SACRAMENTO — Against the backdrop of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s speech last weekend at the California Democratic Party Convention, conservative college students swarmed the Sacramento Convention Center in an act of protest.
Chants of “No new taxes, reform pensions now!” rang out through the gathering students. As the chanting grew loud enough to disrupt Feinstein’s remarks, security and convention officials politely diverted the gathering mass of College Republicans outside.
Some California Democratic Party Convention goers milling about the hall responded to the hue and cry raised by their fellow Democrats, who were aghast at the appearance of protestors. They hurled their own brand rhetoric at the conga line of College Republicans snaking their way from one end of the convention area to the other.
Cries of “Tax the rich!”, “Keep your hands out of my shit” and voluminous booing were par for the course for College Republicans. Such abrasive behavior has become part and parcel of being active in the political process in the Golden State.
Yet, in spite of the tense atmosphere, there were voices of reason among both Republican protestors and Democratic convention goers which moved beyond soundbites.
Former Lieutenant Governor and current Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) questioned how a no-tax policy could solve the state’s need to pay down the deficit and fund mandated programs such as public higher education.
“These are college students,” said Garamendi. “Do they have any idea what their proposals are going to do their education? They need to put aside this religious chant and study their proposal. What will it do to their education? How can we fund public higher ed without compromise?”
Landon Wolf, the sitting California College Republicans Secretary from CSU Monterey Bay, disagreed with this assessment. He questioned the value of getting an education in California when there was a possibility of destroying future job opportunities in California to those who have gained their degrees here.
“Our state government takes in billions of tax dollars every year,” said Wolf. “Yet Governor Brown and the Democrats in the legislature still insist we need to raise taxes which will ultimately bankrupt our state. I don’t know who is benefiting, but it sure isn’t the thousands of college students that want jobs when they graduate. We’re out here to tell them to quit trying to raise taxes and deal with the real problem through pension reform.”
Russell Kilday-Hicks, Vice President for Representation of the California State University Employees Union, characterized College Republican demands for pension reform and no new taxes as irresponsible.
“The policy of no new taxes is like a Harry Potter spell—it doesn’t exist in reality,” said Kilday-Hicks. “What we need to look at is tax fairness and remember that state employees pay money into their pensions that they receive once they retire. It’s their money, not a handout.”
Lauren Lee, sitting California College Democrats President from UC Irvine, emphasized that a line needed to be drawn between compromise and core principles. She emphasizes a need for Democrats to stick to their guns in the appropriations debate and to hold groups like College Republicans accountable for not giving a firm blank check in support of public higher education.
“I think the Democrats have done a lot of compromising with the Republicans,” said Lee. “We have ‘compromised’ the libraries out of our public schools. I understand Brown has asked for compromise, but this does not mean making drastic cuts to essential services that Californians utilize, such as MediCal and higher education.
“I think an ‘all cuts’ budget will definitely hurt California, but it’s also strategic. Once Californians see how essential these programs being slashed are, they will think twice about voting for a Republican, not only in California, but in the presidential election as well.”
In response to concerns regarding higher education’s priority in the budget, the Vice-Chair of the California State Assembly Committee on Budget, Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), stressed that Republican principles are not incompatible with higher education. He applauded the efforts of groups across party and ideological lines to work for a solution to public higher education funding.
“Instead of coming in with hat-in-hand, the CFA (California Faculty Association) came to us with suggested solutions,” said Nielsen. “The problem with public higher education is structural—a problem which cannot be solved by throwing more money at the institution. Let’s work towards a solution to funding higher education that’s sustainable. One that does not require repeated injections of government funding to remain viable.”