University Democrats

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

During the last week of campaigning, Student Government executive alliance candidates Braydon Jones and Kimia Dargahi expressed contradictory opinions about “Campus Carry” legislation in interviews with the College Republicans and the University Democrats.

Campus Carry, a bill under consideration in the House and Senate, would allow concealed handguns into campus buildings if the holder has a concealed handgun license.  

In Jones and Dargahi’s interview, College Republicans president Amy Nabozny said the two candidates said, if Campus Carry was to become law, they would prefer schools get a choice as to whether Campus Carry is enacted. In a questionnaire for University Democrats, the alliance said, “We stand wholeheartedly in opposition to concealed carry on campus.”

Following the interview, Jones emailed College Republicans and said he supports Campus Carry.

“To be short, I do oppose Campus Carry in the definition of allowing any student to carry a weapon on campus; however, (as mentioned last night) I do think this is an area where it’s ‘grey’ and not black and white,” the email said. “I do support students with [CHLs’] ability to carry, as they have received training and adequate testing to carry firearms. That being said, I also believe in the importance of UTPD — and entrusting these men and women who serve to protect students to do their job.”

Nabozny said the group knew it could not endorse Jones this year after he fast-tracked a bill in opposition to Campus Carry through SG.

“After speaking to our members and then reading their UDems survey, it was clear they were pandering to both groups,” Nabozny said. 

Jones and Dargahi are currently considered front-runners in the Executive Alliance race. In a Daily Texan opinion poll, the candidates amass 56 percent of the total online votes, with 2,987 votes at the time of publication.

At the SG candidate debate Monday, Jones said he opposes Campus Carry since the University is also opposed to the bill.

“Right now, the University of Texas administration, as well as the University of Texas System, [does] not support Campus Carry,” Jones said. “Until there is a large amount of students that think otherwise, I would be more than happy to sit down with students that think that, but I think it’s in the best interest of the University to support the administration.”  

The other two alliances, Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu, and David Maly and Steven Svatek, said they were completely opposed to Campus Carry.

“We feel like more guns on campus makes campus less safe, therefore we would want to advocate against it as student body president and VP,” Maly said.

Rotnofsky and Mandalapu, candidates who have been running a mostly satirical campaign, said at the debate they wanted to reverse their position on Campus Carry. 

“Can we also backtrack our answer?” Rotnofsky said. “We’re for guns.”

Jones and Dargahi were the only executive alliance candidates that interviewed for an endorsement. Maly was present at the meeting and left before he could interview. College Republicans did not endorse a candidate this year.

Dems shouldn't vote straight-ticket

A “Vote” sign at the Lamar County Services Building, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 in Paris, Texas.
A “Vote” sign at the Lamar County Services Building, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 in Paris, Texas.

By and large, I consider myself a fairly reliable Democratic voter. Until fairly recently, I was an explicitly partisan one, belonging to on-campus organizations such as the University Democrats. The reasons for my political views are rather complex and nuanced, but at its core, I agree with the sentiment espoused in the Democratic platform more than the Republican one.

But I will proudly repudiate two statewide Democratic candidates when I vote in my native Houston today, and support Republican and Green candidates, respectively, for the posts. In doing so, I take a stand against the asinine procedure of "straight-party voting."

As I previously noted in a column for the Texan, the Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner, Jim Hogan, is a non-candidate who is openly hostile to the political process. His Republican opponent, former state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephensville, talks up abortion and amnesty on the campaign trail, as opposed to agriculture. The only sensible solution for any Texan, liberal or conservative, is to vote for the Green candidate, Kenneth Kendrick. Unlike many of his compatriots, Kendrick is not a socialist intent upon revolution. Rather, he is a pragmatic policy-wonk with a detailed plan to conserve water, improve crops and run the office transparently.

