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Lack of slates in USAC special election indicative of greater political independence

The number of representatives on the Undergraduate Students Association Council who ran independently is the highest it has been in at least eight years. Representatives said they feel they can more clearly express their ideals independently. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Marilyn Chavez-Martinez

Nov. 5, 2019 1:04 a.m.

All of the 2019 Undergraduate Students Association Council fall special election candidates ran independently, marking a decline in candidate coalitions.

The 2019-2020 USAC now has 11 independent representatives, the most in at least eight years. During election season, USAC candidates can run on slates, which are groups of students who choose to combine their resources and run on similar platforms.

Prior to the 2019 spring election, slates such as Bruins United, which had the largest number of representatives on the council from at least 2012 to 2016, or LET’S ACT!, whose representatives occupied a number of seats on the council in previous years, have both seen dwindling representation over the past three years.

Previously, the ubiquitousness of slates limited the ability of independents to run effectively for council seats, but the decline in representatives running on slates signifies a decrease of coalition influence.

USAC President Robert Watson said the decline of the Bruins United slate in 2018 and 2019 led to a general independence movement that has grown on the council. This decline began following an incident where a prominent Bruins United representative faced criticism for his conduct on social media.

In 2017, independent candidates made up the majority of the council, with nine out of 14 members. The following year saw the same majority of independent members on the council and the introduction of the For the People slate, the only slate which is currently represented on the council.

During the fall special election that ended Thursday, none of the eight candidates ran on slates. The three winners will join the council Tuesday, which is led by USAC’s first independent president in 19 years.

Watson said he ran as an independent because he wanted the mobility to advocate for his specific platforms without the restraint of a slate. Watson previously served as internal vice president, also as an independent.

“In some cases, (a slate’s) ideals might match very closely with what your ideals are politically, or ideologically, but in a lot of cases, it kind of, I think, restricts you,” Watson said. “It’s not solely what you believe and what you want to advocate for.”

However, Watson added he thinks some USAC slates have had positive effects, creating space for students of color to join the council, for example.

“I think For the People is a great example of a political party that has a very specific purpose that’s designed to support and recognize and really make space for students of color … within student government and I think that’s a really beneficial and positive thing,” Watson said.

There are currently four students on USAC who ran on the For the People slate: Academic Affairs Commissioner Naomi Riley, General Representative 1 Eduardo Velazquez, Internal Vice President Kimberly Bonifacio and Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kelechi Iheanacho.

Newly elected Financial Supports Commissioner Millen Srivastava spoke with The Bruin about running as an independent at a meet-the-candidates event in October.

Srivastava, who also ran independently in her spring bid for president, said she thinks slates caused a lot of political drama in the past. She added running independently was the right move for her.

General Representative 2 Orion Smedley spoke to The Bruin after election results were announced Thursday. He said he did not join a slate because he is new to USAC politics.

“I was kind of running as an outsider, as it were, so it would have been difficult for me to join a slate anyway,” Smedley said.

Justin Suarez, a fourth-year political science student who ran for general representative and lost, previously said he didn’t run on a slate because he wanted to represent his own values and deliver his own message.

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Marilyn Chavez-Martinez | Outreach director
Chavez-Martinez is the 2019-2020 Assistant News editor for the Campus Politics beat. She was previously a reporter for the beat. Chavez-Martinez is also a second-year English major.
Chavez-Martinez is the 2019-2020 Assistant News editor for the Campus Politics beat. She was previously a reporter for the beat. Chavez-Martinez is also a second-year English major.
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