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Throwback Thursday: Political strife around presidential debates has reasserted itself

(Daily Bruin archive)

By Isabella Klesmith

Nov. 13, 2019 11:02 p.m.

Throwback Thursdays are our chance to reflect on past events on or near campus and relate them to the present day. Each week, we showcase and analyze an old article from the Daily Bruin archives in an effort to chronicle the campus’ history.

A lot can happen in the 31 years between 1988 and 2019: Perms and mullets do not dominate the fashion scene anymore, and UCLA students do not have to envision a world without their favorite dining hall, Bruin Plate.

However, some things truly never change. UCLA remains engaged in a fierce rivalry with USC, Bruins scream at midnight every finals week and presidential debates on campus continue to incite controversy.

Although initially chosen by the Democratic National Committee as the site of the sixth Democratic debate in the 2020 presidential primary campaign, Royce Hall will no longer host the debate. The DNC recently decided to move the debate due to an ongoing conflict between the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299, an employee union, and the University of California.

The problems between labor unions and the university system are not novel, and neither is UCLA’s role as a venue for presidential debates.

On Oct. 13, 1988, UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion hosted the final presidential debate between then-Vice President George H.W. Bush and the former Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis, who also later taught as a visiting professor at UCLA’s School of Public Affairs.

A 1988 Daily Bruin article discussed both the positive and negative effects of the event on life at UCLA, arguing that UCLA students should have more access to the event to make up for the disruptions that it would likely cause on campus.

While UCLA planned to offer a limited number of seats to students for the 2019 Democratic debate, they did not make any student seats available for the 1988 debate, according to the article.

At the time, the bipartisan debate delegation had many reasons to host the event at UCLA, citing UCLA’s central location, prestige and the fact that Chancellor Charles Young offered Pauley Pavilion free of charge as reasons for coming to campus.

Many of these reasons still hold true decades later and likely factored into the DNC’s decision to choose UCLA for the Democratic debate this December. Additionally, the DNC likely wanted to court young voters who are increasingly becoming a larger percentage of the eligible electorate.

However, the DNC decided to move the debate to Loyola Marymount University due to a conflict with the labor union that represents University of California employees.

According to AFSCME President Lee Saunders, the UC has violated state law and labor contracts by outsourcing jobs typically filled by UC workers to low-wage contractors.

“UC’s outsourcing practices hurt UC employees and contract workers and drive down wages predominantly for women and people of color who already face gender and racial pay gaps,” he said.

Local 3299 is currently boycotting all UC events to call attention to their grievances, and called on the DNC to do the same. The labor union has a history of striking on UCLA and other UC campuses to achieve their goals, including their most recent strike Wednesday.

The UC system responded to these claims by contending that they only use outside labor when absolutely necessary, and only for short-term work when they lack sufficient in-house labor.

The UC is still seeking to negotiate with Local 3299, and proposed a contract in October 2019 that the union ultimately rejected. In a statement to union workers, the University of California system urged their employees to diligently research the contract negotiations themselves, arguing that these strikes needlessly disrupt the lives of countless students and patients.

In both 1988 and 2019, presidential debates on UCLA’s campus spurred student and employee criticism directed at the university. Unfortunately, students ultimately lost in both cases, as they were denied access to historically and politically important events.

With great power comes great responsibility, and so this world-class university will likely continue to be a site of political controversy for years to come.

Bruins, strap in for the ride.

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Isabella Klesmith
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