Wed 29 Mar 2006
Posted by Gavin Baker under Commentary
Update: Minutes from last week (March 21). Includes this jem from 3 am: Senator Baker congratulated and thanked everyone who ran as candidates. He reminded everyone to not go to Swamp tonight.
On R&A, I voted for Laura Gonzalez for Allocations chair (7-0) and against Bob Agrusa for Judiciary chair (4-3). Ryan Nelson has significantly more judiciary-related experience and has served in the Senate for a full year longer than Bob.
I was wrong about the District B seat — open seats must be announced twice before appointments can be made. We’ll hear applicants for the seat next week.
The agenda for Senate was slim: the R&A recommendations, and a resolution proposed from the floor.
I was out of the room for R&A — I had to leave to take a statistics exam. However, the committee’s recommendations were approved. I’m sure they’ll both do a good job.
About the resolution: around 5:30 pm, I went to the SG offices to drop some flyers (for UAEM) in Senators’ mailboxes. I ran into former Judiciary chairwoman Becca Guerra, typing a resolution. She asked if I would sponsor it, and explained it was a resolution stating that students attending the Final Four basketball game next week should be allowed to re-schedule exams that they miss. I agreed to sponsor it. It’s not that often that the Gators make it to the Final Four; if a student manages to get a ticket and make it all the way to Indianapolis to support our boys, I feel the circumstances are extenuating enough that they should be allowed a make-up exam. So I sponsored a bill my second week in Senate — which makes me the first new Senator to sponsor a bill.
On the floor, people criticized it for a variety of reasons which I can’t really remember. I obviously voted for it; it didn’t pass. That’s the way it works some times.
Update: Alligator article, Gainesville Sun article on the resolution.
One item of note is Pro Tempore Josh Weiss’ announcement that he wants to publish Senate agendas online in advance of Senate meetings. That was a Unite platform goal, and I think it’s pretty much a no-brainer. If we can publish each week’s agenda a day in advance, that gives Senators and students a full day to prepare; there’s not really any reason not to do it. I hope to see it happen, and will be glad to do anything I can to make sure it does.
After Senate, I went to Swamp. (For the uninitiated: there is a longstanding tradition of Senators going to the Swamp Restaurant after Senate.) As partisan as Senate can be, it was pretty bipartisan at Swamp tonight. That Ryland Rogers was the hottest guy in the room, for some reason I’m not entirely sure of yet.
In R&A this week, we’ll hear applications for open committee seats; there are open seats on every committee. It’ll be a lot of interviews, but hopefully we’ll find all the best candidates. Additionally, we’ll interview for the open District B seat. Applications for committees as well as the open Senate seat in District B are due by 5 pm Thursday to the Pro Temp. Applications are available in the SG offices on the 3rd floor of the Reitz Union. Anyone who lives in District B (zip codes 32603, 32604, 32605, and 32606) can apply for the open Senate seat. Apply!
Sat 25 Mar 2006
Posted by Gavin Baker under Commentary
As I get a chance, I’ll be converting this site from campaign material to the blog of a sitting Senator. It’ll take some time, so please pardon the dust.
Sat 25 Mar 2006
Posted by Gavin Baker under Commentary
And the title says it all.
I apologize for the long hiatus: Spring Break conspired against me.
On Tuesday, the new Spring Senators (including me) were sworn in. The Alligator predicted a “marathon meeting”; they were right. I was in room 282 from 7 pm, when the new Senators faced a mandatory orientation, until around 3:15 am, when it was all over.
In the first session, besides a sizable helping of drunken and/or teary goodbyes, the Senate shot down Vice President Joyce Medina’s cabinet restructuring bill (Alligator editorial). I promised earlier to write more on the subject of cabinet restructuring; I’ll promise again, and save my thoughts for a later post. I had mixed feelings on the bill’s failure. I still don’t completely understand the reasons it failed. The bill wasn’t perfect, but I want very much for a restructuring to take place, because the cabinet is woefully inefficient as it is, and we can be doing more for students than we are. So now we’ll try again to write something better and make it pass.