Likewise, the race for Place 3 of the Court of Criminal Appeals (the state's highest criminal court) is a remarkably easy choice. The Democratic candidate, John Granberg, does not have much experience practicing criminal law, and is otherwise rather unqualified for the seat. The Republican, on the other hand, Bert Richardson, is a middle-of-the-road jurist loved by those on both sides of the aisle. He is perhaps best known for presiding over Governor Rick Perry's ongoing corruption case, but he also has a long history as an apolitical and honest arbiter of the law. In an election cycle where many Republicans have gone off the deep end on extremism, even in judicial elections, Richardson is a thoughtful professional who checks politics at the courthouse door.

Those two elections are easy choices for Democrats and Republicans alike, unlike most of the statewide contests. But for Yellow Dog Democrats, the choices are only possible if they eschew the silly notion of straight-ticket voting, where a voter ignores the countless individual, unique names and personalities on a ballot, instead opting for a letter of the alphabet. For the sake of our state, please use a little more brainpower.

Horwitz is an associate editor.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley takes a selfie with the University Democrats in front of the Littlefield Fountain on Thursday afternoon. O’Malley was in Austin to support State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth for Texas governor.

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley spoke to University Democrats on Thursday afternoon in front of Littlefield Fountain before the group block walked through West Campus in support of State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. 

Speaking to the group, O’Malley talked about the importance of student participation in the election and why Davis is his favored pick in the Texas gubernatorial race.

O’Malley, who has previously served as Baltimore mayor and is considering running for president in 2016, said he appreciated the group’s efforts to bring students together through the block walk, where club members walked through the neighborhood to talk with residents about voting. 

“In my first race, I ran for state senate at the age of 27,” O’Malley said. “I lost by 22 votes. As you’re knocking on doors and flushing people to do early vote, know that sometimes these things are as close at 22 votes. Every person makes a difference.”

According to O’Malley, students should favor Davis because of her views on college tuition and future economic development.

“In this choice for governor, you have a woman who believes that making college more affordable for the greatest number of people is good for our economy, and then you have the other fellow that wants to treat it like a toll road,” O’Malley said. “I think that one issue demonstrates a difference in philosophy. Wendy believes we’re in this all together, [and that] we need each other, and that the better educated our people, the more successful our economy.”  

Katie Adams, University Democrats communication director and mechanical engineering senior, said online polls don’t reflect the election’s outcome. 

“I really do think that on Election Day, Texans are going to turn out to the polls in numbers that we haven’t seen before, and when a Democrat does get elected governor in the state, it’s going to be because of non-likely voters [and] voters who didn’t vote in 2010,” Adams said. “Polls don’t necessarily reflect what we’ve been seeing on the ground.”

Max Patterson, University Democrats president and history senior, said early voting — which continues through Oct. 31 — is the most convenient way to vote.

“Early voting is one of the easiest things you can do,” Patterson said. “There’s no lines and you can go in the [Flawn Academic Center]. Voting is the easiest way in participating in our democracy — it’s raising your hand and saying that you have a voice, and that’s because your vote is your voice, and if you silence yourself then no one should care to listen to you. It’s all about getting out to vote.”

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

While the Civil Rights Summit kicked off its first day of events, students from University Democrats showed up outside the Tower on Tuesday night to protest a talk given by Charles Murray. Murray, a political scientist and author, is known for his controversial theories on social issues and race. 

The talk was hosted by the student branch of Texas Executive Council of the American Enterprise Institute on campus — a D.C.-based think tank aimed at exposing students to different viewpoints.

Mark Jbeily, Plan II senior and executive council member of AEI, said it was coincidental that the talk occurred on the same day as the Civil Rights Summit. 

“We don’t necessarily support Murray’s views,” Jbeily said. “We’re just here to give students a chance to ask questions and gain exposure to different viewpoints.”

Murray said he thinks people classify him as racist because his personal definition of equality is different from most people’s.

“Equality consists of treating people you encounter as individuals within the context of the different environments they grew up in,” Murray said. 

Michelle Willoughby, membership director of University Democrats, said she protested because she didn’t agree with Murray’s stance on equality and women’s rights.

