When I sent a few unsolicited emails early in 2012 offering to volunteer for a couple of local campaigns, I figured I would commit a handful of hours here and there to help out -- no more than 3 or 4 hours a week. A few thousand calls, couple of hundred doors, and a few dozen fundraisers later, I think it's fair to say I've gotten a little bit of a taste of what real campaigning is like. Now, after (fortunately) having been on the winning side of so many campaigns (5 out of 6 candidates for whom I engaged in actual grunt work), I'm strongly tempted to embark on my own electoral adventure -- though not as a candidate. I want to put a proposition on the November 2014 ballot, and I want it to win.
As the beneficiary of the years of hard work all of you have put into this treasure-trove of knowledge, first in the Swing State Project and now in Daily Kos/DKE, I also want your help. This is a major endeavor -- much too large for a nobody like me -- and I would greatly appreciate any advice you have to offer.
Some quick background: I live in the California Bay Area. As you may know, the people of this state (certainly not alone in the nation) have had to endure some fairly challenging and austere times. Like many, I was keeping an eye on Governor Jerry Brown's Prop 30 -- no panacea, that, but indisputably better than any of the alternatives. Ever the pessimist, I was certain it would fail... and more than pleasantly surprised to see it passed!
Then, I read this:
Millions of dollars in new tax revenue earmarked for the University of California system as part of the state's recently passed Proposition 30 will instead be routed to major financial firms, because of bad bets made by a Wall Street-influenced UC Board of Regents.and, shortly afterwards, this:
... California voters passed Proposition 30, which raises taxes in part to stem tuition hikes in the state's UC and CSU systems. Student organizing and activism played a major role in the success of the Prop 30 campaign. Yet in the very first meeting of the UC Regents following the measure's passage, the battle over tuition hikes is continuing unabated.Though not a UC or CSU alumnus, I am very concerned about the state and health of our public university systems. I had seen the aftermath of poor leadership and management at my own alma mater; one of my professors, who had suffered the consequences, gave me a book that delineated the factors contributing to what the author has perceived as the decline of American universities. So, I did a little research on regents, trustees, and boards of governance, and I learned a little about the damage that the UC/CSU systems have sustained over the past decade. And, perhaps rashly, I thought I should do something about it.
"These proposed increases are totally unacceptable, especially given the fact that the Regents leveraged student tuition hikes to enter into reckless interest rate swaps that created a huge part of UC's financial mess in the first place," said Eaton. "There will be no business as usual today for the UC Regents."
My original idea: make the UC Regents directly accountable to the voters of California. Reduce their terms from 12 to 6 years. Make this entity analogous to a local school board.
Like Prop 30, this is certainly no panacea. I do think, however, that it is an important first step. The composition of the Board is in and of itself a problem -- these are politicians, political donors, and financial industry executives, all gubernatorial appointees or members ex-officio. Why not have a governing board of faculty members, education experts, and student advocates? Direct elections would not ensure a perfect composition, but at least the voters would have a say in the future of their public university system.
I shared this idea with several people I had met during my time as volunteer extraordinaire. I received considerable, mostly positive and all very constructive feedback. (The sole individual opposed suggested that I create a student advocacy PAC instead. He feared that elected Regents would use their position for political gain, making expedient decisions. This criticism has merit.) Others suggested I include the CSU Board of Trustees -- which I now have -- and draw districts to facilitate elections -- which is a good idea. The policy is being formulated.
But that's the easy part. To make this a reality, I need 504,760 signatures to place this on the ballot as an Initiative Statute, or 807,615 signatures to make this a Constitutional Amendment. This is a very daunting undertaking.
The grassroots campaign has a bare-bones website and a Facebook Interest Page. That's it. No money, no boots-on-the-ground, no support (yet) from "the establishment."
Once we receive the go-ahead from the SoS and AG, we will have 150 days to collect signatures. Not easy.
If you have experience in this kind of campaign, or even if you have any general interest in this kind of thing, I would greatly appreciate your feedback. Does this stand a chance? To whom can I turn for help? Is this even good policy? Any and all comments are welcome.
Thank you for bearing with me. I am myself an expert in nothing; if you have strong feelings one way or the other, please share them. If this is the worst idea in the world, let me know!
As always, keep up the phenomenal work, friends!
Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 9:00 PM PT: Here's a comprehensive analysis of the current structuring of the UC Board of Regents as well as an alternative proposal to reform the Board. This is a fantastic paper; it concisely delineates the responsibilities and importance of the Board and recounts the extensive history of attempts, both successful and otherwise, to restructure it. All credit to the Campaign for UC Democracy, with which I am not affiliated.