Monday, January 27, 2014

Everyone needs to ride the bus

As boys grow up with dreams of playing professional baseball, I doubt that many of them think longingly of time they’ll spend on a bus between minor league cities like Pawtucket and Scranton. However, this is the experience that most players in professional baseball will have and they don’t get to shag flies in Fenway or pitch in Yankee stadium without riding the bus, eating bad food and playing in some decidedly unglamorous towns. Minor league experience is a virtual prerequisite for major league players and only 21 players have skipped the minors since 1965 (according to Baseball Almanac). Clearly the coaches, managers and baseball executives know that the skills and mileage that these players gain in the minors is something that will make them better players at “the show.” 

Rhode Island has a big league too – it’s serving as the governor or in a federal office. You shouldn’t run for one of these offices unless you have had considerable, relevant experience. Lincoln Almond was Rhode Island’s U.S. Attorney for 21 years. Bruce Sundlun had been a CEO, a civic leader, a federal prosecutor and a WWII bomber pilot. There are just some jobs that require seasoning as well as smarts and governor of Rhode Island is one of them.

Could someone break this to Clay Pell? He seems well meaning and his wife is lovely, but he needs to know that he should spend some time getting involved in all things Rhode Island before coming down from on high to share his deep thoughts on public policy and ask to be elected to the big chair. I appreciate that in the last three years he’s had three really great jobs (in D.C.) but this isn’t speed dating, it’s an election for the leader of our state. I’m sure that there are some among us that will vote for him based on his name or a catchy campaign tagline – I think some might like the ring of “Trust Pell” – but our state is at a crossroads and we need candidates who are running because they’ll be ready from day one to deal with the issues that are already on the Governor’s desk, as well as those that might get dropped there at any moment. 

Decision-making skills are critical. Governor Sundlun liked to tease his staff with “what would you do if the Russians were in South Attleboro?” While we weren’t expecting an invasion, his words are a reminder that it’s the unexpected challenges that show true leadership.  We need a governor who can lead through natural disasters and man-made ones as well. Whether it’s closing the credit unions to protect depositors, comforting the families of Station victims or donning a flannel shirt to direct blizzard recovery efforts, being qualified for governor is more than just memorizing facts and making the rubber-chicken rounds. It’s not a job for someone just learning his way around state government or someone with little or no executive experience. 

One of my favorite political movies is "The American President.” It’s a bit cheesy, but Michael Douglas delivers a great line that describes Rhode Island today: “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.” Clay Pell, if you want to be serious, get on the bus and take a ride through the minors. The big leagues will be there when you’re ready.

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