Republican stalwart Rove holds court at UC Merced

October 9, 2010 

The man once referred to as Bush's brain laid down five of the most important issues he felt voters should think about in the upcoming election during his speech Friday at UC Merced

Karl Rove, former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, spoke to nearly 800 students and community members about the current administration's failings and how voting Republican could be a step in improving the direction of the country.

Rove was asked to speak by the UC Merced College Republicans early this year as a way to help widen the political dialogue on campus. He is the university's first conservative speaker.

Rove told the audience that an end to Bush-era tax cuts, the health care bill, increased government spending and the federal deficit are areas in which the Obama administration has created long-term problems for the country.

Rove criticized Obama's increase in government spending saying that when government expands, it takes more people through their tax dollars.

"We are on the way to becoming like Greece, but on steroids and there will be no E.U. to bail us out," he added.

Rove urged people to vote Republican in hopes that Obama's health care bill will be repealed -- a plan, he said, that would end up putting the country on a crash course to more debt.

"The government has already done a lousy job signing up people for Medicare, so why create another program like that?" he said "Why don't we fix the programs we already have?"

Rove suggested that the government find ways to make health care more affordable for the working poor instead of ripping up the entire system.

The crowd showed their adoration for Rove, who is a current contributor to Fox News, Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal, with two standing ovations.

Srikanth Majji, 22, said he considers himself a moderate but enjoyed Rove's speech.

"Some of the facts that were mentioned were kind of skewed," he said. "I'm going to check the facts and I hope other people do that too when they start talking about his speech tomorrow."

But overall, he said he felt the campus needed to hear from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

There was some dissension from the audience during Rove's speech.

A handful of people yelled loudly when Rove criticized Obama's stimulus package.

During the question-and- answer portion of the event, Rove was asked if he felt he committed any crimes during the Bush presidency.

One student yelled, "War criminal," to which Rove responded saying, if he was a criminal he'd be in jail.

Ten UC Merced members of the Lambda Alliance, a student group that provides support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, stood on sidelines of the auditorium and held a rainbow flag with tape over their mouths with facepaint on their cheeks that spelled out "No H8."

Andrea Mercado, founder of the UC Merced Lambda Alliance, said the group was there because Rove supporters tend to be against LGBT rights and "we wanted people to know we exist as their neighbors."

Rove visited the Central Valley earlier this year to help raise money for Assemblyman Tom Berryhill's campaign.

His first visit to Merced was in the 1960s for a Veterans of Foreign Wars speech contest on a patriotic theme. He was a high school student growing up in Utah at the time. He came in second place.

UC Merced College Republicans launched a several-month-long campaign this year to get Rove on campus.

The event cost the Associated Students of the University of California, Merced (ASUCM) $25,000, but the group recouped most of the cost though ticket sales, said Oliver Darcy, the spokesman for the UC Merced College Republicans.

ASUCM's annual budget is $420,000 and is comprised of student fees. This money supports campus clubs and activities.

Three hundred and twenty five tickets were set aside for students and 400 tickets were sold to the public for $35 apiece.

Tickets sold out one week after they went on sale in July.

In an earlier interview by the Sun-Star, Darcy said the club picked Rove because he is a prominent conservative leader and well-known political strategist.

"He worked for the College Republicans on a national level," he said. "We felt we could relate to him.

Rove's speaker fees are normally $60,000, but the group was given a discount because they are a student group, Darcy said. The student group will use its own funds to cover any additional costs associated with the event.

This is the school's third visit in two years from a speaker with ties to the Oval Office, said UC Merced spokeswoman Brenda Ortiz.

First lady Michelle Obama was the commencement speaker for the school's first full graduating class in 2009. In May, former President Jimmy Carter visited UC Merced to participate in the National Parks Institute seminar and received the university's Spendlove Prize for 2010.

Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or joppenheim@mercedsun-star.com.

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