“We’re out here to show that Murray is not the kind of person we want speaking in our Tower,” Willoughby said. “We believe that all people have rights regardless of race, gender or ZIP code, and Murray says you only have those if you’re a rich white man.”

According to University spokesman Gary Susswein, the Office of the Provost typically handles bookings for the room where Murray spoke — Main 212, where the Faculty Council usually meets — although Susswein said he did not have information on hand about who specifically booked the room Tuesday night. 

Susswein said the University does not support all the viewpoints of student organizations, but it recognizes the value of allowing different speakers on campus.

“UT-Austin values free speech and encourages a diversity of ideas and viewpoints on campus,” Susswein said. “At times, that means students and groups will sponsor talks by those whose views might be considered offensive to others. The University does not endorse the views of all of the speakers on campus, but we recognize the educational value of allowing many differing points of views.”

Protestors of Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott have long stood against Abbott’s citation of Murray in his educational plan, which opponents have claimed devalues pre-K education.

Joe Deshotel, Travis County Democratic Party communications director, attended the protest and questioned the timing of the talk.

“It’s a little ironic that [we’re] at a time when we’re celebrating 50 years of progress in civil rights, yet here, in Texas, women still make 77 cents on the dollar to a man,” Deshotel said.

In a recent Daily Texan column, I bemoaned the “race to the right” that had emerged as a general Republican strategy and lamented the fact that ugly purity tests of “true republicanism” had become so common in the state’s primary contests. Unfortunately, we’re now seeing the same tactics on the other side of the aisle in the primary contest for the Agriculture Commissioner Democratic nominee. 

That primary is dominated by Richard “Kinky” Friedman, a former musician — known for performing such gems as “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” — turned politician. He ran for Governor as an independent in 2006, finishing in fourth place in the contest where Rick Perry was re-elected with a slim 39 percent plurality. Because of Friedman’s past — not to mention a few off-color comments he has made — this has stilled an unshakeable suspicion among many of the Democratic top brass.

“It’s impossible for me to view Friedman as a serious candidate,” said Harold Cook, a Democratic strategist and lobbyist. “In fact, given that he’s run as a Republican, an independent and a Democrat, it’s impossible for me to view him as anything other than a rank opportunist.”

State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, D-Bexar County, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, took it a step further by actively campaigning against Friedman in the primary. 

Her preferred candidate, Hugh Fitzsimons, received a plethora of establishment support but finished dead last in the election. Friedman and Jim Hogan, a dark horse candidate who has made no attempt to campaign, advanced into a runoff election that will be held at the end of May.

Hogan, who has no website, no cash, no desire to campaign and was recently called a “ghost” by Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune, is not a serious candidate. However, this has not stopped many Democratic activists from supporting him by default because of an irrational hatred of Friedman. My requests for comment from Hogan were firmly rebuffed.

“My concern with Friedman is that he does not take the duties of Agriculture Commissioner as seriously as Hogan,” said Huey Fischer, a State Democratic Executive Committeeman and a former President of the UT’s University Democrats, of which I am a member. 

“I think Hogan could do a better job than Kinky in November. His strategy is a unique and interesting experiment in Texas politics.” This position was affirmed by many other members of the University Democrats. The group looks likely to endorse Hogan in the runoff. 

However, Hogan’s “strategy” is to refrain from any campaigning whatsoever. Hogan has stated that both raising money and creating an online presence, two hallmarks of modern campaigns, would be “silly.” His complacency with mediocrity is damaging to the party and the State.

Friedman, mind you, is no perfect candidate. He stumbles in interviews when asked about the more complex nuances of the job and he does not have a strong background in agriculture. But he shows up and has an actual interest in a campaign. And he is certainly not the first democratic candidate to have a bipartisan history. David Alameel, the likely Democratic nominee for the US Senate, has given thousands to Republicans over the years. Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for Governor, both donated money to George W. Bush and voted in Republican primaries as late as 2006. Purity tests stink in general but they are especially rancid when applied arbitrarily and capriciously among candidates.

Friedman, for his part, is not confrontational about the lost love. 

