Monday, July 24, 2006

Lame Ducks

Yet again, too much time has elapsed. I feel like I am being irresponsible to my fans, so all six of you (Josh, Mollie, Zach, Karen, Jerry, and Tara), my apologies. I guess this one is a little intimidating to start because there is just so much dirt, and I know once I start I will be here a while.

First off though, I mentioned a very tense basketball game between Beaverton and Aloha. I had to deal with similar tension twice recently for World Cup. I had not intended to get into it, but Italy kept advancing, so I started watching and those last two games were nail-biters. I’m happy with the end results though.

Okay, when we left off, I made the front page of the Daily Emerald without really feeling like I belonged there. It was discovered while I was in a van on the way up to Salem. I am just going to say right now that I will not vouch for getting anyone’s name right except for Sid. Sid was my resident assistant my freshman year (this is not Frank, who was from my senior year). I had met him before when he was dating my government teacher’s daughter, and was thrilled to find him at the head of my dorm.

Sid was always politically alert, and paid attention to campus politics as well. He was helping with the campaign of two people who were in the van with us, and whose names I cannot remember at all. I think it was Scott and maybe Kristin, but I’m probably wrong. I can see their faces very clearly—I just can’t read the names on the posters and buttons that I helped with. Remember, this was 1991. Anyway, I supported their candidacy, and was helping.

Also in the van were the current co-presidents (sort of an innovation of theirs on president/vice-president) whom I believe were named Kirk and Sheila. Sid had helped on their campaign too, which we thought was a good sign.

There may have been someone else in the van too, but it was at least the six of us, and we were going to observe some discussions on educational funding at the state capitol, and were kind of hoping that our showing interest would make them hesitate to cut more.

I should mention that I started school right around the time Ballot Measure 5 passed, and the funding changes from that were already causing real problems, even when the economy was not horribly slumped.

We left quite early in the day, but not so early that we could not grab some Emeralds to read in the van. There I was. This was interesting to everyone, and unexpected, but more discussion came from the second item, with the much smaller picture.

Now, there were generally four categories of candidates in student body presidential elections, though I was still learning all of this. I think we were missing a joke candidacy this time around. Other elections would feature joke candidates like the pair who wanted to turn the student center into a water park, or the ones who ran on the platform that since one of them was an atheist and one was a minister (sent in one of those magazine ads), together they represented everybody. These candidates were never taken seriously, but did not let it get them down. One went on to run in the Eugene city elections, on the platform that Springfield should be forcefully annexed and Eugene should be moved up to a space station like the Death Star, but not one that would get blown up. They were generally pretty harmless, except for the ones who were campaigning against Safe Ride.

Safe Ride was a program that ran at night with a van driven by women, providing women with rides. Rape is a common problem on college campuses, and while walking across campus may not have been as likely a scenario as getting drunk at a frat party or just trusting the wrong acquaintance, you do what you can to minimize any opportunities.

There was a sketch comedy show done by some students that ran on cable access, and that disappointed me greatly by not being funny once I got a chance to see it. Anyway, their guys protested Safe Ride as being discriminatory against men. I suppose that’s true, but it was also really practical for a useful program, and so going against it had the potential to do harm. Even if the clowns who wanted the water park had won, I’m sure that there would have been plenty of checks to their power in place where it never would have happened. It’s just very different. I suppose their problem was that they bordered on one of the other types, which was, for lack of a better term, Young Republican.

Yes, Eugene and University of Oregon are generally considered the province of crunchy granola liberal hippies, and to be fair, that is somewhat exaggerated. There is nonetheless a strong conservative element, and they usually produced a team of candidates, crusading for all that was wholesome and pure and fascist. Can fascism and capitalism go together? I guess so. I have never seen a candidacy in this category do well, but I suppose it could happen.

The other categories were (of course) the crunchy granola liberal hippies, and what I considered normal. I considered Scott and Kristen to be normal, leaning left politically, but fairly moderate, and open to social conventions like bathing and business appropriate attire for situations where it would be expected. Honestly, Kirk and Sheila probably leaned more towards the hippie, but that’s okay.

The first scandal concerns the young republicans, Matt Colson and running mate. What broke in the paper that morning was an investigation that would soon be nicknamed Colgate. At this point, in addition to possibly getting names wrong, I may even have some details wrong, but it’s my own fault for not saving the paper. The gist will definitely be correct.

You see, one thing that we did at U of O to fight apartheid is that one day a week, the student union did not sell Coca Cola products because of the corporations dealings in South Africa. Not exactly total divestiture, but it clearly worked because the regime change happened, just like we planned.

One of the members of the Black Student Union (a very handsome and engaging young man whose name might have been Kellen) had spoken to the student congress about extending this ban, but after he left, Matt reopened the discussion, which was a constitutional no-no.

