Tuesday, May 23

Jonathan Friedland: Independent USAC election candidates can bring new, broader perspectives

USAC Election Board chair Danielle Fitzgerald led the undergraduate student government candidate orientation last week. This year's undergraduate student government election features 10 independent candidates – the most in recent history. (Axel Lopez/Daily Bruin)

USAC Election Board chair Danielle Fitzgerald led the undergraduate student government candidate orientation last week. This year's undergraduate student government election features 10 independent candidates – the most in recent history. (Axel Lopez/Daily Bruin)

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly referred to Inan Chowdhury as general representative 2. In fact, he is general representative 3.

This year’s undergraduate student government elections will feature 10 independent candidates, which could supersede the embarrassment of a presidential candidate running unopposed for next year’s council.

For years, the Undergraduate Students Association Council has been dominated by a two-slate system. Most recently, the prevailing slates have been Bruins United and the remnants of LET’S ACT!. As Americans know, it’s extremely difficult for independent candidates to win in a two-party system. The same applies for USAC elections, as independent candidates often lack the personnel and resources to run a competitive campaign.

This is a shame because the current slate system features continuing political drama that diminishes students’ interest, and thus reduces its effectiveness in addressing their concerns. Students should support this year’s greater number of independent candidates because they present a unique breakaway from slate politics – which can tangibly benefit USAC to better serve students.

It’s certainly a rare opportunity. There hasn’t been this many independent candidates running in years, and even the ones who ran in the past had limited success. This year, five of the six contested positions feature independent candidates. UCLA hasn’t elected an independent USAC president since 2000. And slates still dominate: Eight of the 14 current USAC council members are part of Bruins United, and another ran with the Waves of Change slate.

This monopoly hinders candidates’ opinions. Case in point: Divya Sharma, this year’s transfer student representative, who is also running for the academic affairs commissioner position as an independent in next year’s council. Last year, Sharma was part of the Bruins United slate, but left the party because it didn’t give him the freedom to express his platform and viewpoints.

Sharma is now running as an independent since he believes it gives him a better approach to contributing and tackling the issues facing our student government. He said that being a part of Bruins United limited his breadth of knowledge about student needs by only associating with other Bruins United members.

Shubham Goel, a candidate in last year’s election who ran for general representative on the one-man MakeUCLAGreatAgain slate, introduced fresh new ideas. For instance, Goel wanted more transparency into USAC’s policies and spending matters. Undergraduates should be deeply invested in how USAC’s transparency and how student government spends the annual $200-plus student fee added to each student’s BruinBill.

But with Goel’s support rising after a Daily Bruin editorial board endorsement, a now-Associated Students UCLA undergraduate representative – and member of Bruins United – tweeted Goel was a “satirical Trump-like candidate” and that it was no surprise UCLA’s newspaper was financially pressed for money.

Now that’s just wrong. And it certainly doesn’t help USAC make better policy.

That’s just a small part of typical slate drama. Political parties often take drastic measures to raise money in support of its candidates. For instance, LET’S ACT! allegedly sold drugs to raise money for its slate in 2015 and Bruins United allegedly took funds from outside organizations trying to influence UCLA’s election.

Thankfully, this election season features the most independent candidates running for office in five years. There are only two candidates running on the Defend Affirmative Action Party, essentially eliminating USAC’s two-slate system for this year’s election. This provides independent candidates, who have only won one contested seat since 2012, with a feasible chance of victory.

This is good, because independent candidates are not constrained by their slates. Sharma believes that running independently has permitted him to engage a larger audience simply because he is no longer associated with some students’ negative opinions of Bruins United.

As members of the student body, we will see a greater diversity of students representing more areas of the university. There’s already precedent – current independent General Representative 3 Inan Chowdhury has implemented Sigma C.H.AI., a program designed to bring different communities at UCLA together.

USAC political parties claim that the slate system serves candidates well by giving them necessary resources while in office. However, independent candidates will likely bring in as many resources, just from a wider array of students, many of whom currently have meager contact with USAC officials. We need a fresh group of officers in USAC, not the everyday fitting-the-mold kind of people who end up there after rising up the Bruins United chain of command.

Our founding fathers didn’t want our country to become entangled in political parties, and although divisive parties are far too ingrained in our national political culture, UCLA students can still reverse this contentious trend in our comparatively trivial USAC elections by supporting independent candidates and voting across party lines.

After all, USAC is more than just a resume-boosting activity. Independent candidates can help change that notion.

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  • Bruin

    Inan is not the General Representative 2!