Monday, February 4, 2013

Only Manny Would Defend the Master Lever

I’ve been reading Francona: The Red Sox Years for the past week or so.  I’d be done with it by now, but since it’s written chronologically and organized season-by-season, it’s been easy to put down for a few days before tackling some of the more disappointing seasons.  I’m finishing up 2011 now and it is painful to relive the epic implosion.  It’s clear that the wheels had been coming off the team bus for a few years and that if the players hadn’t been so spectacularly talented, they never would have contended at all.

Bad baseball is like bad politics.  When players get lazy and self-serving, they might perform well individually but that doesn’t win games or help build team morale.  Same thing in politics - an elected official that thinks only of his or her political future will not make the right decisions for their constituents or for the city or state he or she is supposed to serve.   The impact might not be immediate – particularly when the economy is booming – but we’ll always pay for not electing good leaders in the end. 

On Team Rhode Island, the wheels came off a long time ago and we’ve been spinning our axles in a ditch for a generation.

I refuse to indict every elected official in Rhode Island – most are in it for the right reasons and have a real passion to serve, but it’s time to shine a light on the folks who are more concerned with getting re-elected than serving their constituents.  And this year, the debate over eliminating the master lever can be that floodlight.

There is absolutely no reason why we should have a straight party voting mechanism in 2013.  Studies have shown that most voters don’t know how to use it and it causes an “under vote” in local races.  It’s not a convenience – there are no longer multiple levers to pull and the voting machines don’t look like this:

If people want to vote a straight ticket, they can do it by using the pen provided to draw a series of lines.  As they are making these choices, they may read the names and find that some of the people on the ballot are not actually model public servants and may wish to skip the race or make another choice.  This is America after all.

I used to think that master lever line was something that was an advantage to Democrats – and certainly it is to some degree -- but I think I am more galled by the votes that Rhode Islanders waste on the master lever line.  In 2012, 9,000 Rhode Islanders in 39 cities and towns used the master lever line to vote for Moderate Party candidates.   Wow!  Too bad there were no Moderates on the ballot in 34 communities where the straight party option was drawn for Moderate.   

For those of you keeping score at home, Ken Block has set up a great website where you can sign a petition and see where legislators, mayors and statewide officials stand on this issue.  Visit it, share it and talk about it.

And no, this isn’t the most important issue on the agenda this year, but it’s a vote that will tell us who is on Team Rhode Island and who is on their own squad.

As I turn to 2012 in Tito’s book, I already know what’s going to happen.  A horrific season is punctuated by the trades of those whining, self-centered baseball players who complain about late games, don’t run out grounders and trash their teammates in the media.  In baseball - unlike politics - the mistakes don't have to carry over.  A week from tomorrow pitchers and catchers report and the 2013 Red Sox start the season with a clean slate while we will continue to pay for our poor choices for generations to come.

As the 2013 General Assembly session plays out, let’s keep an eye on our lineup, and use the master lever vote to see if there are trades that need to happen in November 2014.

It’s clear that continuing to use the master lever line in our elections is not a benefit to anyone except the candidates who are afraid of being judged on their own merits.  If a state representative or state senator can count on getting 15-17% through a straight party vote, why would they vote to eliminate it? 

This year I’m hoping it’s because their constituents tell them to.


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