A summer break from political strife?

It’s not that summer is actually a restful time in campus politics. There are just fewer newspapers published, inexperienced students still figuring out their jobs and alliances, a dip in political theatrics.

This past week saw bitter e-mails from a dedicated student who felt brushed aside by the new ASUO Executive and the beginning of more tense than usual, million dollar-plus contract talks with Lane Transit District. There was much misinformation and miscommunication between the executive, the district and former ASUO transit guru Nick Schillaci. All would be much ballyhooed front-page news and campus gossip – if only there were more front pages or students around to talk.

This week, the executive again could benefit from the lower level of scrutiny and grandstanding that summer brings. When the Summer Senate meets for the first time Wednesday, the executive will request $2,000 of $5,000 the body has to dispense to help send eight students to the United States Student Association’s 62nd Annual Congress in Denver at the end of the month.

The national student lobbying organization will decide its legislative priorities for the next two years at the conference. The executive already raised funds for six students to go. ASUO President Emma Kallaway said it’s important for students to attend because helping to pass federal legislation such as the Dream Act would make it easier to pass a state tuition equity law.

Already slated to attend the conference are Vice President Getachew Kassa, Multicultural Advocate Diego Hernandez, Legislative Affairs Coordinator Robert Greene, former Programs Finance Committee Member Grace Bounds and Yesenia Sanchez of the Oregon Students of Color Coalition.

If the full Senate were in session, Sen. Demic Tipitino said, the request could well turn into a proxy fight about support for USSA. According to its Web site, USSA is “dedicated to training, organizing, and developing a base of student leaders who are utilizing those skills to engage in expanding access to higher education and advancing the broader movement for social justice.”

Tipitino said that during the regular academic year the ASUO president would probably lobby senators and “by the time (the request) got in Senate everyone would know how they were voting.”

But out of eight summer senators, only six are needed to make quorum and five are brand new to the job. Experience level will likely trump political ideology, Tipitino said.

Regardless of the time of year, a request for 40 percent of the money Senate has to spend will raise eyebrows. Add that the money is being requested for an out-of-state conference trip for students who already receive stipends paid by the incidental fee, and there could be more difficulty. Throw in the political divisions that normally arise at the mention of USSA, and it could be near toxic with a more seasoned Senate.

That’s because the “base of student leaders” that USSA -­ and its local counterpart, the Oregon Student Association – are trying to develop is, at the risk of oversimplifying, is made up of more Kallaways than Tipitinos.

In fact, Kallaway came under fire at a debate with her general election opponent Michelle Haley – who headed the slate that Tipitino ran on – for preparing her presidential run at a USSA conference in Washington, D.C. with persons Kallaway called ASUO alumni.

At a semi-annual board meeting on campus in late-May, USSA President Carmen Berkley said the University has always had large representation in USSA because of the history of activism here. This campus and the University of Wisconsin-Madison are traditionally two of the most active USSA schools, and Madison is where the USSA’s predecessor, the National Student Association, was founded in 1947.

At various times in its history, USSA and the NSA before it have been accused of Communism by the right and vacillation by the left. (A late-’60s revelation that the NSA had been funded by the CIA for a couple of decades during the Cold War didn’t win a lot of radical friends.) Former NSA President Allard Lowenstein started the Dump Johnson movement, which resulted in the president of the United States not seeking another term.

Overall, USSA’s legislative agenda and rhetoric are within the mainstream of liberal politics. The association advocates universal access to higher education and greater recruitment and retention of students of color, and it speaks the language of student-centered campuses and student power.

Tipitino, a College Republican and avowed fiscal conservative, does not make an ASUO career of opposing any of those goals. His “initial fear” regarding this request, he said, is that the “money should be for student groups to be able to function over the summer, particularly for things that may happen on campus.” Still, he said he wants to support Kallaway and he likes the new administration.

“I’m not going to vote before I vote,” he said. New senators will have to work through all the arguments for and against the request, Tipitino predicted, while he and Sen. Nick Schultz, “barring some extenuating circumstance,” already know they feel about it. (His assessment of Schultz: “We disagree about everything.”)

The summer senators are Jeremy Blanchard and Zachary Stark-Macmillan, who ran with Schultz’s slate in the spring election, Jessica Jones, who is yet to really show her cards, Tipitino and Ryan Lassi, an ally of conservative Summer Senate Chairman Nick Gower, who is somewhat limited in speaking by his role as a facilitator. Still, he hasn’t ruled out speaking and voting at meetings.

“I support the conference and I want people to go to the conference,” Stark-Macmillan said, “but it’s a lot of money for the summer, so I want to talk to (the executive).”

The vote could end up being a walk in the park for the executive. Or it could be close. Or it could be a tie, and Vice President Kassa, who is an ex-officio member of Senate, probably would not want to cast the deciding vote on his own funding request for a trip he is also taking.

Maybe a few personal meetings with senators wouldn’t be a bad idea for the executive. Even in the middle of summer.

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