Code vs. free speech

ASDVC+VP+of+Legislative+Affairs-elect+Brian+Donovan.+%28Courtney+Johnson%2FThe+Inquirer%2C+2010%29

ASDVC VP of Legislative Affairs-elect Brian Donovan. (Courtney Johnson/The Inquirer, 2010)

As campus police stood guard and supporters of the accused waved signs defending freedom of speech, an Associated Students of DVC committee found three candidates in the recent student government elections guilty of an Elections Code violation.

 

In a unanimous decision April 29, the Election Committee ruled that Francisco Hinajosa, Nick Holmes and Brian Donovan – all members of the Progressive Democratic Students coalition – violated section 7.04 of the Elections Code, which states candidates are “responsible for the actions of the campaign committee, whether authorized or not.”

 

The committee was expected to rule on two additional alleged violations, two more against the three coalition members and planned to hear two possible violations against the opposing coalition, UAID (Uniting ASDVC, the Inter Club Council and DVC), at its May 4 meeting, too late for The Inquirer’s press deadline.

 

All of the allegations against the three were brought forward by Adrian Briones, current ASDVC activities coordinator and the losing candidate for the position of webmaster in the recent elections. He ran on the UAID ticket opposite the PDS candidate.

 

Briones’ complaint stems from a leaflet handed out during the election by Frank Runninghorse, a DVC student and member of Students for a Democratic Society, a club to which both Donovan and Holmes belong.

 

In the flier, Runninghorse endorsed the PDS coalition and criticized the opposing UAID slate, specifically Briones and President-elect Katerina Schreck.

 

Of the three accused, only Brian Donovan, the newly elected vice president of legislative affairs, won his race. Hinojosa and Holmes lost in the contests for president and vice president of executive affairs respectively.

 

In ruling that the accused had violated Section 7.04 of the Elections Code, the committee held them responsible for Runninghorse’s statements in the flier, since the code defines a campaign committee as “persons actively campaigning for the candidate, whether authorized directly or indirectly by the candidate.”

 

In an interview with The Inquirer, Briones said: “We shouldn’t be attacking each other.  Everyone has the right to say whatever they want. I am not against freedom of speech, but you have to be able to follow the guidelines.”

 

But the more than 20 students who turned out for the April 29 meeting in support of the PDS candidates said otherwise, holding up signs reading, “Stop the attack on democracy,” “Defend free speech” and “Drop the bogus charges.”  

 

Keith Montes, a member of the PDS election campaign committee and president of the Latino Student Alliance, admonished the committee during its public comment section.

 

“A student’s right to free speech should never, ever be run over by any DVC election code,” he said.

 

Several campus police officers were posted outside the door to the small meeting room in the Student Union as a precaution requested by ASDVC adviser Adriana Lopez, according to Ben Pradya, Election Committee chair and current ASDVC vice president of executive affairs.

 

Runninghorse, the three PDS candidates and many members of the public who attended the meeting, said section 7.04 of the Elections Code is ill-written and a violation of their free speech.

 

“How can one person be charged with the actions of another?” Runninghorse said. “It’s collective punishment.”

 

In an interview with The Inquirer, Donovan said, “I don’t think [the Election Committee members] are looking into the long-term to how this could how damage the reputation of ASDVC.”

 

Election Committee chair Pradya said he plans to amend the code in the future, but for now his committee will base all decisions on the code as currently  written.

 

Pradya told The Inquirer that as the code stands right now, a candidate would be held accountable if The Inquirer had printed an editorial endorsing a candidate without getting the article pre-approved by the Election Committee.

 

“Candidates would still be responsible to at least inform me that they did not authorize The Inquirer to do that,” Pradya said.

 

The three PDS candidates are also accused of not following the Elections Code posting policy as stated in section 8.01 of the code because they did not get the fliers Runninghorse handed out approved. The committee was to rule on that charge May 4.

 

But, at the April 29 meeting Runninghorse said that even if PDS had attempted to stop him from handing his fliers out, he would not have let them.

 

The repercussions of any Elections Code violations would affect Donovan more than the other two accused because, as the newly elected vice president of legislative affairs, he could be removed from his position if found guilty by the committee.

 

Pradya, however, said this outcome is unlikely as disqualification is the harshest penalty the Elections Code allows.

 

Pradya said a letter of apology would be a more likely outcome, although he does not have a vote as the committee chair. Only the four voting members of the committee can take action.

 

Briones filed an earlier complaint against PDS, and the coalition was found guilty by the Election Committee on April 20 of having violated sections 8.01 and 8.02 of the Elections Code.

 

“[They] posted up flyers that were not stamped,” Pradya said. “Those flyers were supposed to be approved.”

PDS was forced to remove some of the flyers they posted, he said.

 

Contact Ariel Messman-Rucker at [email protected]