“I think [Democrats] get very frustrated when they realize for some candidates how difficult it’s going to be to beat the Republicans in November,” he said. “So maybe it is just human nature to pick on someone on your own side.”

“I’m an old-time, Harry Truman, blue dog Democrat,” Friedman said on the question of his Democratic credentials. But my main concern is that he has credentials at all. If Hogan is nominated, the battle for Agriculture Commissioner will surely be lost for the Democrats, but we should not forget this situation next time around. Democrats will not win statewide if they maintain ridiculous standards for their candidates.

Horwitz is a government junior from Houston. Follow him on twitter @NmHorwitz. 

Journalism and and philosophy senior Allison Heinrich catches up on homework with her fellow University Democrats at the West Mall on Monday evening. The University Democrates rallied at West Mall until poles opened at 7 a.m. this morning to increase awareness of the oppurtunity to vote early. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

University Democrats rallied at the West Mall beginning at 9 p.m. Monday to encourage students to vote early for the Travis County elections on March 4. Early voting opens Tuesday at 7 a.m.

The organization has been holding the event, which is called Voterama, for several years to increase student awareness of the opportunity to vote early, according to Michelle Willoughby, government junior and communications director for University Democrats.

“We are very lucky to have a polling place on campus, and we want to make sure students take advantage of it,” Willoughby said. “We also work very hard to increase young people’s voting in general.”

Willoughby also said the organization holds other events throughout the year to encourage students to vote.

“Another thing we do is Democracy Dogs, where we bring dogs to campus on Election Day,” Willoughby said. “People stop to pet the dogs, and that gives a chance to talk to them about voting.”

Candidates running in the Travis County elections that are endorsed by University Democrats also spoke at Voterama, both to defend their platforms and to offer additional promotion of early voting. Endorsed candidates included Richard Jung, who is running for Travis County commissioner for Precinct 2, Andy Brown, who is running for county judge, and Ramey Ko, who is running for county treasurer.

Ko, who is a UT law lecturer and a member of University Democrats, said he comes to the Voterama event for every election cycle and has probably attended a dozen by now.

“I have a feeling that, if it wasn’t for [University Democrats] doing this event, students would not have as much a sense of what’s happening on a county, city and state level,” Ko said. “It can be difficult, particularly as a college student, to pay attention to what’s happening at city hall … even though our lives are affected much more directly by [those elections].”

David Feigen, government and communications studies senior and president of University Democrats, said the organization took care when deciding which candidates to endorse for the March primaries.

“From our standpoint, it is important not just to elect the Democrats on the ballot but elect the best Democrats who we think are the most progressive and the most qualified for leadership,” Feigen said. “It’s [also] important that people know that the March primaries mean just as much as any other election.”

The president of Central Austin Democrats, known as CAD, attempted to prevent its members who also vote in University Democrats, from voting at the groups’ combined endorsement meeting Saturday.

On Friday, CAD President Glen Coleman posted in his organization’s Facebook group and announced that those who are members of both University Democrats and CAD would not be given a CAD ballot to determine the candidates the club would endorse. CAD members must live in Central Austin, while admission into University Democrats is restricted to any current student, staff or faculty members at the University. 

“I think we can reasonably intuit that if the endorsements of the two clubs jointly form the Austin Progressive Coalition, then members could not, or should not, be voting in both clubs,” Coleman wrote. “I will not be issuing a CAD ballot to individuals with active memberships in UDems.”

CAD member David Chincanchan, who was a University Democrats member until he graduated in December, said Coleman’s decision stirred up controversy among CAD members.

“A day before the endorsement meeting happened, the president tried to unilaterally decide that he would not be giving ballots to certain CAD members,” Chincanchan said. 

After an hour of debates at Saturday’s meeting, CAD members rejected the rule change and allowed all members ballots.

“I wouldn’t say he’s unfit to lead the club, or anything like that,” Chincanchan said. “After it was obvious the move was not what the membership wanted, he didn’t fight for it.”

