue. They tried to get everyone to get what they paid for, therefore, move further away from the stage. Everyone stayed put, though, and why would ASUA have a problem with everyone moving forward if those seats weren’t sold, anyway?

Meanwhile, the Wildcat‘s Shain Bergan liveblogged (!) the thing over at the Wildcat‘s house blog (?!), and got in some great lines. First up, on President Bruce:

Revisiting the high five narrative, ASUA President Tommy Bruce is the only person I’ve ever seen high five someone without smiling.

Then, in a post entitled “ASUA’s got 99 problems, and ticket sales are one” (great minds, etc.):

After unsuccessfully trying to track down ASUA officials for some answers (finally), I realized I still needed another quote or two for the next day’s story. Running out of one of the tunnels, I grabbed the only two kids I saw. “Are you guys UA students?” I asked. Turns out they were high school freshmen. I need a new job.

You and me both, Shain.

Ticket sales numbers are still being processed, but already there’s a pretty wide discrepancy. Back to the liveblog:

In the end, estimates ranged from 8,000 to 13,000, so obviously some of us have not yet mastered the art of counting. I went with 12,000, and I’m really hoping I win the pool.

In the full-length article in today’s paper:

About 12,000 spectators flowed into the stadium Wednesday night to watch what Associated Students of the University of Arizona officials are calling one of the best concerts the university has hosted.

. . .

ASUA is expected to at least break even on the concert thanks to revenue generated from ticket sales, merchandise and sponsorships, but it is unclear whether the organization will be able to deliver on its promise to create scholarships from the profits.

The Daily Star‘s estimate was not so high:

About 10,000 fans gave Arizona Stadium a party it hasn’t seen in more than three decades Wednesday night.

. . .

Even with a reduced capacity of 17,000 for the concert, ticket sales had been underwhelming leading up to the show. The people who did show up didn’t seem to mind the extra space, dancing in front of the massive, video-screen-aided stage that faced the west side of the stadium.

The Citizen, curiously, didn’t send a reporter – or if they did, the story missed the cut for today’s issue. Yet an article on Tuesday gives us a good sense of the magnitude of the ticket snafu:

With showtime barely 24 hours away, slow ticket sales continued to plague the first major concert in Arizona Stadium since Jimmy Carter was president and Elvis was a reigning king.

Tuesday morning, Tommy Bruce, president of the Associated Students of University of Arizona, which is sponsoring the Wednesday multigenre show, would say only that more than half of the 17,000 available tickets had sold.

It’s the same thing he said April 12, but organizers still cling to threads of optimism.

“Ticket sales are slow, but they’ve definitely picked up the past few days,” said. [sic]

‘Picked up’ is quite the understatement. If the 12,000 number is correct, it means that ASUA managed to sell 3,500 tickets in a 24 hour time period. In contrast, the unweighted average per-day ticket sales leading up to yesterday works out to around 258 tickets a day (8,500/33). Certainly, students tend to procrastinate when buying concert tickets, but even this seems a bit high for a last minute rush of sales. Unless. . .

The Arizona Daily Star reporter sitting next to me just said that he saw a tweet claiming security is now letting spectators without tickets into the concert free of charge.

Of course, I can’t go investigate, because everyone is being held hostage to their seats right now.

I just talked to a spectator who said he was angry at ASUA for lowering ticket prices after he had paid the original price for his and his friends’ tickets. If this info about letting people in for free is true, this guy’s going to be pissed.

ASUA later denied the allegation, but a 3,500% 1,257% jump in per-day ticket sales deserves at least some scrutiny.

The sun sets on the Bruce era

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 29 April 2009

SunsetEven for a man who has been punching in twenty-two hour days for the past two years, the next few days will be among the most frenetic that President Bruce has ever experienced. Today at 5 PM, the doors to the Last Smash Platinum Bash – the product of hundreds of interviews and years of work – will open. Tomorrow morning, at 9:30 AM, the Arizona Board of Regents will make the final decision on $1,100, a proposal strenuously resisted by ASUA. On Friday, the new president, vice presidents, and senators will be sworn in, and with that the two-year Bruce era will come to an end.

