I find it ironic that UCLA lost a major presidential debate because of a labor controversy when UCLA was once the beneficiary of hosting a presidential debate after a different kind of dispute moved the second 1988 presidential debate to UCLA from its original venue. In 1988, Vice-President George H. W. Bush, the Republican nominee squared off against Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee at UCLA’s basketball arena, Pauley Pavilion.
In the present situation, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees asked the Democratic National Committee to honor a boycott on speakers at UCLA because some of the university’s patient care workers are in a contract dispute with the university system. The DNC complied cancelling UCLA as the site for the scheduled December 19 Democratic presidential debate. UCLA went along with the decision without kicking up a fuss–publicly. However, behind the scenes you can bet UCLA officials are disgruntled about the snub and a chance at national and international exposure.
In 1988, the venue change occurred because the League of Women Voters objected to the demands of both parties in fashioning the debate. The League had previously been in charge of some presidential debates but that year was the first that debates were run by the Commission on Presidential Debates created jointly by the Democratic and Republican parties to ensure that debates were part of every general election.
The League had been assigned to run the Los Angeles debate partly to diffuse tensions between the League and the Commission because the League was unhappy about losing its role in overseeing the debates.
When the League refused the Democratic and Republican demands of choosing the moderators, questions and seating arrangements, the League decided to pull out of running the debate. Then scheduled for Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium, the Commission had to find an alternative site from the one controlled by the League.
UCLA was that site.
I’ve told the tale of the 1988 debate contest before because I had a role in it. For those interested in historical artifacts, you can find my story here, previously published by Zócalo Public Square a little more than two years ago.
For UCLA, presidential debate hosting is like the school’s football team—you win some and you lose some.