Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ken Kerns Q&A Part II. of IV.

TheRadikal: In a post you wrote (which I enjoyed) titled "The Absurd Duque-Grapski Fight" you lashed out at Chris Carmody for a response he had in a series of emails. The former UF Student Senate President suggested that Charlie & I resolve our differences by seeing who could withstand being tased longest. You did briefly discuss why you lashed out, but could you further explain your reaction to Carmody's choice of words?

Ken Kerns: There’s not a whole lot to say about that. Carmody tried using a topical news item (the tasering incident) as a suggestion for how to handle the dispute. But I think it is a horribly disrespectful and completely uncalled for way of expressing one’s displeasure with reading a mass email that didn’t concern them. It wasn’t like this was on a message board read by a handful of people where such comments were understood as being normal – this was a mass reply that perhaps dozens of people unwillingly received. As a former Senate President and a member of Florida Blue Key, you would have expected him to respond in, I don’t know, a more professional manner. Certainly he should have done so in a more adult manner.

The Radikal: Let's go back to 2002 Ignite v. Swamp. Now we all know the margin between Nikki Fried (I) & Chris Carmody (S) was razor-thin, but what I for one fail to understand is why Fried (or you [strategically]) chose Voice Sen. Joel Howell for the weaker Veep slot and not the stronger Treasurer role. My reasoning is that one more Greek would further strengthen Fried chances as President & Veep run as one; for the independents the Treasurer post would have been a huge power-play (and to a much lesser extent, it would have marked the 10yr anniversary of Fmr. SBT Marna Weston [also Voice]). Please explain the strategy.

Ken Kerns: Let me correct an underlying assumption here. I was not that much involved in Ignite’s campaign; Jeremy Kaplan was basically the only significant Independent on the Ignite party exec. Kyle Jones was needed, and picked first, to help Nikki nail down the FBK and fraternity vote that had threatened to join Swamp. And as a two-time senator, SigEp president, Budget Chairman, and a co-sponsor of the BOCC compromise, he was far more obviously qualified than Joel was.

Joel was a last-minute choice, and one that was meant to shore up Nikki’s support among blacks, independents, and engineers – just to be blunt. I say last-minute because Chris Carmody was also trying to recruit Joel’s support, and Joel was not clamoring for a spot on either ticket. Nikki realized the potential hole in her support that Carmody was trying to exploit, particularly with independents and engineers, and did the logical thing by filling her ticket with Jeremy’s choice.

Here’s a factor you didn’t consider – Fried/Howell and Carmody/Roselli are a pairing of a non-Greek and a Greek. A fully Greek ticket of Fried/Jones would have tagged her as the “greek” candidate and caused more independents to flock to Carmody. And yes, an independent on the Treasurer slot would be a sign of power (they did this for FSP in 2000), but the independents were divided in 2002 and it was mostly the older independents who were graduating who were with Nikki and Ignite.

They may have had other strategic concerns in mind when they put him on that ticket, but I think it was more a matter of needing to both lock down support and fill the empty VP spot that put him there. But as I said, I didn’t even really commit in anyway to Ignite until Nikki put Joel on her ticket, I hemmed and hawed over the decision to run again for Senate (I ultimately declined), I still felt torn by seeing friends on both side, and so I was not involved in Exec decisions for Ignite.

In fact, they repeatedly expected loyalty from me, when they offered little in return. Joel was one of the few independents from SUN to be vocally supportive of my efforts in Fall 2001, and yet from Jeremy to Craig Jones on down, many folks just expected me to fall in line with Ignite just because Jeremy was there. It still bothers me how some in that party felt I owed them total loyalty when I got very little in return; and that they questioned my loyalty at every turn – for even such horrible crimes as observing Carmody’s campaign kickoff event (even after I let Ignite know before the Alligator did that it was happening at Gator Nights).

The Radikal: Also in relation to the 2002 election, I've cited your blog 'Ken Speaks' with you stating as follows:

"Neither campaign really talked of changing the system, some people saw little difference between the two sides, and a few of us were really torn by the election. So it really came down to who liked and trusted Nikki or Chris and those who didn’t."

Some six years later, do you feel that in supporting Fried over Carmody that you made the right decision by (1) the students, (2) the [Voice] Party, & (3) last, but not least, Ken Kerns.

Ken Kerns: A lot of the people I wanted to see elected in both parties were, in fact, elected. I think Carmody could have done just as well as Fried, but I preferred Joel definitely for VP and Kyle over Jamie Wicker.

