On Tuesday night, while thousands of UCSB students converged on Harder Stadium to watch their beloved Gaucho men’s soccer team take to the pitch against arch-rival Cal Poly, a few dozen souls filled the basement of the University Center to take in a different sort of competition. The Campus Democrats and Republicans hosted a gubernatorial debate watch between Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown.
Before the debate, students got the chance to hobnob with California State Assembly and U.S. Congress hopefuls who also took to microphone to give very brief campaign speeches before the debate began. The Republicans struck fear into the hearts of their college-aged audience by prophesying a future that will see them moving back in with their parents after they graduate and can’t find jobs. If you can even afford to make it to graduation, countered the Democratic candidates, referring to the recent 33 percent hike in tuition fees for UC students. For good measure, E.G. Gray, in his role as proxy for independent candidate John Hager, said that both parties were corrupt.
The GOP candidates present were Tom Watson (Congress) and Mike Stoker (State Assembly). Democratic State Assembly hopeful Das Williams took to the stage along with Daraka Larimore-Hall, chair of the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara, filling in for House Representative Lois Capps, who did not attend.
As most of the students at the event were affiliated with the two hosting organizations, there were few undecided voters to sway. Eric Amlani, Central Coast Regional Chair of Students for Meg Whitman and fourth-year Business/Econ major at UCSB, said that his biggest concern was the state budget deficit, and that he thinks Meg Whitman, with her business experience, “can turn this around.” He was inspired by one of her commercials and signed up to volunteer via text message. Alma Soriano, the Campus Dems’ events VP, said that she is scared of the decisions Whitman would make, citing tuition fees as her biggest concern, she said. Alyssa Hanou, the publicity chair, added that she hoped to hear the candidates speak about immigration as well as Propositions 23 and 25. They did not disappoint.
As Tom Brokaw, the debate moderator, appeared on liquid crystal displays around the Hub (the name for the University Center’s food court when it doubles as an event space), student Nader Heidari settled into a table with Steven Begakis and Morgan Weber. Heidari played coy about his political leanings, but Begakis, head of PR for the College Republicans, and Weber, an aspiring special education teacher, were clearly in Whitman’s corner. Weber said she liked Whitman’s views on education, including merit pay and the institution of more charter schools, although she will seek work at a traditional public school herself. Begakis hoped that Brokaw wouldn’t ask any questions about Whitman’s undocumented housekeeper because it diverted time from discussion about real policy issues.
Brokaw did not abide, but he balanced out his scandal-centric housekeeper question (or doubled down on it, depending on your perspective) by pointing out that one of Jerry Brown’s campaign workers was recorded calling Meg Whitman a whore. Brokaw added that some people feel the use of the word “whore” is equivalent to the use of the “N-word” to describe African Americans—even as Brokaw himself appeared perfectly comfortable enunciating the former word and did not say the latter. David Cunningham, a Black Studies minor, agreed with Jerry Brown, who questioned the equivalence of the two terms, but he also thought the question was not worth asking in the first place.
If there was one point of agreement between the Campus Democrats and Republicans, it was a desire to hear the candidates address substantive issues, giving us hope for the seriousness of California’s future leaders.
A second point of agreement emerged when Meg Whitman’s denunciation of Prop. 19 (for the legalization of marijuana) elicited a chorus of boos, giving us hope that Ben Stein will still be gracing our television screens in Clear Eyes commercials for the foreseeable future.