Merced push for Rove visit goes online

MERCED -- University of California at Merced College Republicans has launched an online petition for students and the community to bring Karl Rove to speak on campus.

But there's one caveat -- the former deputy chief of staff and political strategist for President George W. Bush comes with hefty price tag: $25,000.

The campus GOP group stated that conservative ideology has been left out of campus dialogue when it comes to speakers on campus.

Members cite first lady Michelle Obama's commencement address this past spring and former President Jimmy Carter's upcoming visit as evidence there isn't enough political diversity on campus.

"We're in support of both conservative and liberal speakers," said Oliver Darcy, president of UC Merced College Republicans. "We just want to balance the dialogue a bit."

The group's effort has faced opposition from the school's elected body because of the cost, which would be paid for with student fees.

Rove spoke in Modesto last week, helping to raise more than $200,000 for Republican Assemblyman Tom Berryhill's Senate bid at a fund-raiser in the DoubleTree Hotel. Rove has been on a tour supporting his new book and has drawn protesters at his California stops, including Modesto.

He told the audience about his first visit to Merced -- a 1960s trip for a Veterans of Foreign Wars speech contest. He was a high school student from Utah at the time.

"It was fabulous," he said about his Merced visit. "I had a great summer."

Earlier this semester, UC Merced College Republicans submitted its budget proposal for next year to the Associated Students of the University of California at Merced, which included $25,000 for Rove to visit.

Rove usually charges $60,000 for speaking engagements, Darcy said, but the group was able to get a discount.

Juan Carmen, ASUCM president, omitted the group's proposal from the spending plan because he didn't like that it would tie up $25,000 of the budget.

Plus, the event isn't a done deal, Carmen added.

The final budget will be approved next week, but ASUCM senators still have an opportunity to amend the document.

If that happens, other areas would have to be cut to support the Rove visit, Carmen said.

ASUCM's budget is set at $420,000 and is made up of student fees. A large percentage goes toward student services. The rest is granted to student clubs and activities.

According to Darcy, College Republicans has collected a few hundred signatures on campus over the past few weeks.

The group brought the petition online to garner community support, said Michael Fincher, ASUCM senator and vice president of UC Merced College Republicans.

The petition is the group's last effort to show the school's senators that students and the community would support the event.

UC Merced political science Professor Stephen Nicholson said he supports any political figure coming to speak on campus, regardless of political affiliation.

"We haven't had any conservative political figures of stature come to campus," he said. "But we haven't been around that long."

Justin Chew, treasurer for ASUCM, said he likes the idea of having political figures of varying viewpoints speak on campus. But he just doesn't think paying $25,000 is fiscally responsible.

So whether the man sometimes called "Bush's Brain" will ever make it back to Merced remains a question.