Was it the right decision for me? I was slowly coming to a decision to leave Gainesville (if only subconsciously), and so my minimalist involvement in that campaign reflected my eventual decision (I attended some public events for both parties, but volunteered to table for Ignite, and even wore my Voice Party t-shirt on Election Day).

Truth be told, much of the Voice Party disagreed with Joel, Nick Capezza, and myself, and backed Chris Carmody’s Swamp Party. But that was because we never made a collective decision about it, and because Argento was very thorough in recruiting support for Carmody.

Did I make the right choice for the students? I did what I could to encourage bipartisan cooperation by helping to elect a Senate leadership that came from both political parties. And I know the right choice was made for VP and Treasurer. I like Nikki Fried personally, as much as Chris Carmody, and I know them both well enough to say either one would have done the student body well. I think on balance I made the right choice, even if I wasn’t happy about working against many friends like Jess Johnson and James Argento who were working for the other side. But as I said, my involvement in Spring 2002 was more as an avid observer, not as much of an activist, so I can’t claim too much credit for Ignite’s victory – except in helping to put Joel in a position to run for VP.

////////Special Question///////////

TheRadikal: Do you like games, Ken? I love games. 2002 Hypothetical. Tell us what happens if Voice decides to shop between Ignite & Swamp and find no common ground; the Party decides to field Joel Howell for Student Body President, this isn't a bluff, this isn't a ploy to get a pay-off, this is a real campaign.


1. Does Nick Capezza jump ship? Yes or no, why?

Ken Kerns: Tough call, but likely not. He helped provide the impetus to get Voice going in the first place, so if we managed to make the decision to run Joel on our own, he’d probably be right there making the decision with us.

2. Does James Argento jump ship? Yes or no, why?
Probably yes. He was very supportive of Chris Carmody since before we backed Carmody for Senate President. I believe he signed on very early on for Chris, so he probably would have been committed to him before we switched. But he might be one that we could swing back depending on the rest of the tickets.

Does Jeremy Kaplan jump ship? Yes or no, why?
Jeremy was not a part of Voice, and was with Ignite long before he thought about reaching out to a Voice Party senator on Ignite’s behalf. Plus, he thoroughly supported Nikki as his last best hope before graduating for a Student Body President to be elected that he could accept. He would not jump ship, but he would be the go-between prior to Voice’s decision in this hypothetical.

Does Joe Argento jump ship? Yes or no, why?
Joe would do what he wants, when he wants. Depending on the circumstances, he might follow his brother’s lead.

Does Tim Stevens jump ship? Yes or no, why?
Tim wasn’t a big player in the party, no offense Tim – he primarily represented our contacts within the family housing community. If he were a Senator at the time we launched the Spring campaign, though, I’d suspect he’d stick with us.

Does Ken Kerns jump ship? Yes or no, why?
Like in the real election, I followed Joel. If Joel was running on our ticket in the Spring, I’d be there for him, much as he was there for us when we needed support in the fall.

Presidential Debate Skills
a. Joel v. Chris =

I think they’d be fairly evenly matched in the debate. Not really any way to expand on that, except to say I don’t see either having much of an edge unless one made a gaffe.

b. Joel v. Nikki =

Joel would be the more charismatic, more “authentic” debater, but Nikki would be more wonkish. Very much a replay of Obama/Clinton on Obama’s best nights.

TheRadikal: In your highly speculative, hypothetical, post-six-years-opinion, what effect would a serious Howell presidential bid had the UF African American caucus of 2002?

Ken Kerns: The “caucus” as it existed after 2002 was not yet fully formed by then. In 2001, there was a split in the community (VISA backing Fusion, BSU backing SUN). But had they gone their separate way in 2002, they could have established themselves as more than just a cog in the FBK machine but as an independent political operator – which I’m convinced that, aside from Access in 2004, they have yet to really do. That has it’s pluses and minuses. But recently – I think in one year it got to the point where people complained that the African American candidates were being slated in seats FBK couldn’t win – it shows the downside of threatening to go independent but very following through convincingly. The African American community (and the Engineers) won the election for Ignite, and I would have hoped FBK wouldn’t forget that sort of thing. But I tend to be more optimistic on that score than others.