Coleman said he knew his rule change would face opposition but said he felt it was important to combat the influence of a group of University Democrats members who he alleges vote in CAD elections to influence CAD’s endorsement roster. 

“I knew I’d be voted down, but I wanted to force the issue into daylight,” Coleman said. “I became aware that there was a walking majority, and I decided to take a stance against it.”

University Democrats President David Feigen, a government and communication studies senior, said he felt students had been unfairly singled out in Coleman’s decision-making process.  

“It’s unfortunate that students are being targeted,” Feigen said. “We were also unhappy with the methodology.”

—Jordan Rudner

Jan Soifer, Chairwoman of the Travis County Democratic Party, talks about the obstacles she faced during her campaign. The panel discussion, hosted by University Democrats, addressed the future of women in politics.

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

University Democrats hosted a panel Wednesday where women in Texas government addressed the challenges they faced as a result of their gender, including feeling isolated and having a harder time raising adequate funds. 

Former state representative Sherri Greenberg, interim director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School, said running for office as a woman set her apart from the rest of the field. 

“My profile was very different than people who were running at the time,” Greenberg said. “I was 29, 30 years old. I was working. I had a child.”

Greenberg said the lack of women occupying public office also meant she did not always have role models to identify with.

“For me, there weren’t many people running or elected that truly looked like me,” she said. “I don’t think I had as many role models as you do today.”

Greenberg said historically, women were less able to fundraise on a level equal with their male counterparts, in part because women are taught not to be demanding. 

“For some women it was because they couldn’t ask,” Greenberg said. “Other women were not accustomed to giving.”

Jan Soifer, chairwoman of the Travis County Democratic Party, said she was also affected by the social norms surrounding self-promotion. Even though Soifer was used to working in a male-dominated field, she said she still struggled to break free of gender expectations.

“I was used to being one of the only [woman lawyers], but I also had a hard time being out there, selling myself,” Soifer said. “That was something we were socialized not to do.”

Blake Medley, government senior and president of University Democrats, said his organization was motivated to host the panel because the role of women in politics has become a hot topic this semester.

“We knew going into this semester we wanted to have some sort of event focused on women and women in politics because it is a big issue,” Medley said. “It was certainly a big issue during the end of the legislature.”

Medley said that though a “war on women” has become a political buzzword, it does occasionally reflect reality. 

Medley said now is the optimal time for students to become engaged in politics because of their exposure to different issues as college students.

“A lot of people our age, especially, have a more open mindset,” Medley said. “When there’s an injustice and they know about it, they’re usually against it.”

The Republicans don’t even try to act like they support peace and civil liberties. For many years, the Democrats did. But after the Hook the Vote debate last week between the University Democrats and the Libertarian Longhorns, it became clear even the Democrats, at least those on campus, don’t support our rights. (In the interest of full disclosure, I serve as Public Relations Director of the Libertarian Longhorns, but my opinions are my own).

During the debate, the University Democrats slammed former President George W. Bush — and rightly so — for his expensive and unnecessary wars and his violations of civil liberties. Afghanistan should have been a mission to kill Osama bin Laden and those involved with the 9/11 attacks. Bush made it into a war with the Taliban and an occupation of the entire country. Then he decided to invade and destabilize Iraq, resulting in countless unnecessary deaths of both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Bush trashed civil liberties with the Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, indefinite detention and torture at Guantanamo Bay.

Bush’s policies were inexcusable. And throughout his presidency, the Democrats rarely put up with any excuses from the Bush administration. During the 2008 presidential election, then-candidate Barack Obama had huge respect for civil liberties. He promised to close Guantanamo Bay on his first day in office, end indefinite detention and honor the principle of habeas corpus. He denounced the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens and racial profiling in the name of national security. The War on Drugs would be reformed.

Those were changes we could believe in. Unfortunately, they’re changes we’re still waiting for.

Since taking office, Obama hasn’t closed Guantanamo Bay. Rather than ending indefinite detention, he expanded it to include American citizens under the National Defense Authorization Act. Instead of ending the Patriot Act and its warrantless wiretapping, Obama extended it. His administration has the same FBI guidelines for using race and religion in investigations as the Bush administration did.

