During the Fall 2016 election, students at Stanislaus State were inspired to bring political awareness back onto campus and reinitiate the school’s Democratic Party Club, hosting a variety of events aimed at encouraging students to rock the vote. The students’ political activism has continued into 2017 and over the next few weeks, candidates from both the local Congressional and statewide Gubernatorial races will convene at the university for three such events where they will answer questions, beginning first with a forum featuring those running to represent Congressional District 10.
The Students Decide 2017 Candidate Forum, taking place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 26 in the university’s Carol Burke Lounge, will feature all eight candidates who are looking to unseat Congressman Jeff Denham in the 2018 midterm election: Democrats Josh Harder, TJ Cox, Dotty Nygard, Virginia Madueno, Sue Zwahlen, Matteo Morelos-Bedolla, Michael Barkley and Independent Terra Snover.
It will be the first time on stage with their competitors for both Zwahlen, a lifelong Modesto resident and emergency room nurse, and Snover, the state’s first transgender candidate, as both were absent from the candidates’ first debate at the Assyrian American Civic Club last month. Cox and Madueno were the top performers there, as shown by poll data.
According to Democratic Party Club President Jason Serang, Denham was invited to the forum, but confirmed he would not be attending due to his legislative duties.
“Even though we are a Democratic club, we want students to make their own decision on who to vote for,” said Serang. “We think students should hear all voices, so everyone who is running was invited.”
Many college students were motivated into political action last year as a result of both Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and the 2016 election itself, said Serang, but there is still work to be done when it comes to educating Millennials on the importance of their votes. Since then, the club has hosted events each semester, from educational seminars with Planned Parenthood to welcoming last year’s District 10 challenger Michael Eggman to campus.
“I feel like students are more politically-motivated than they were in the past, but it’s still not enough,” said Serang. “Our voices need to be heard as well. We may think it doesn’t affect us because we’re young and still figuring everything out, but these decisions being made by the Governor and Congress do affect us, from student debt to immigration.
“These decisions are being made with or without us, so it might as well be with us,” he said.
In addition to encouraging student interaction with local politicians and increasing student voter registration, the Democratic Party Club hopes that those running for elected positions will pay more attention to Stanislaus State and the area that surrounds it. For this reason, Serang felt it was important to invite not just District 10 candidates, who are more than familiar with the Central Valley, but also those who have tossed their hat in the 2018 Gubernatorial race.
“We wanted to host the candidates for Governor as well because oftentimes the Central Valley is forgotten, and those running only campaign in the big areas like the Bay Area or Los Angeles,” said Serang. “We want to let the Gubernatorial candidates know we’re only going to support someone who shows up for us and considers the Central Valley in his or her decisions.”
The Democratic Party Club will host Gubernatorial candidates John Chiang and Delaine Eastin for separate town hall meetings on campus, taking place at 6 p.m. in the Carol Burke Lounge on Nov. 6 and 16, respectively. There will be free parking in Lot 11 for all three political events.
“With these events, we’re trying to put Stanislaus State on the map so that statewide and national candidates have to make a stop here while campaigning, like they do at other big schools,” said Serang. “We are also a university, and we don’t want to be ignored anymore.”