State senator blames governor for budget

    Retiring State Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-San Jose) accused Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of being “more about money than education” at a campus meeting with a small audience of graduate students, staff and faculty on Nov. 15.

    With public higher education in the state facing severe budget cuts, the senator said he is unsure of the future of the UC system and other public higher education institutions in the state. Vasconcellos pointed to Schwarzenegger as the “absolute key” to finding a solution.

    “Within the past year, [the governor] has cut financial aid and he’s cut enrollment. Fixing this crisis all depends on if the governor has the courage to put education first,” Vasconcellos said.

    The senator implored students to act as well, encouraging them to “speak up” in politics in order to reach the goal of increased state funding for higher education.

    “Students are surprised when they hear about actually talking with the government to get what they want — they’re afraid,” Vasconcellos said. “If kids roll out their sleeping bags and camp in front of the governor’s office, I’d say there’s a good chance they’ll get to speak with [Schwarzenegger] within 48 hours.”

    Vasconcellos’ visit, hosted by the political science department, was one of nearly 100 stops in the farewell tour around the state the senator calls his “cal/VICTORY/lap.”

    “I woke up one morning six months ago and thought, ‘I’ve lived such a privileged life,’ so I made the decision to thank all the people that have helped me lead that life,” he said.

    In addition to showing gratitude, however, Vasconcellos also criticized the current state of California politics, calling it “dreadfully cynical, dirty and destructive.”

    The senator challenged the audience to remedy the problem with counteractive tactics such as “social inclusion” and “collaboration.” Namely, Vasconcellos urged listeners to join his Politics of Trust Network.

    A nonpartisan coalition of state and local legislators as well as California citizens, PTN serves as a resource for promoting humanistic ideals in politics. Plans for PTN include an online community as well as a “training institute” designed to teach new legislators about their roles as state lawmakers. PTN currently has 3,500 members.

    “My politics is about healing — it’s about trust and family,” Vasconcellos said. “I don’t think the public is going to deal much longer with this negative, cynical, dismissive politics. Nor should they.”

    Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson also attended the event. He and Vasconcellos have been acquaintances since the development of Thurgood Marshall College in the 1970s.

    “Sen. Vasconcellos has always taken a great interest in the development of UCSD, and he’s always been very supportive of the campus,” Watson said.

    The senator thanked Watson for his help during Vasconcellos’ political service, mentioning Watson’s “integral role in making UCSD become one of the most pre-eminent campuses in the country.”

    Vasconcellos was also involved in education at the state level, filling such roles as the chairman of both the State Senate’s education committee and the Master Plan Review Committee of the State Assembly in the early 1970s.

    The senator also addressed the challenges facing students in primary and secondary schools, blaming Schwarzenegger for a lack of credentialed teachers and the presence of unsafe buildings.

    “With this new governor, it’s the poor kids in the barrios and the ghettos who aren’t getting the education they need. Educating them is not only a nice idea — it’s morally correct,” Vasconcellos said.

    A spokesperson from the governor’s office did not return a call for comment on the senator’s statement.

    Arriving on campus early for breakfast with former Chancellor and UC President Richard C. Atkinson, the senator held his meeting before completing his visit with a tour of Preuss School, a charter middle and high school run by the university.

    “The state really loses a great deal when a legislator with this amount of knowledge and wisdom retires,” Watson said.

    On Nov. 30, Vasconcellos will end his tour with a ceremony in his own district of San Jose, Calif.

    “I want to get rested, decompressed, and do what I want to do. I want to return to the piano and read the thousands of novels I’ve collected,” Vasconcellos said.

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