Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Legacy: It's How You Play the Game

As he walked off the field after giving up Aaron Boone’s walk off home run in the 7th game of the 2003 ALCS, Tim Wakefield feared that pitch would make him the new Bill Buckner -- shunned and blamed for yet another historic Red Sox loss.  He worried that his legacy – like Buckner’s – would be tied to the failure, not the effort. 

Buckner had been a solid fan favorite until that infamous 1986 grounder.  Were Red Sox fans really so fickle as to turn on a player for one mistake?  Perhaps, but my theory is that Wakefield was forgiven and Buckner was maligned not because of the mistake, but because of what that mistake appeared to be.  While we all watched (through our fingers) as Wake pitched his heart out, Buckner’s failure to get his glove down screamed complacency – and epitomized another missed opportunity for the bad luck Sox.

In Rhode Island politics, sometimes it seems like our players aren’t even in the same game that we are.  The latest episode: Governor Chafee announced in a TV interview that he had received a waste and fraud report and then immediately poo-pooed calls to release it, saying that we should “trust” him to deal with it appropriately. While “Trust Chafee” was an effective campaign tagline to garner 36% of the vote, this is Rhode Island and “trust” is not often associated with “politician” in the Biggest Little.

When Chafee reluctantly released the report a few days later, he told the story of the duck (Governor Duck to you) who seemed to be floating on the water while in fact his feet were paddling like mad.  While I know that he’s toiling away every day, transparency matters – and appearances matter, and letting us see the duck’s feet churning away is part of the deal.

The good news for Bill Buckner – and perhaps for Governor Chafee – is that wins and the passage of time can change perceptions.  I was at Fenway for Opening Day in 2008 and celebrated Buckner’s redemptive return through my own watering eyes and with my sore-from-clapping hands.  For Governor Chafee there’s still time to get in the game, but Rhode Islanders are going to need some big wins to trust how he chooses to field his position.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Manager for a Day

Have you ever wanted to be a major league manager?  I have.  I can imagine sitting on my perch in the dugout, gnawing on Swedish Fish (I’m not a gum chewer) and telling guys to "find a pitch you can hit" and “hustle” and then patting them on the rear when they return.  Of course after reading the Francona book and seeing how they seem to live in no-win situations, spend an inordinate amount of time stroking players’ egos and managing petulant owners, perhaps it’s not a job that should high on my list. 

Another job I know is not for me -- Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives.  I don’t know how he does it.  Day after day you have to deal with the endless wants and needs of 74 other reps and pretend to care about the issues they are passionate about.  The worst part is that some of the issues they are passionate about are incredibly dumb and a complete waste of time.  That’s right - whether it’s passing legislation declaring calamari as the official state appetizer (you knew that was coming) or banning lap dogs from their driver’s laps - an unacceptably high volume of completely useless legislation seems to flow into the House chamber each year.  

I give Speaker Fox high marks for his patience.  After taking a lot of heat in recent years for the stagnant economy and economic development gone bad, I think I would hurl my shoes at the first state rep who filed one of these "hall of shame" bills and then asked me to support it.  Useless legislation -- along with the various proclamations and salutations generated for almost any occasion -- is a huge waste of time and money.   Bills require some attention from paid staff to craft the appropriate language, assign a fiscal note, add it to website and create a press release (if needed).  So whether it funds education or declares “Family Guy” as the official state cartoon, each piece of legislation costs taxpayers something even if it does nothing of value.  Perhaps even more galling, these bills represent time that is not being spent solving the state’s real problems.

If I were making the House rules, they might look a little like this:
  • No bills about “official Rhode Island anything.”  Ever.  We have a tree, a motto and a chicken.  No mas.
  • All bills must have 20 cosponsors to get a committee hearing.  If you can’t get 19 of your colleagues to agree that you’ve got a good idea, it’s not one.
  • Each member can be the prime sponsor of five bills each session.  If you have SO many good ideas that you need more bills, pass your bright ideas along to the guy sitting next to you.  I can guarantee that someone is running low.
The bottom line is this: Rhode Island faces huge problems and we need our government leaders at every level to buckle down and focus only on the things that will move us forward.  Calamari and front-seat Fidos are unwelcome distractions from the real business of the state.  Perhaps we can ask all our players to help the manager by sticking to just one rule:

No beer and chicken in the clubhouse, no calamari and dogs in the State House. 


Friday, March 1, 2013

Down to Their Last Strike

As I tap away, we are within hours of the raw deal that Washington calls sequestration.  It’s truly unfortunate because of the stress it causes families (like my own) whose household balance sheet will become decidedly unbalanced with the draconian pay cut that comes with the sequester.  Since the Department of Defense is taking a huge hit, many of those affected are veterans and reservists who have already made significant sacrifices in recent years.  It would be nice if we welcomed our troops home by thanking them for their dedication and valuing their civilian livelihoods instead of asking them participate in another photo op or forfeit 20% of their pay.  The sequester is particularly disheartening because the words of so many politicians, “Washington is broken” ring true.  That's a serious problem since we are flushing our hard earned tax dollars along with our faith in the American political system down a marbled loo next to the Potomac.

The headline “Bob Woodward threatened by White House over sequester reporting” changed my morose mood to anger.  Whether you like the idea of mandated spending cuts or prefer that we raise taxes, the complete lack of leadership is appalling and the fact that the White House is spending any part of these last few hours doing spin control instead of coming up with a workable plan is infuriating.  I’m not picking a side here -- Congress deserves its fair share of blame.  They agreed to play this game of chicken and abdicate responsibility for the normal negotiating that is part of their job.  The bulk of the five hundred thirty five people who are elected by their states to represent them are choosing their political party over the needs of their constituents at home.  Congress has gone on strike.

When us regular people quit doing our work, we don’t get paid, so “let’s cut their pay!” is the battle cry that has followed this realization that Congress is failing to do its job.  In fact, a group called “No Labels” (which immediately lost some of their shine when it welcomed some of the most hyper partisan members into their ranks and then labeled them “problem solvers”) has been touting “no budget, no pay.”  However, a quick read of the 27th amendment shows that’s clearly not going to happen:

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”  

In other words, the only pay that this Congress can affect is that of the next Congress.  So the slogan should really read, “No Budget, No Pay for the NEXT Congress, But We’re All Set”.  It’s not quite as snappy but it still will take less time to say than actually amending the constitution.  While Maryland was the first state to ratify this amendment in 1789, ratification was not completed until Michigan was the 38th state to ratify it in 1992, a mere 203 years later.  So let’s face it, they can do nothing and we can nothing about it until the next even-numbered November. 

So on deadline day we all sit here with no leadership and no recourse but to await the steaming pile of sequestration.  Like many other American families we’re left to figure out how to deal with the consequences of their brinkmanship.  A first-world problem for sure, but one that should not occur in a country as great as this one.