Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Batter's Box Awaits

The Red Sox are going through a long period of stinking it up right now and looking less and less like champions and more like a team that got lucky in 2013. I was at a game last week and the boo birds and the grumblers were out. A woman behind me said, “oh my gawd, can’t he just hit the bawl??” While I felt the same frustration, I was also tempted to tell her that she might take a swing or two before her next heckling gig. Stepping into the batters box and seeing a 95 MPH fastball whiz by her head might make her choose different words — or keep her mouth shut entirely.

As I was sitting in the basement of State House last night in hour four of a House Finance Committee meeting I was watching the members of the committee listen intently to testimony on subjects ranging from bonds to the corporate tax rate. I will admit — a lot of it was boring — and I thought how difficult it would have been to stay engaged, appear interested and to ask thoughtful questions for even one session, forget about doing the same thing night after night and year after year.

The familiar refrain about Rhode Island is that we have a lot of problems and most of them can be blamed on decades of bad leadership and corruption in the State House. Talk radio provides endless anecdotes and entertainment to get ones blood boiling and very few reasonable solutions.  For better or worse, Rhode Island won’t change and the leadership won’t change unless new people are willing to step up to the plate and endure the extremely painful process of serving in state government. The stipend that legislators receive is small and the hours that they put in are long. I talked to one local legislator about how he did it and he said that he took his vacation time from work in hours-long chunks so that he could attend session and keep his full-time private sector job. How many of us are willing to forego our vacation time to sit through hours of monotone discussion in a windowless room? If you might be, then I’ve got a date for you: June 25, 2014.

June 25, 2014 is the last day for a candidate to decide to run for local, state or federal office in Rhode Island. Anyone who wants to run must file a declaration of candidacy by that date. In a lot of ways that day is more important than Election Day because some years, less than 50% of all incumbents have an opponent. I am a firm believer that every race should be contested and that every officeholder should be accountable for their decisions. This isn’t always an option in Rhode Island with so few people willing to step up.

So, if you follow politics and think team Rhode Island stinks, step up to the plate and run for office. And for those that prefer to heckle rather than consider the batter’s box, remember the windowless basement room and the four hours of testimony. Perhaps you’ll consider a more constructive way of contributing to the conversation.

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