Friday, May 22, 2015

Making the right investments

If you’ve spent any time watching the Red Sox this year, you’ve probably caught yourself chanting “we need a pitcher, not a belly itcher”. You are not alone. While Porcello and Buccholz have been decent, I have been left with the feeling that the Red Sox should have invested more money in the offseason to fill out the rotation after trading Lester, Lackey, Peavy and Miller late in the ’14 season. The team has a history of proving people wrong (lots of writers are still eating their words over the mini 2nd baseman) but I’ll go on record wishing we’d grabbed Max Scherzer when he was a free agent.

While regrets in baseball usually last a season — 86 years in the case of the Babe Ruth trade would be the exception — the ramifications in politics and government can be felt far longer. I recently talked to someone about how upset they were about the Navy leaving Newport in 1973 and there’s no doubt that singular event shaped — and damaged — Rhode Island’s economy for a generation. As Rhode Island looks to move ahead, we need to make sure that we invest smartly in the things that make us stronger and fix our weaknesses along the way.

Last weekend I joined more than 125,000 others who spent some time in Newport to attend the events around the Volvo Ocean Race at Fort Adams. The weather was amazing and the event was jammed with sailing enthusiasts from all over the world. Newport was chosen as the ONLY North American stop for the race and was chosen in large part because of the infrastructure upgrades (read: investments) made at Fort Adams in recent years that were championed by local legislators with the hopes of attracting big regattas like this one. While we’ve been following the Volvo Ocean Race for every mile because of our hometown skipper (go Charlie!), I will admit that seeing thousands of people enjoying a perfect day gave me a little jolt of Rhode Island pride and the sense that “if we build it, they will come.”

Investments need to make sense of course. We’ve thrown public money in the wrong direction before and we’ve also been pennywise and pound foolish. The “we don’t do incentives” policy of the Chafee administration contributed to our sloth-like recovery from the great recession while other New England states leveraged resources to land new companies. There’s a balance between rolling out the welcome mat and giving away the store and it’s budget time, so we need to find that balance and invest in our assets that will lead to growth — just like we did at Fort Adams.

The great news is that the Newport Volvo stopover wasn’t just a success in my eyes. Newport had four times as many visitors as the last North American stopover and the race organizers announced that Newport has first dibs on a stop in 2018. While the race isn’t over yet, Newport and Rhode Island are already winners. P.S. Go Alvimedica!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Seeing where the game is played

Whenever I go to a baseball game I love to see children when they catch sight of the field for the first time. It’s not a “Field of Dreams” moment because I don’t think they are so much mesmerized by the grass or fascinated by the game. They’re usually thinking “how’d they get THIS in HERE?” What goes on during the game is probably an afterthought too and any love of the game is fueled by memories of cotton candy, hot dogs and a stuffed green monster. One of my earliest memories is of Fenway Park, but not because of the glory of the 1977 team. I overheated in the summer sun and had to be taken to the first aid station to cool off.  There was a TV mounted on the wall and I remember thinking how neat it was that what I was watching was happening right outside the door. I’m sure my father was thinking the same thing (not). Still, that early exposure is probably why I still love the game today.

Last week I chaperoned a group of children representing Colt-Andrews Student Government on a field trip to the State House. Most of them had never been there and were in awe of the architecture, art and number of light bulbs in the chandelier. Thanks to Representative Gallison the students had the opportunity to learn about some of the issues that are currently being debated and even had a chance to cast a vote.  We also had coveted guest seating on the floor of the House Chamber to listen to the evening’s proceedings. While I’d like to say that the students understood the whirl of activity that occurred as they whipped through the agenda, I’d be lying. I think most of them just enjoyed the opportunity to watch the goings on and to hear their names being read into the record. I hope that some of them thought about how they’d like to be there again someday.

As our little group of 25 left the building I thought about the thousands of other Rhode Island school children who have never been to the State House — and about their parents — who have not idea about what goes on inside the building. The truth is that we rely on a very small group of people in the media to keep us informed on what happens in state government. There are few Rhode Islanders that run for office, leaving far more of us outside the process and for the most part unaware of the decisions that impact all of us. Many legislators get little or no feedback from their constituents and don’t have staff, making session a grueling and frustrating time. State government is also decidedly inconvenient — the children weren’t home until 6 and legislators are often there well into the evening — a long day for those with “real” jobs and families that would like to see them.

Our behind-the-scenes look was like a trip through the locker room — pretty cool, even if it can be stinky. I just hope some of these will might grow up and want to play the political game.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Not sweating the sweep

The Yankees swept the Red Sox at Fenway this weekend and I awoke to my favorite Yankee fan’s predictable taunt, “bet that hurt.” My response: nope, not really. With three championships in recent memory, there’s not much to whine about even if we get trounced by the evil empire and have a starting rotation that’s pitching only slightly better than a JV high school team.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish the team was starting the season better, but I am conserving my whining for more important things. As an obsessive observer of Rhode Island politics, sometimes I wish others would do the same and quit trying to make the Johnston landfill into Mount Washington.

I witnessed the latest mountain-making last week I was surfing through radio stations and paused briefly to hear about the supposed “scandal” where Speaker Mattiello leases office space to the Cranston fire fighters union. The talk show host was breathless about the “obvious conflict” because the Speaker has a financial arrangement with the firefighters union. Huh?  Speaker Mattiello doesn’t negotiate their contract or benefit in any way from the union’s objectives or mission. It didn’t take long to find out that not only have the firefighters been a tenant for far longer than Mattiello has been in the Assembly, but that they have not been terribly pleased with his voting record either — and let him know that his support of pension reform as House Majority Leader was not particularly appreciated. Of course, I am sure that the talk show host will not go back and cover this again — it’s much easier to flap your lips and cry foul than to analyze something thoughtfully.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to complain about here in the biggest little. We should complain that our investment in our education system does not adequately educate the children we entrust to it. We should be concerned that we educate some of the brightest minds in the country and then can’t offer them opportunities to stay. We should fret that despite being first in the country with a statewide recycling program, our landfill is almost full. We’ve got limited time, resources and brainpower being spent on dealing with the important issues we face, let’s not waste any effort on the small stuff — whether it’s a rental agreement or an early-season sweep.