Friday, October 10, 2014

Opportunity awaits in off year

The baseball playoffs have been a bit of a snooze — literally. Try as a I might I cannot seem to stay awake for games played in far away stadiums between teams I have little interest in. The Dodgers are probably the most interesting to me because their lineup is filled with former Red Sox. I did have to feel a tinge badly for Detroit since they failed to beat the Orioles in the ALDS (yes, the Orioles!) despite having the best pitching in the league, great hitters and good chances to win in every game. They just didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.

I am hoping that Rhode Island voters are paying a little more attention to the “down ballot” races than I am to the baseball playoffs. While some races could be snoozers, this is the once-every-four-years opportunity to elect the five people who run our state, so I am hopeful that voters will spend a few minutes to educate themselves on their choices. While Rhode Island is one of the most heavily Democratic states in the country, the fact that our general officers are not elected the same year as the Presidential candidates means that less people vote.

These off-year elections may be the reason why Rhode Island has only elected Republican (or those who had at one point been Republican) governors since the first four year term was won by Lincoln Almond in 1994 since conservative voters tend to show up to vote more regularly. While each race has a story and some begin and end with bad Democratic campaigns or fractured primaries, the truth is that this year could be a good one for Republicans.

With the emphasis on women’s candidates, I think Catherine Taylor may be the beneficiary of this Republican ripple (too small to be a wave) as she has run a very good campaign with a sharp focus on issues and bipartisanship. Catherine cut her political teeth as a staffer to Senator John Chafee in Washington and most recently worked for Governor Lincoln Chafee in the Department of Elderly Affairs, so she is comfortable talking about a wide range of state and federal issues and can count friends across the political spectrum.  Ms. Taylor may also be helped by the fact that Democratic opponent, Dan McKee, can’t count on the love (and election day support) from organized labor because he has been the driving force behind mayoral academies — publicly funded charter schools — in Rhode Island. Labor’s non-support of McKee, coupled with a higher GOP turnout could create a perfect storm for Taylor and she could be the right candidate to cut across party lines for her win.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ode to Jeter

Last weekend not only marked the end of a really bad Red Sox season, but the end of the great career of Derek Jeter. As a Red Sox fan, I always dreaded seeing the ball hit to short knowing that he would turn a double play in a most spectacular and athletic fashion. His plate appearances against the Red Sox always seemed to end with him on base starting a Yankee rally. I won’t bore anyone with the endless statistics about games played, runs saved, hits made or women dated, but it’s pretty clear that he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. The only question is whether or not it will be unanimous.

The thing I appreciate most about Derek Jeter is that he managed to play well consistently for almost 20 years, on the same team, win multiple awards and be universally respected. I learned over the weekend that he leads the Yankees in being hit by pitches and yet has never been ejected from a game. How he managed to keep his cool after getting drilled 170 times is beyond me. While his off-the-field behavior got some tabloid attention, it was pretty much just gossip about who he was dating or no longer dating. The only time his shiny image was clouded was for a brief period of time when he was hanging around with Alex Rodriguez.

People in politics could learn a lot from Derek Jeter. The old adage “it’s not whether you win or lose it’s how you play the game” is probably the first takeaway that Jeter embodied and that candidates should remember. While it’s much easier to be a gracious winner than to be a good loser, candidates have to prepare for either scenario. There is only one winner in an election, but most still live here after the fact so good conduct in the election — and afterwards — is important. In these post primary days, much has been made of party “unity” and some candidates have really been “walking the walk.” In Providence Michael Solomon has been campaigning for Jorge Elorza, hoping that their combined efforts will keep Buddy Cianci out of the Mayor’s chair. Clay Pell has continued to be a positive voice in Rhode Island politics, appearing recently at a veterans event. Losing candidates will further their own goals, politically and otherwise, by being as “classy” as Jeter. 

So while we all salute Jeter for the player he was and the character he embodied, I have to say that the real reason I will always love Derek Jeter: there’s a play he didn’t make. He was a millisecond too late with that swipe tag to Dave Roberts in 2004, making “the steal” one of the best moments in sports and not just another bone-crushing, heart-wrenching defeat for Red Sox fans. He could not have known what lay ahead but the fact that he didn’t whine, pout or have a tantrum — at a play that looks closer every time I watch it — was enough for me. So thanks for playing #2 — and thanks for missing too.

Sometimes voting is like football

The Red Sox season is winding down quickly and while I won’t miss seeing them lose game after game, I do not like my options for fall sports. In our house there seem to be two options: pro football or college football — and neither is the least bit appealing.

I have several issues with football. The first is that it just seems to be about hurting your opponents. There are really really big guys whose only job is to push against the other team’s really really big guys so that none of them have the option to squish the somewhat smaller quarterback. These really big guys do not seem like athletes to me and I am sad to think about how they are encouraged to gain more mass than a healthy human should carry. People have argued to me that injuries are incidental — and part of any sport — and that the really big guys can run really fast. I’ll argue that there aren’t too many sports that require a player to pounce on each other at full speed or have to discipline professional coaches for putting bounties on opposing players’ knees.

The other reason I like baseball better than football is that the league seems to be a lot more concerned about the behavior of its players. Former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon made an obscene gesture at a fan and was almost immediately suspended for seven games. Ray Rice knocks his fiancĂ© out cold during a brawl in an elevator and seven months later and many alleged cover ups later, he finally gets suspended. I admit that it took baseball a long time to deal with their performance-enhancing drug policies, but as Alex Rodriguez contemplates his existence during his year-long suspension, the NFL has recently decided that off season amphetamine use is actually okay, clearing the way for Wes Welker to play for the Broncos this season. What kind of message does that send to kids? I’m hearing, “it’s okay to do drugs that may be bad for you, just don’t let them catch you during the season.”

So while football season — and my spouse — provide me few options for fall entertainment, the Superbowl of politics is just around the corner. Election Day is less than six weeks away and I am looking forward to making my voting choices. It’s unfortunate that voters don’t have as many choices as they should. Too many incumbents go unchallenged and without two strong parties in our state, sometimes policies are not properly debated and accountability goes out the window. Elections are about choices and if there aren’t any, I try not to give in to the urge to just draw a bunch of lines. Sometimes I look at my ballot and vote against someone or write in a name or only pick two when I could actually pick five (like for Town Council). There’s still very little I can do about the overwhelming amount of football watching in my house, but like my ballot, I often I pick “none of the above” and make other plans.