Rocky Chavez, a Republican candidate for California’s open U.S. Senate seat, spoke in the campus Political Science 179 class Wednesday.
Chavez — a state Assembly member who is running on a platform of opportunity for education, access to water and improved national security — told students a brief autobiography of his turbulent educational history and career in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“What makes us really great as a country is our culture and our society,” Chavez said. “What education is is an investment the culture and society make in you to give back to society. That’s why education should be affordable to you.”
Students asked questions about Chavez’s stance on the cost of higher education, gun control and raising the minimum wage, among other topics.
Chavez’s platform includes increasing affordability and accessibility of higher education and raising the minimum wage to a living wage for adults over a certain age, such as 25. Additionally, he said that California already has the most stringent gun laws in the country and that parents must educate their children about the dangers of guns rather than advocating increased restrictions on gun purchases.
Some students, such as campus junior Kevin Finnerty, said Chavez’s perspectives were refreshing on a campus with a highly liberal populace, while others, including freshman Joe Martin, disagreed with Chavez’s stances.
“His stance on gun control … is ridiculous,” Martin said. “He said that there’s no such thing as a safe gun, and that’s pretty hypocritical … if he supports no limits on gun control.”
Professor Alan Ross, the instructor of the class, said he tries to invite both liberal and conservative speakers to give their input to students. Ross said he invited Chavez because he is a serious Republican candidate running for Sen. Barbara Boxer’s seat.
“I think that (the conservative) voice is rarely heard on the campus, and so Political Science 179 is the one place where I want all points of view heard and listened to, not shouted down,” Ross said.
In a Field Poll released Jan. 7, Chavez polled the highest among Republican candidates — better than former California Republican Party chair Tom Del Beccaro and Silicon Valley lawyer Duf Sundheim, who visited Ross’ class in October.
But Democratic candidates state Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, are leading in the Field Poll on first-choice candidates at 27 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
The Berkeley College Republicans, a campus student political organization, has not endorsed a candidate because there is more than one Republican running, according to BCR President Kerida Moates. Moates was happy, however, that Chavez came to UC Berkeley, despite the fact that the campus is known for its liberal demographic.
“It’s really good to broadcast that Republicans are able to reach out to crowds that aren’t typically aligned with the right,” Moates said.
While Boxer has not publicly endorsed any Senate candidate to succeed her, in a HuffPost Live interview Wednesday, she predicted that a Democratic woman would win the election.
The Cal Berkeley Democrats, the official arm of the Democratic Party on campus, has endorsed Harris, the current frontrunner in the polls.
“Harris … is the best candidate to succeed Boxer and represent our state in the Senate,” said Rigel Robinson, a campus sophomore and Cal Dems vice president of membership. “She’s a strong advocate for criminal justice reform, the environment and higher education.”
Ross said that he will invite all the major candidates running for Boxer’s seat but that he has not yet contacted Harris or Del Beccaro. Sundheim said he “is open to” speaking to the class again, and Luis Vizcaino, communications director of Sanchez’s campaign, said Sanchez would “be happy to go if we have an invitation and it works with her schedule.”
On Feb. 10, political satirist Will Durst will speak in the class.