Additionally, Judiciary Committee chairwoman Becca Guerra resigned her seat in the Senate. The resignation was sudden, and came as a shock to many, including myself, although I later heard that others had been appraised of the resignation in advance. I’m saddened to lose such a dedicated and experienced Senator.
The Senate validated the election results. The first session of Senate ended around 1:30 am, and we moved into the second session. (I was in the restroom as my name was called during roll — I apologize to my constituents, but you gotta go sometimes.)
The Chief Justice of the Student Government Supreme Court was supposed to swear in the new Senators, but he was missing (I guess he’d already gone to bed for the evening). We were sworn in by former Senate President John Boyles, then we all sat back down and got to work.
The first matter of business was to elect a winner of the tied Liberal Arts & Sciences seat between Joel Witter and Elizabeth Perez. Joel has an edge in experience, having served in the Senate for a few months as a replacement Senator, while Elizabeth has not yet served in the Senate. Their personalities and campus involvement are very similar, with maybe a slight edge in involvement going to Joel. I know and like them both. I voted for Elizabeth — and it was unabashedly partisan. Both Elizabeth and I chose to run as Unite candidates because it aligned best with our ideals and values. Joel chose not to run with Unite, which indicates he doesn’t share those values — so I voted for Elizabeth. She took around 20 votes, and the seat went to Joel.
Lauren Mierley ran for Senate President, unopposed. Lauren has a lot of experience, she’s been in the Senate a long time, and nobody wanted to run against her. Someone moved to acclimate, I voted yes, no one voted no, and she became the new Senate President.
Ryan Nelson and Josh Weiss ran for President Pro Tempore. Weiss has been in Senate for six months; Nelson has been in Senate for a year and a half. They both have sat on the Judiciary Committee since Fall 2005 (Judiciary is the standard path to Pro Temp). I like Josh a lot, and think he would make a good Pro Temp, but I feel that he hasn’t served in the Senate for long enough. Ryan was a stronger candidate, so I voted for him. Ryan took around 20 votes, Josh won, and became the new Pro Temp.
In the election for the first Member-at-Large seat on the Replacement & Agenda Committee, Roberto Hernandez ran against Jesse Kirsch. In this case, I felt Kirsch had more experience, but experience isn’t as important for an MAL as it is for Pro Temp. I don’t know Jesse that well, but Roberto is an upstanding guy with a sharp mind, who I feel could remain non-partisan as an MAL. I voted for Roberto, who took just under 20 votes, and Jesse became the next MAL.
In the second MAL election, Justin Bell ran against Annique Deslandes. I don’t think either candidate had an edge in qualifications. Again, I feel Justin has the keen eye required for R&A, and the ability to be non-partisan, so I voted for Justin. He took just under 20 votes, and Annique became the next MAL.
I’m posting my votes here because I feel my constituents deserve to know how I voted. I realize it may not win me any friends in the Senate, especially among the people whom I voted against on Tuesday. But I believe in openness and transparency, and I stand behind my votes. I hope all the candidates who won will do a good job in their office, but for the reasons above, I did not vote for them (other than Mierley).
Moving backwards in time a bit, on Monday, the Unite senators chose me as their party leader, and Sarah Badawi as assistant party leader. That means I will sit on the Replacement & Agenda Committee, and Sarah will sit on R&A for any vote where I am a candidate. (In a future post, I’ll explain the significance of R&A, which explains to a large degree the importance of Tuesday’s votes.)
The major business for R&A this week is as follows:
- select a replacement for the open District B seat (resigned by Becca Guerra)
- select a chair of the Allocations Committee from its current members (vacated by Kevin Reilly, who was not re-elected)
- select a chair of the Judiciary Committee (vacated by Becca Guerra)
Regarding the open seat in District B, I have recommended that Kevin Reilly apply for it, which he did. For Allocations chair, I heard that vice chair Laura Gonzalez has applied. For Judiciary chair, Ryan Nelson told me he applied, and I heard that Bob Agrusa applied as well. On Sunday, we’ll interview all the candidates and review their résumés, then vote for our selections.
Later today, I’ll head to Lake Wauberg for a Senate orientation retreat. I’ll also get a Senate mentor. I hope it warms up a bit before then — it’s currently 50 degrees.