Assuming that expectations are met, I suspect that these few days will serve as a nice microcosm of Bruce’s tenure. Certainly, on aggregate things are much better than they were when the president was being charged with sexual assault; at the same time, this is not exactly the highest bar to pass. Certain aspects of ASUA have gotten worse – and the coming weeks and months are as good a time as any to reflect on the past two years, what they have meant for ASUA, and how the organization can become more worthy of its title as “your student government” in the coming years.

Student government as a labor union

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 28 April 2009

Labor Union - Unionizing the 'Brain Worker'This first occurred to me a week or so ago, and the more I think about the more it seems to provide a more realistic model for ASUA/GPSC than full-fledged, nation-state governments.

Both organizations are based on groups of people, rather than actual locations. Certainly, ASUA is centered around the UA campus, but as the constitution states it consists “of all students registered at the University of Arizona,” while GPSC contains a similar clause for graduate students. Similarly, the UAW was largely centered around the plants in Detroit near the Big 3, but its constituency is the workers – regardless of where they might work (since its founding, the UAW has expanded into many fields outside of automobile manufacture). Either way, there is no “state” to defend – their jurisdiction only applies to the workers.

Thus, student government is relegated to providing services, as Connor pointed out in his editorial. But rather than viewing these services as akin to the ASUA Department of Transportation (i.e. SafeRide), their closer counterpart are the benefits won by unions in labor negotiations with corporations. If you push any ASUA representative to justify the institution, sooner or later he’ll come back to the organization’s ability to “deal” with the administration, the equivalent of dealing with a corporate board. Labor unions strive to minimize worker contributions (increase vacation time, shorten hours, etc.) and maximize pay-outs (increase wages and benefits), and student government similarly strives to minimize contributions (decrease tuition) and maximize pay-outs (more services, concerts, ‘higher quality education’). The big exception is club funding, but this function has largely been outsourced to a non-elected Board (see this post for more on that).

This also helps to explain the earnestness in ASUA’s being seen as “your student government.” In order to effectively represent the student body in negotiations, ASUA must be the student voice; if there any entities competing to represent the students, ASUA’s power within the UA will be weakened. Further, since consolidating the vox populi makes for a more effective lobby, power tends towards the executive. Should that executive become the face of an organization – see Bruce, Hoffa, et al – then checks on that leader’s power in negotiating with corporate/administrative forces are rendered obsolete.

One might further see similarities between the ASUA-GPSC and the initial tension between the craft-based AFL – often described as a “conservative union” focused primarily on specific modifications to labor rather than political campaigns – and the industrial CIO, whose workers are viewed as a sort of lumpenproletariat that can be swung like a cudgel by union leaders. (Sometimes, however, the cudgel doesn’t measure up to its purported strength, a fact that labor unions and our student government are painfully aware of.) In the end, the two organizations were driven together by necessity.

Viewing ASUA as a union, Connor’s case against it becomes even stronger. For with the allocating of SSF money, along with the mandatory club registration fee, ASUA has effectively become an involuntary union. Advocating against ASUA becomes less about supporting anarchy, and more about giving students the right to not pay union dues.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Tobias Higbie

Election irregularities to slip by over spring break?

Posted in Campus, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 15 March 2009

This week’s spring break revelry may obliterate more than brain cells: there’s every indication that concern over this year’s biased ballots will be wiped away as cleanly as the last hours of a bad Cuervo bender by the time students come back to campus.

The ASUA elections commission wrapped up last week’s student government elections without reference to election irregularities that included a ballot question apparently written by its own sponsors, the appearance of write-in candidate Chris Nagata’s name directly above the “write-in” blank, and Elections Commissioner Kenny Ho’s decision to alter ballots during open voting in response to a complaint from presidential candidate Shane Cathers.

Although ASUA president Tommy Bruce gave an oblique response to the Wildcat‘s call for a special election under new supervision, Ho has yet to offer any public reply to concerns about the legitimacy of the election he managed, and student government officials are accepting the results and carrying on as usual.