The Radikal: If Voice had miraculously made it to a run-off with a mainstream party, which do you think the scratched party would have endorsed:

Ken Kerns: Animosity between Nikki and Chris stemmed back all the way to before the Fall 2001 campaign finished. I could see different scenarios based on the various tickets and coalitions that would have formed as a result of this bizarre twist in history. I’d say Swamp is more likely to support us than Ignite mainly because much of Carmody’s support broke away from FBK as a result of them putting Nikki on their ticket instead of Chris – meaning they had already decided to not support Nikki, and just needed someone else to back. Ignite is harder to read, because its resulting coalition is a hodgepodge of Greek and independent support that was often tied to specific colleges (look at Ignite’s support in Law and Engineering, usually independent bastions, compared to LS, another independent bastion).

The likeliest scenario, however, is that the Greek houses would consolidate behind whichever party survived into the runoff, and the Independents would join Voice – that is, unless deals were made to change that calculus.

Very difficult question, I’d say. Because it’s far more likely for a third-party Voice to get maybe 20% at most, and be forced to choose between Ignite and Swamp.

But what makes this difficult even assuming the miracle of making it to a runoff is trying to figure out how the Ignite and Swamp party coalitions would look alike in the event Voice was a third option with strong Engineering support.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ken Kerns Q&A Part I. of IV.

TheRadikal: I hope you find yourself well, I'm enjoying what's left of my vacation. I want you to know that I want this interview to happen, but the blog is going through a phase where I'm trying to draw out some non-SG players to diversify. There's going to be another Q&A covering sit-ins at Penn State which will be showcased for May Day/Labor Day.

Ken Kerns: Thanks, I’m doing well. And I can understand the need to diversify. I myself am trying to find a way to have my blog be more than just what a diarist on Daily Kos could do, especially since I am going to eventually stop the SG blogging.

TheRadikal: Ken, let's go back to the highly contested Adler/Sanchez race. In an excerpt taken from Nick Cappezza's Radikal interview, he states:

"From my perspective, which was on the front lines, absolutely. Votes were not counted that should've been counted and other shenanigans went on."

In your opinion, were there votes that were not counted? If so, what basis would you have to make such a call? Also, could you expound on what "other shenanigans went on?"

Ken Kerns: If you look at the numbers, Adler won by 17 votes, his Treasurer candidate by about 400, and the Senate candidates won by something equivalent to about 53%-47% in the popular vote. Adler clearly was not as popular as his ticket. Do I think some votes didn’t counted, or that they “found” an extra ballot box somewhere to put him over the top? I can’t lie and say I wouldn’t believe it, but I could also believe that Fusion was just popular enough overall to overcome the ticket splitting. But really, Adler won 50.10% of the vote. It wouldn’t take much for that lead to change – that election was basically a tie.

Yes, there are always “shenanigans” at election season. Some people call it “B-team stunts”, like ripping up yard signs, or following people with cameras to catch election violations or just to throw them off their game. And at times, we felt the UF administration played favorites – but that wasn’t ever proven. 2001 wasn’t any different than most election years, however.

TheRadikal:What can you tell us about the Vision Party campaign and working with Gary Slossberg? In what ways did the Voice Party (your incarnation) compare and/or differ from Vision?

Ken Kerns: Vision ran for an extraordinarily long time, from Spring 1997 to Spring 2000. I was only around for its final two elections, when it failed to win any seats. And when I was there, I could see why – very little effort was made to build and sustain coalitions in the fall and spring, and especially at recruiting new activists. In Spring 2000, we were heavily reliant on the qualifications and diversity that our Treasurer candidate brought to the table as BOCC Treasurer and the first openly gay candidate for campus-wide office.

Gary Slossberg was a great person to work with – funny, friendly, and passionate about his beliefs. As the Vision presidential candidate in 1999, for example, he spearheaded an effort to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Of all the political leaders I worked with at UF, he remains my favorite – I can’t quite explain why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that it took a lot to get him mad at you.

Vision was always like that, too – while not a “College Democrats” party, Vision was very much a socially liberal one that was skeptical of FBK and the greek system.

Voice 2001 was a bit different. Our platform was within the Vision tradition of “integrity, democracy, diversity” but our emphasis was on the plight of student organizations, and improving how SG worked. Our biggest fight was over giving more money to student groups – an amendment to the A&S Fee budget that Fusion bitterly opposed in the election but eventually sponsored when it came time to fund the organizational budget. We did not really campaign on social issues as much, although we favored more emphasis on a cleaner environment. With folks like Adam Guilette, a founder of the Liberty Project, on our side, our campaign was more about making SG more responsive, more decentralized.