Despite the “hope” of improvement, Obama has actually proven worse than his predecessor on many civil liberties issues. In the past four years, whistleblowers have been targeted under the 1917 Espionage Act twice as many times as under all previous presidents combined.

Arguably the most disturbing violation of human rights is Obama’s extensive use of drone strikes. Obama has already ordered more than five times as many drone strikes as Bush did, in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and possibly even more countries. Obama assassinates suspected terrorists — including U.S. citizens — without judicial or legislative oversight. He is the judge, the jury and the executioner. Bush would never have gotten away with such blatant disregard of human rights and the rule of law.

As MIT linguist and vocal activist Noam Chomsky put it, “If Bush, the Bush administration, didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers. If the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them, so you don’t have to have torture chambers all over.”

At the debate last Wednesday, the UDems defended these unconstitutional, expensive and ineffective wars. They defended the use of sanctions, which force innocent civilians into poverty and at times even starvation. They supported the continued existence of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and praised the president’s use of drones.

Claiming that “we can’t live in a world of rainbows and unicorns,” they argued the measures that Obama has taken were necessary because they are “practical.”

It was sad to see that the one thing both major parties can agree upon now is the abandonment of civil liberties and peace.

McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas. 

Longhorn Libertarians members Jordan Schmittou, Pierre Rochard and Caitlyn Bates debate the University Democrats Wednesday night in Gearing Hall during Hook the Vote & UT Vote’s debate. The debaters traded words about the presidential election, U.S. foreign policy and the cost of tuition.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

Despite College Republicans’ decision to opt out of a debate Wednesday evening sponsored by Hook the Vote, more than 100 students attended the debate to learn the stances of University Democrats and Libertarian Longhorns on various issues.

The Daily Texan’s editor-in-chief Susannah Jacob and associate editor Kayla Oliver moderated the debate. Each organization was represented by three of its members. University Democrats’ panel consisted of biology freshman Taral Patel, history and government sophomore Carlos Martinez and sport management senior Pedro Villalobos. Libertarian Longhorns’ panel consisted of economics junior Caitlyn Bates, business graduate student Pierre Rochard and government senior Jordan Schmittou. Hook the Vote, a Student Government agency that aims to register students to vote and educate students on issues in a nonpartisan manner, hosted the debate.

Danny Zeng, government senior and communications director of College Republicans, said Tuesday night the organization opted out of the debate due to a lack of organization and concise planning on the part of Hook the Vote.

At the debate, Libertarian Longhorns expressed their support for 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his three-point plan consisting of fiscal conservatism, social liberalism and noninterventionist foreign policy.

Schmittou, Libertarian Longhorns student member, said Libertarians give fresh, new and alternative solutions to America’s problems.

“We believe a good government comes from the ground up, not the other way around,” Schmittou said. “For too long we have felt this country has been dominated by a rigid two-party system that does not have the answers holding the interests of the people at heart, and Gary Johnson has proven a consistent record of fostering good, clean government.”

University Democrats defended the Obama administration and urged for a second term.

Martinez said America was losing up to 800,000 jobs a month before President Barack Obama was inaugurated. However, he said 5.2 million jobs were added four years later, followed by 34 months of consecutive job growth. Martinez said President Obama has had many accomplishments on social issues, such as the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a military policy prohibiting openly gay, lesbian or bisexual Americans from serving in the military. Martinez said President Obama is also a women’s rights champion.

“Time and time again President Obama has proven to be an effective leader that knows what he is doing,” Martinez said. “He can lead this country back to prosperity. He is a realistic candidate for the President of the United States.”

Billy Calve, government senior and Hook the Vote director, said the debate’s high number of attendees reflected students’ desire to hear different perspectives. He said Libertarian Longhorns did well at stepping in and representing their beliefs.

“At the end of the day we were able to represent different pespectives on campus,” Calve said. “We were able to provide students with a chance to hear different political ideologies and learn what each group is about.”