Image courtesy of ASPB

On Oct. 16, seven candidates running in Riverside-based districts met at UCR to introduce themselves to an eager audience. The question-and-answer session was a joint effort by ASUCR and ASPB to inform students and encourage them to vote in some of the most competitive elections in the state and the country. But though the goals were admirable, students may very well have come out of the event feeling less enthusiastic than they had when they entered. The reason? The utterly vacuous, insincere and thoroughly unimpressive nature of the candidates themselves.

Each candidate was provided an opportunity to present their positive plans for UCR and explain what they would do when they were elected to office. But instead, most spent the vast majority of the audience’s time burnishing their records of support for UCR while attacking the opposing candidates, not on policy issues, but on personal grounds. When each of the candidates stood up on the stage to introduce themselves, most of them gave some variation of the same speech, which can be paraphrased thusly: “I’ve supported UCR before I was born, and my opponent will try to kill it even after he dies.” Unfortunately, this tells us absolutely nothing about what the candidate will do once he is in office, and almost nothing about the candidates themselves, except that they are willing to engage in self-righteous bluster to secure a job opening they want. The evening was encapsulated in the few moments when each candidate stood at the podium, solemnly pledged to protect investments in higher education, and then turned around for a photo op.

Among the disappointments Tuesday was Mark Takano, Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in California’s 41st District. In his opening remarks, he petulantly complained about the dysfunction caused by House Republicans, apparently unaware that he needed to work with them to accomplish anything. That was followed by shameless pandering when he pointed to a Master’s Degree from UCR in an attempt to gin up the audience. At one point, he was obliged to call for applause. Bob Buster, who is running for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors’ First District, emphasized UCR’s positive role in the Riverside community, but did not indicate what he would do on behalf of UCR if he was reelected. His opponent, Kevin Jeffries (who was forced out of his State Assembly seat because of term limits) wasn’t much better. But at least these candidates showed up. John Tavaglione and Bill Batey did not deign to even attend.

Some candidates did distinguish themselves in the event. Jose Medina, a Democrat who is running in the 61st District for State Assembly, called for expansion of the Upward Bound program, which aids first-generation college students in the application process. Rob Carpenter, the delegate representing the mayoral campaign of Ed Adkison, provided plans for a deal that would help UCR students pay off their student loans if they stayed in the Riverside area to help create jobs. Sadly, this was the exception rather than the rule.

The single largest failure on the part of the collective candidates was their apparent inability to provide specific ideas and plans to improve UCR. The University of California system has reported that investment in the University by the state of California has been almost half of what it was 20 years ago. Naturally, this lack of funding has impacted UCR in the form of larger class sizes, longer waitlists and huge tuition hikes. But though the candidates used the issues UCR faces as a bludgeon to beat the opposition into submission, they conveniently forgot to include any specific plan that would allow the UC system to emerge from its battered state. Instead, they focused on what accomplishments they had made in the past on behalf of UCR and higher education. This, in and of itself, is not inherently bad. Indeed, those efforts and accomplishments should be lauded. But what was achieved in the past is not necessarily an indicator of the future. Importantly, they failed to provide specifics on what they planned to do once they won control of the seat they were so desperately seeking. Instead, the would-be politicians expressed support for higher education, but without providing any real substance to back it up. Some candidates advocated the passage of Proposition 30, but by the time they would be elected they would have no power over the issue: the proposition would have already been decided by an up-or-down vote by the people of California. Others condemned the decrease in education spending and demanded the state reemphasize higher education. But universally-agreed upon platitudes do not translate into action, and nobody gave any indication of what actions they would undertake to keep those words. The absence of any plan to accomplish their professed goals speaks louder than all the vague reassurances spouted over the course of the evening. This omission reflects the true nature of the candidates’ support for UCR and for higher education: one of political convenience and something subject to be thrown overboard as soon as it will benefit them.

Just as importantly, the candidates rendered themselves unable to address other important issues facing the local area because of their overriding focus on appearing to support UCR more than anyone else. And Riverside faces a multitude of important issues that must be faced. Riverside County’s unemployment rate currently sits at 12 percent according to California’s Employment Development Department; the last time the unemployment rate was below 10 percent was November of 2008. The Census Bureau reports that nearly 15 percent of the houses in Riverside County are vacant. The ratio of primary-care physicians to patients in Riverside County is half that of the state of California, and in fact rivals that of some third-world countries.

With this year’s elections now only two weeks away, political candidates have initiated a last-minute attempt to convince voters that they are worth voting for. A flood of mailers and other flotsam brimming with blatant exaggerations has washed up on voters’ doorsteps; advertisements on the television elevating one candidate to the status of local hero while pummeling the opposition for hating puppies often take up more airtime than the television shows themselves. It is a shame to say that politicians in the local Riverside area are contributing to this mess. What is most depressing is that the once-a-decade redistricting process provided an ideal opportunity to send qualified, competent leaders to Sacramento and Washington, D.C. It appears that opportunity has been squandered. Each of the candidates that took to the stage Tuesday could have provided a different option than the garbage of the typical rhetoric and promises that float in as regularly as the tides. Each of them chose not to.