Wed 8 Mar 2006
Posted by Gavin Baker under Commentary
Voting for Lola continues today. Turnout numbers from Tuesday don’t look too bad. Of course, I’d like to see 100% turnout.
I’ll take this site in a different direction, now that I’m a Senator-elect and there’s only one day left in the run-off: I’ll keep this site active and use it as a way to communicate with my constituents.
Followers of UF SG may be familiar with the proliferation of SG blogs. Written by SG insiders (Senators and political junkies), they disappear as quickly as they pop up. I hesitate to link to any because they really last so shortly. They’re all written under noms de plume (maybe noms de guerre is more appropriate for some), with the exception of alums Ken Kerns and Christian Duque. In fact, considerable speculation often focuses on the identity of authors; others are openly known within their circle of (SG) friends. I am stickler for openness and transparency, so naturally I’m no fan of the psuedonyms — it even seems a bit elitest at times — but I understand the reasons for the secrecy. The SG blogs mostly focus on the politics of SG.
Politics is a touchy subject, and not one that really interests me much. I gain little by writing about politics, and risk offending everyone and their mother. So, if you want to talk politics, contact me. Rather, I’ll use this blog to write about policy and what I’m doing in the Senate — so my constituents can keep tabs on their representative in Student Government.
Before I start that, however, I’ll make a comment about the Gainesville city commission election. I imagine student turnout was low, as usual. Too many students simply don’t know there’s an election, where or how to vote, or what the issues in city government are. That’s a shame, because local government makes a lot of decisions that affect students, and any lobbying is ineffective if the commissioners know students don’t vote. I’m hopeful that the presence of Jeanna Mastrodicasa, honors program associate director, on the ballot may have brought more students to the polls. To my knowledge, Jeanna is popular among UF faculty and students, especially Honors students. I found her affable and down-to-earth in the times I met her. But Jeanna could not singlehandedly reverse a history of student voter apathy. Hell, if we couldn’t come out to vote for Mike Belle, an actual student, I’m not sure who could bring us out.
I hope SG can better address voter education in future local elections, but I’m sure I’ll write more about that later. For now, I’ll congratulate Jeanna on her win — against an opponent whose platform could, I believe, be fairly described as anti-student. I’ll also note the overall turnout numbers: 10,946 total votes cast. That’s 16.34% of the voters registered in Gainesville.
The turnout in last week’s SG election was a higher percentage than that — around 20% — and the raw numbers weren’t far behind — around 10,100, as I recall. In other words, an SG election saw similar levels of participation as an entire city commission race. Again, I want to see 100% voting in every election, but I think the numbers show that SG is not as disconnected and irrelevant as many claim. With that said: We’ve got work to do on both fronts.
Returning to the Senate, I went to my first session as Senator-elect tonight. Truth be told, I’ve only been to one full meeting of the Senate previously, and another for the first 45 minutes. That’s not much, but it’s more than many of the Senators-elect, who have never attended, ever. Furthermore, in my previous trips to the Senate, I probably talked more than many of the sitting Senators. And while some incoming Senators may have no experience in the Senate, if they’re familiar with parliamentary procedure, that’s a big leg up. So numbers may not tell the whole story here.
Anyway, today was my first night as Senator-elect. I came, in part, to learn a bit more about the operation of Senate. I also came to speak on behalf of a resolution by Human Rights Awareness on Campus condeming the genocide in Darfur. When it was my turn to speak in public debate, Senate President John Boyles accidentally called me “Senator Baker”. It made me happy. I’ll return to the Darfur resolution in a bit.
The most memorable part of public debate would have to be the discourse between Sens. Fei Long and Mike Bowen. Bowen is a graduate senator; Fei Long represents Family Housing. Fei Long is actually the only international student in the current Senate. The two have worked together in GPSC, the Graduate & Professional Senate Caucus, a semi-formal caucus of graduate and professional student representatives. Well, Fei Long will not be the only international student in the incoming senate — the graduate seats went overwhelmingly to international students. Sens. Jeremiah Blanchard and Chris “Tof” Ecklund, who have been very active advocates in the current Senate, lost their bids for re-election to their graduate seats — they’re domestic students. There is a bit of politics here, which I won’t go into because I don’t really know the story, but after the election, Bowen made some comments which I don’t consider to be offensive, but I can see how they might be interpreted as insensitive. Without having read the actual email myself, I think a fair summary of the situation would be that Bowen essentially commented that it seemed international students would only vote for themselves, and wondered aloud whether domestic and international graduate students would have to fight each other for representation. I hope I’m being fair here. Fei Long took it as an attack on international students — who certainly have had a real struggle for representation in Student Government. All of this happened previously — in public debate tonight, each essentially reiterating his position, with Fei Long resigning his Gator Party affiliation (to independent) and Bowen stating that he is not discriminatory against international students.
