ASSU elections are upon us, with six slates for Executive, a smattering of class president slates, and 34 ASSU Undergraduate Senate candidates. Indeed, this looks to be a highly competitive year across all of the categories, a welcoming sign given the wide number of ASSU-related scandals that have appeared over the past year, particularly around the Executive branch.
The most intensely fought campaign, however, might be for the Senate. This year, for the first time in recent memory, we are seeing three distinct political coalitions appear, each pushing to claim as many of the Senate’s 15 seats as possible. The first of these groups is the oldest “political party” on campus, the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC), which has been endorsing candidates who profess an interest in diversity and the “communities of color” since 1987. The second of these coalitions is Students United Now (SUN), a group that appears to be in some ways a successor of Students for a Better Stanford, a coalition that appeared last year. The last of these groups is a lesser known group of four students running as Students with Experience,using the self-proclaimed acronym of S.Ex., under the tutelage of Danny Crichton, a current junior who mounted a short-lived push for Executive with Shelley Gao.
With this plethora of coalitions, a few questions arise. First, what is each aiming to accomplish? Second, what are their electoral chances? And finally, what does this mean for unaffiliated candidates?
SOCC is coming off of a difficult year. Only seven of its 12 candidates were elected last year, which denied it a majority in the Senate. To further its problems, one of its candidates, Daniel Limón, was absent for fall quarter and then was subsequently removed from the Senate by a decision from the Constitutional Council. Additionally, based on talks with people who have been interviewed by SOCC this year, it appears that SOCC wishes that one of its candidates, Anton Zietsman, had never been elected. This left it with a mere five partisans on the current Senate, which meant that it was never in a position to push strongly for its agenda.
Thus, this year, SOCC is aiming to enhance its position by running a stronger Senate campaign and also by screening its candidates more intensely in order to assure themselves of their loyalty to SOCC’s stated goals. This final point can be seen in the way in which SOCC kept many of its nominations close to the vest, not announcing them until well after spring break, perhaps attempting to wait out SUN in order to ensure that its candidates will remain loyal after their election.
SUN is a new organization, with no incumbents or even prior candidates. Its main goal is to elect its members in order to promote their goals: accountability, communication, and good governance. To do so, it is simultaneously trying to differentiate itself from Students for a Better Stanford (SBS), its predecessor as a non-SOCC coalition, which successfully elected eight of its 12 candidates, but which has taken a beating in the pages of the Daily and elsewhere, particularly related to its handling of the appropriations process. At the same time, however, SUN will also be attempting to appeal to some of the same voters who chose SBS last year.
Although arguably a certain level of austerity was needed to recover from last year’s overspending, the particular way in which SBS has gone about reform of the process has potentially tainted it in the eyes of some voters. Thus, SUN needs to appear independent from SBS’s influence; however, it must achieve this new appearance without sacrificing the network of supporters that remain for SBS.
Finally, Crichton’s group (S.Ex), which is made up of four current and former FroSoCo residents, is running on a goal of introducing “stable leadership” into the Senate and helping to resuscitate the image of the ASSU in the eyes of the student body. It faces a similar challenge to SUN in terms of creating any sort of name recognition and group identity that could help it at the polls, but without the double-edged sword of SUN’s image as a successor to SBS.
Having outlined the different goals of these respective groups, we can now turn to their respective electoral chances. This year, SOCC will attempt to capitalize on student group anger about appropriations, while also aiming to increase turnout of its core demographics. If they can position themselves as the anti-Zietsman, then they may be able to benefit from the negative Daily coverage about this year’s Appropriations committee.
I believe that, for this reason, SOCC’s electoral chances are better this year than last year. However, that said, Stanford elections have always been 80-90 percent name recognition and 10-20 percent issues, especially for the Senate. Indeed, the real reason why SOCC may do better this year is because it realizes that it needs an exceptional effort in order to put its people in power and thus more effectively mobilizes its base and guides its candidates. Based on their aggressive effort to marshal supporters to aid in flyering, this certainly appears to be the case.
SUN’s chances are tied, as I mentioned above, to its ability to show that it is not SBS Version 2.0. If it can present an independent face, but still effectively mobilize “responsible governance” voters, then it could be successful. It will have some trouble matching the success of SBS last year because a calculated smear campaign could override some of the name recognition bonus associated with a coalition approach. That said, as above, the key is still widespread name recognition, so a freshman-heavy slate like this one – freshmen consistently vote in the largest numbers – that effectively shares the workload of campus-wide fliering and emailing still has an advantage.
S.Ex is still very much a mystery in terms of how they will fare. The group is made up of two current juniors and two sophomores, which plays against them, but Danny is nothing if not efficient (full disclosure: I am on the Stanford in Government Operations committee, which Crichton runs and on which two of his group members sit). Since he appeared to contemplate an earlier run for Exec, it’s clear that he has every intention of propelling his FroSoCo foursome to the Senate.
Without a clear constituency, his group will have to make every effort to achieve name recognition outside of FroSoCo to win. Crichton will also need to be sure to have every member of his group fully on board for the effort if he wants to have a voting bloc. They were late entries to the race, unlike most other candidates, so it was originally unclear that they had all of the planning done that they would need for a successful campaign. The release of their website and group platform on Thursday dispelled some of those concerns and also underscored the advantage of running as a smaller group: all of their “individual” flyers have room to mention the names of each of the other candidates. This will likely enhance the impact of their coalition.
All of this brings us to the final question that I outlined above: what about the unaligned candidates? My answer is, unfortunately, that they will have a very difficult time this year. With three coalitions running, one of them a revitalized SOCC and another of them a well-organized SUN, unaffiliated candidates will struggle to match the pooled resources and political capabilities of the coalitions.
It is not so much that the coalitions will take powerful ideological stances that motivate voters, but rather that sharing the workload of fliering, merging email lists of potential supporters, and throwing group events provides a logistical aid that is very difficult to match.
Last year, the only unaffiliated candidate to win was Zachary Johnson, an incumbent. This year, the only incumbent running again is Michael Cruz, a SOCC candidate. This year’s elections will, I believe, result in a Senate that is divided three ways, with perhaps one unaffiliated candidate sneaking in.
The exact division of the Senate, whether it is SOCC or SUN with a majority (or mere plurality), will have to be determined on April 8 and 9, but I feel confident that we will see one of our most partisan elections yet. It only remains to be seen whether this is a temporary or permanent development in ASSU politics.
Otis Reid briefly ran for Senate last year and served as a member of Nominations Commission, which nominates students to university and trustee committees, for 2009-2010. From safely outside of swatting range, he regularly writes about ASSU politics on the Stanford Review blog, Fiat Lux, and is enjoying this elections far more than is healthy.