Like most political scandals, it was not so much the initial wrongdoing as the cover-up that gets you into trouble. Matt was seen in a place and time where he should not have been, and there was evidence that he was trying to alter the minutes of the session to erase what he had done.

This is exceedingly foolish anyway, because at that point there are enough people who were there and remembered it happening that you can’t really make it go away. Anyway, he was very huffy and denied everything, and if people were so sure he had done this, why didn’t they start a criminal investigation? Well, for starters, violating student congress procedures is not a criminal offense, Nimrod. I think he also got in trouble for having a weapon on campus once. He had just left it in his care, but it is against the rules. We can’t have them in the parking lot where I work either. Anyway, let us just call him a weasel and be done with it. The fun dichotomy of that election was that the amount of spending each team did was inversely proportional to the amount of votes they got. So, the weasels spent the most money (a lot more, actually, his running mate seems to have been kind of wealthy) and got the least votes, my team was in the middle, and the hippies won handily without spending much money at all.

Writing about Gen and Josonya is hard to do without sounding like a bigot, but ultimately their platform was that one was a lesbian and one was black, and so they knew what it was like to be minorities, and could represent that. I kind of got into trouble with that.

The biggest issue for student government is always the fees. You can’t do much about tuition costs or book costs or anything like that, but the student fees are somewhat flexible, and since student government dictates the funding that comes out of the fees, it controls the amount. Also, whatever you fund, someone is against it, so the controversy comes in there.

One segment of the fees went to Lane Transit District, making every student ID work as a bus pass. True, there were people who didn’t use the buses, but if you make that optional, the amount goes up for those who do use it, and they are probably subsidizing something that you do. That’s how taxes work and communities work.

The greatest time spent on decision making probably went to different clubs, and student papers, and things like that. Many of these clubs were specifically for minority group. I already mentioned the BSU, but there was also Mecha for Mexicans and Chicanos, one for Asians, and one for GALBA for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, all of whom sponsored events and speakers and did student outreach.

The biggest chunk of money may have been for sports, and that was the most popular area for attack, because sports are lowbrow. Except, that even though mentally when you hear sports, you think of men’s basketball and football, those programs made enough money together to cover their expenses. So these fees are really more of a benefit to women’s basketball, volleyball, wrestling, and softball. Track may have made enough money to cover itself too.

Anyway, as sports were being trashed for taking funds away from these clubs, I pointed out that maybe getting an athletic scholarship might make more difference to someone choosing a school than the presence of a strong black student union. My point was that the sports programs had value also, to the students who played and who went to the games. It was taken as my implying that the only way these minority students could get into college was if they played sports. I know that was not what I said.

The way I honestly felt, but could not quite articulate, was that I might as well have just said “Quit picking on sports, you dirty Commies!” because that is how well it was received. And honestly, is being a minority even a good platform? Because that’s kind of like saying that you won’t represent the majority well. I think they should have focused on their qualifications, and plans, and those plans should include something more creative than attacking athletics.

Even if I was not supporting someone else, and if I had not attended that disastrous meet the candidates session, I probably would not have liked them anyway because I saw that Brian Hoop was supporting them, and I had read an interview with him that really made me dislike him. Yes, working with low-income families to encourage gardening is a good thing to do (he did have a qualification), but his general air was kind of condescending and he talked about blowing things up. That was a bad quote to have, because it made the Feds look at him a lot more harshly when he was at the head of an angry mob that kicked in the front windows of Eugene City Hall.

(They were protesting the Rodney King verdict. I disagreed with that verdict too, but somehow I did not feel that the Eugene city government was responsible, or that marching on them would help. Not that they intended to kick the windows in; it just sort of happened. That is exactly the problem with protesting. Put a lot of people together who are angry, and it’s really easy for stupidity to break out.)

Anyway, Gen won, and as far as I know (because I was gone) she served a perfectly adequate presidency, but I don’t know who served with her because Josonja resigned.

This is another spot where the details get fuzzy, in terms of when people learned what. I know the first thing that happened chronologically was that she shoplifted a troll doll from the student bookstore, and was caught. I think the fine was $120.00, and she paid it, but the check was bad. Then to avoid dealing with that, she was using her sister’s ID, and there was a significant weight difference so the police did not believe her, and it all went south from there.

Stealing is legally and morally wrong, but it is easy enough to pass off the theft of a $7.00 troll doll as just a stupid prank, and not something that should damage your political clout, despite the central role of the bookstore in student life and history. But there was just so much else that went with it, that you have to wonder exactly how together this person is anyway, and was she really the best running mate available?

Ultimately, I suppose it was all good training for adult life. I learned that politics are sordid, got used to cynicism and low voter turnout, and learned that way to really win an election is to mobilize the frats, which is harder that it looks.