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?
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?
"For years BOCC was not the most strict organization in terms of watching its money."
- James Argento
(2006, TR Interview)
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.