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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.

"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."

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.

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.


Do you believe voters should have the authority to directly elect public university regents and trustees?

39%13 votes
33%11 votes
27%9 votes

| 33 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  to run for statewide office is a big deal (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and is a fairly distracting operation requiring serious fundraising.

    I would be more interested in exploring some other paths. What if each university or university region elected a trustee? Could we find a way for good people to be chosen and placed on the Board of Regents who don't have a deep war chest and aren't close personal friends with the powers that be in Sacramento?

    I would add that it's common for university board members to be wealthy and well-connected... fundraising is one of their duties, typically.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 10:37:19 PM PST

    •  You're right (0+ / 0-)

      That's why we're seriously considering drawing districts for the Regents and Trustees. Not one district per regent/trustee, but perhaps several regions that each have UC or CSU schools. Perhaps the court could draw the first map, based on some agreeable set of criteria, and then the nonpartisan commission we have here could draw every subsequent map.

      I had been thinking of staggering the elections -- if Regents serve 6 year terms, then 3 classes (like the federal Senate) would make sense. We would still need to reduce the total number of electable regents, then. One of the advantage of at-large elections in this case would be increased vetting for each candidate; I could easily see labor/teachers' unions backing candidates, leaving behind the Some Dudes that could slip through in smaller districts.

      Again, nothing is set in stone. This is about gauging support and determining the feasibility of the idea.

  •  I am not sure what the answer is. But I do think (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that they are not under enough oversight. And it feels like they sure are lining their own pockets with the ridiculous salaries they enjoy.

    if a habitat is flooded, the improvement for target fishes increases by an infinite percentage...because a habitat suitability index that is even a tiny fraction of 1 is still infinitely higher than zero, which is the suitability of dry land to fishes.

    by mrsgoo on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 10:42:13 PM PST

  •  I don't have a good answer, I fear, but if you CAN (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    make this work in California, will you come teach us how in Texas?

    LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

    by BlackSheep1 on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 11:48:23 PM PST

  •  1. You're going to need money (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MiltonWaldman, gabjoh

    just to get the thing on the ballot.  There have been almost 0 successful all-volunteer ballot measure efforts that have been successful in recent years, and I speak from experience in Oregon, where the number of signatures we need is much smaller.  You're going to need to have paid signature gatherers for just about any successful campaign, no matter how popular the idea may be.

    2.  You would need money once the thing qualified for the ballot because you're going to have powerful interests standing in opposition to you.

    ...better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. -FDR, 1936

    by James Allen on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 06:15:52 AM PST

    •  This will be the major challenge (0+ / 0-)

      Like I suggested to elfling, I could see labor and/or teachers' unions backing the idea and supporting their own candidates. The downside there is that then this would become a partisan issue...

      I think there is a potentially strong bastion of support to be found on the UC/CSU campuses. If students jump on board, this might take off. Certainly there's a lot of wishful thinking here, but I'm generally pleased with the response the idea has gotten thus far. I just wish there were a good way to spread the word. More feedback is always ideal.

      •  I don't know the limitations of student (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Englishlefty, MiltonWaldman

        government organizations in California, but there may also be the potential to enlist their support.  I assume that they are already involved in lobbying and campaign efforts, so they should have some professional organization that could lend support.

        ...better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. -FDR, 1936

        by James Allen on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 07:15:34 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Interesting diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I don't know if what you are proposing is good policy or not, but I understand your frustration with this issue.  I work for the Indiana University system, and have seen and heard stories from all over the country of nameless boards of regents and trustees making bad decisions and wielding a lot of influence.

    We've seen tuition go up, most faculty seeing wage freezes, and research underfunded -- largely to go to an increasingly bloated administration and a small number of high-profile professors.  What's the answer?  I'm not sure -- but it's good that you are talking about the issue.

  •  The other question would be, let's talk about what (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MiltonWaldman, Anonyman

    the regents actually do in the day to day life.

    I'm not talking about the annoying things that they do, like voting to raise tuition, :-) , but what are the other aspects of the job? Are they substantially involved in fundraising? Are they just doing governance? How often are they meeting?

    I'm ashamed to say I don't have a good handle on those details.

    Maybe that would be a good first step in this conversation - some diaries about who the current regents are, how they were selected, how long they've served, and maybe highlighting some of their recent agendas?

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 08:23:19 AM PST

    •  Excellent idea (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      This is a great suggestion -- I'm getting the sense that people are apprehensive about charging forward with these kinds of ideas when the "problem" hasn't even been adequately described.

      This will take a lot of work. I'd like to continue to gauge interested in this project before spending a lot of time on something that may not go anywhere. Thanks for the heads-up regarding CSU districts, by the way.

      •  One of my personal pet peeves with ballot measures (0+ / 0-)

        is that often they're not all that well thought out, with many sloppy passages or unintended consequences. I appreciate you taking the time to investigate this idea and also to really think through the concept and the text if it goes forward.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 11:26:59 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  No to ballot measures (0+ / 0-)

    California is a very liberal state and they could have had gay marriage, marijuana, and non-corrupt food labels years ago if the legislature decided it instead of the people.  That's why we have legislators instead of direct democracy anyway, right?  I personally think voting on twenty different ballot measures every election would be fun but there are too many uninformed voters who don't take the issues seriously and are too easily swayed by outside organizations.

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