Notable moments from committee reports:
- During the report from the Rules & Ethics committee, which handles Senators’ absences, there was a bit of a flare-up over attendance requirements. Quick background: All Senators are required to attend sessions of Senate, other than excused absences, or face being removed from the Senate. One Senator’s absence — I don’t know her name yet — was declared unexcused, which she contested. There was an issue in the nature of the meeting missed: a special session (an emergency meeting to fix budget flaws) as opposed to a regular session; apparently the law outlines acceptable excuses for regular sessions but not special sessions. On the other hand was the question of whether she missed the meeting for a valid “academic reason”: a Panhellenic Council meeting. I don’t know enough about the rules to say much about it, but it was a minor controversy, at least.
- During the report from the Information & Communication committee, chair Tanaz Vaghaiwalla recognized the Senators who had birthdays this week. On the other hand, Senate President Boyles told me previously that I&C would be communicating with the incoming Senators about the transition into Senate — a communication that has not yet happened, and in fact, I’ve had a few of our Unite Senators-elect ask me when we would be confirmed by the Senate. I will assume that communication is forthcoming — incoming Senators won’t sit until after Spring Break — but it seems amiss that we haven’t heard anything since the results last Wednesday night.
One item from Senate tonight that could become a big issue was the Cabinet Restructuring Act. Backed by Student Body Vice President Joyce Medina, the bill proposes to cut the number of SG cabinets and change the powers of the cabinet directors and assistant directors. It passed first reading handily last week, but ran into some issues this week. Here’s the Alligator’s take on the affair.
It’s getting rather late, so I’ll have to continue my thoughts on the cabinet restructuring and the Darfur resolution tomorrow. I have a lot to say about both, so I want to be able to devote my full attention — which I can’t do now, because I’m exhausted.
I’ll also comment on my column published in the Alligator yesterday, as well as the issue of write-in candidates in the Student Body Treasurer run-off election (I’m quoted in a story in today’s Alligator).
Mon 6 Mar 2006
Posted by Gavin Baker under Commentary
Sorry for my long silence: I’ve been a bit occupied.
Good news: I won my Senate seat! I’ll get a chance to pursue the issues I think are important, and hold the Swamp / Gator parties accountable. Thanks very much to everyone who supported me. Together, we’ve proven that students do, in fact, care.
Bad news: The rest of the Unite Party did not do as well as I. Our candidates for Student Body President and Vice President lost; we won only 13 of 46 open Senate seats, with a 14th tied and to be decided by vote of the Senate. There are some questions about the validity of the vote, however; we’ll see. I’ll comment more on this as the situation progresses.
What’s left: And what’s been occupying me since I heard the results on Wednesday night: Our candidate for Student Body Treasurer, Lola Bovell, is headed to a run-off election. Voting will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, at the same locations and time as last week.
I am behind Lola 100%. From all my interactions with Lola, she’s impressed me with her character. Lola is one of those people who inspires love and admiration in the people she meets, and I’d be proud to have her as my treasurer. Furthermore, she has a commitment to making students’ money work for students: her budget plan outlines how to cut more than $120,000 in wasteful SG administrative spending — dollars that can be returned to student organizations and services. And, by the way, she has the opportunity to be UF’s first Hispanic Student Body Treasurer in a decade.
So I’ve been working for Lola this past week. I’d love to celebrate my victory, and start planning how to fulfill my promises in a hostile Senate, but I’ve got a run-off to win. So I’ll be out there the next few days, working to win it for Lola. And I won’t be done until the last ballot is cast on Wednesday.