It’s within the GDI tradition that Vision had cemented, but we had our own policy accents that made it a distinct force.

TheRadikal: Very little was learned in regards to your feud w/ James Argento in his interview back in 2006. In fact James only stated the following:

"At one point in November 2001, we got into a dispute at a BOCC meeting. When I got home, I wrote Ken an angry email. Ken responded. I then responded in kind."

What was your take on the matter? Were there other underlying issues at hand during the feud?

Ken Kerns: James may remember better than I do what our feud back then was specifically about. I recall that we clashed several times largely because our personalities were so different. James, for example, can be more open about what he thinks and can get quite excited about expressing them. I, on the other hand, tend to lose patience for misplaced over-zealousness.

But “feud” is too strong a word here. James and I exchanged a few emails, and that was it. We were friends before and after that incident. We even worked together to help guide John Hooker in his bid for Senate President Pro Tempore in Spring 2002. And we talk periodically on the phone even now.

But James and I emailed each other a lot during that period – we even had an exchange over whether Chris Carmody’s early strategy for the Spring 2002 election was smart or not. James signed onto Carmody’s team early on; I never could quite make it, even though more of my friends and acquaintances in my final year at UF were on his side.

TheRadikal: As treasurer of the BOCC, how would you characterize the SG/BOCC showdown of your day?
"For years BOCC was not the most strict organization in terms of watching its money."

- James Argento
(2006, TR Interview)

As treasurer of the BOCC at the time, this would speak directly to you and your predecessors. Were you offended? Did you agree? How did the organization initially respond?

Ken Kerns: Actually, I think James and I both said the very same thing during our work on the BOCC budget in 2002 – that the past way BOCC did budgets was, well, I’d call it “amateur”. Book-keeping was hard from year to year, especially with frequent shifts in office space and location. I think the system in place now, an outgrowth of a compromise Kyle Jones and I reached on behalf of the Ad-Hoc Committee that met in Summer 2001, the current system has been good for BOCC – as it gives it more consistency in how budgets are written, and allows for easy access to funding histories.

However, the Bill 1066 in Fall 2000 was totally the wrong approach, and I remain proud of my involvement in the filibuster against that legislation. The original bill was formed on the Friday before Labor Day, without informing much less consulting the largest umbrella organization on campus that its funding would no longer be guaranteed and that they would no longer be a part of the A&S Fee Budget but instead forced to compete with everyone else in the Spring student organizational budgets.

Recall that this was after the college councils took a major political risk in getting unofficially involved in the Spring 2000 election by backing the Florida Students Party, which was ultimately unsuccessful. The BOCC believed this to be a politically-motivated attack on their organization, and that they had better fight it or face being potentially zero-funded.

Of course, those concerns were exaggerated by the drama of the moment, and the fact that the Student Body Treasurer (Ana Maria Garcia) and the Budget Chairman (Cary High) were poor salesmen from a public relations point of view. Rather than pointing out that determining a bottom line for BOCC nearly a year before the budget year began could lead to problems the financial professions were concerned about, Garcia and High spent most of the debate complaining about wanting more oversight over how that money is spent (never mind that the Garcia signs off on every single funding request made by every organization throughout the year, and that no one really holds student groups to putting on the events that the budget is justified for).

And so we fought them in Fall 2000 to the best showing of any non-FBK party in a fall election ever. And we fought them down to 17 votes in the spring election, the best in 9 years. And finally, they relented to creating an ad-hoc committee and to fashioning a compromise.

This was how the “Academic Organizational Budget” was created, along with reinstituting the BOCC Finance Committee that would do most of the hard work of crafting an overall budget and examining each and every program being put on. This also pushed all BOCC subsidiaries into using the budget disk format now used by all student groups.

Prior to all of this, record keeping was inconsistent, the budgeting process largely arbitrary (based on the size of the college council and the groups it represents), and the budget number BOCC got from SG was created almost a year before it would be in effect (which meant it would frequently require recissions near the end of the year to move funding around to the councils who needed it from the councils who didn’t).

I’m not saying the whole episode was necessary, or that we couldn’t find ways to make the old BOCC system work. But given that it happened, I think it’s been a net plus for the umbrella organization and the college council system in general.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Democracy for Honduras: Bring Back Zelaya!

The Honduran Coup: A Beacon for Reaction?
by David Schneider

This is a fantastic article penned by the Progress Party leader and student senator. I'd also like to invite you to check out the page - as we'll be updating more news & commentaries dealing with Latin America (from an Allendist perspective).