“The elections commission will consider the results legitimate,” said sitting ASUA senator and Executive Vice-President elect Emily Fritze via email Friday. “Their reasoning is that there was no violation of the elections code. The only way that the results could possibly change would be if Mr. Cathers was to file a complaint with the Supreme Court.”

Nor are there any plans to remove Ho from office, says Fritze, though the Senate will likely review the elections code in the coming month. “Commissioner Ho dealt with something new in nature: no precedent of online voting for write-in candidates,” wrote Fritze. “The Senate will be revising and clarifying this section to address the write in instructions for online ballots.”

Presidential candidate Cathers, who received just 17 percent of last week’s vote, is concerned by the results but appears unlikely to appeal. “It is troubling that there was even a need to request a change on the ballot,” he said Friday. “Additionally, it is troubling that the ballot, which should be incontestably unbiased, could be considered biased by any person.”

But as for taking student government to task, it looks like Cathers is relying on students themselves. Asked if he supported a special election, Cathers told us “if the students feel that their government is not acting in the best interest of democracy or contrary to the genuine representation and values of themselves as a whole, then the students have the right to hold their government accountable and demand change.” He did not indicate that he is considering another complaint to the elections commission or an appeal to the ASUA Supreme Court.

Elections Commissioner Kenny Ho and candidate Chris Nagata have not yet responded to requests for comment.

Our own informal poll shows that our readers overwhelmingly reject the legitimacy of this election. But without a challenge from Cathers or further calls for a new election from the Wildcat,  it appears that ASUA will make no attempt to fix this flawed election after spring break.

President: “Don’t you mean BIZARRO elections process?”

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 12 March 2009

BizzaroA full Senate report will be coming soon; for now, though, it’s worth going through the growing ASUA-Wildcat feud, in light of President Bruce’s comments at yesterday’s meeting:

“Absolutely no disrespect when I say, do not believe everything that you read,” Bruce said, referencing an editorial that appeared in Wednesday’s issue of the Daily Wildcat. “At no point whatsoever in this elections process has there ever been any intentional malcontent or bias against any candidate in this campaign.”

The worst part of all of this is that there is no malevolence – just incompetence and a failure to understand the basic underpinnings of free elections. The intentionality doesn’t really matter, though – if you’ve messed up a ballot, you’ve messed up a ballot. If you’ve banned the formation of political parties, you’ve done a hell of a number on freedom of association, regardless of how many exclamation points you tack on at the end.

One thing that particularly bothered the student body president was that he was not sought out or consulted before the running of the editorial, Bruce said.

“I do my best to try to return phone calls immediately. I always try to answer every question I legally can answer and try to provide all the information that is available,” he said. “And yet when – you know – when things like an editorial come out that have essentially disgraced and defamed everything that we do and then I’m not contacted, that’s frustrating for me.”

To paraphrase a good friend, campus media does not start and stop at your command, Mr. President. It is not our job to make ASUA look good. If something is printed in error – and, I should point out, genuine error, and not simply slanted in a way that does not please you – then it is your responsibility to point it out. During his mini-rant, President Bruce did not respond to any allegation from the editorial (or this site) – not one! Instead, he chose to insinuate and allude to ‘errors’. If a President can’t answer concerns like these at a public forum, then there are some very serious transparency issues within ASUA.

PIRG, in fact, went through the proper channels on its way to the ballot, since it received nominating petition signatures from 5 percent of the student body, Bruce said.

Also in reference to the editorial, Bruce said that the Elections Commission is held to protocol by the president’s office and the Senate.

Well, let’s see if President Bruce’s pledge to answer questions is genuine. How does changing the rules in the middle of the game constitute “proper channels”? If the President and the Senate are responsible for the Elections Commission, is it fair to blame them – and you – for the outrageously slanted PIRG question and the printing of a write-in candidate’s name? Can you point to any precedent where a write-in candidate’s name was printed on the ballot? When will ASUA elections meet the minimum standards set by the OSCE for free elections? Can you point to any other moment in ASUA history when ballots were changed during an election? For all your paeans to openness, do you plan on doing anything about the fact that your organization is the least transparent and least representative student government in the Pac-10?

Inquiring minds want to know. It’d be nice to get an answer to these questions, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.

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.