Friday, June 23, 2006

Baseball and Politics Both Bravely Face the Past

It's not quite fish-wrapping time, but I'm now nearly 3 weeks behind in getting out my Tribune columns with family vacations and other obligations. The June 11 column was written the week that Gov. Napolitano broke Bruce Babbitt's record for legislative vetoes. I thought it should be headlined "115*" like the Roger Maris movie, but the editor wanted a more traditional (translation: less obscure) headline. The newspaper version is available here.

East Valley Tribune, June 11, 2006

I’m a traditionalist, so I think Gov. Janet Napolitano’s new record for vetoes should go into the books with an asterisk.

If former Gov. Bruce Babbitt must lose his title, there’s got to be some consistency in evaluating different performances in different eras. Just as much as baseball, politics is all about numbers. And people in politics obsess about the past (and pay as little attention to the future) as do baseball fans.

So before we retire the old record by Babbitt, the Babe Ruth of Arizona legislative vetoes, I’m going to make a plea for a modern-day Ford Frick to insist that Napolitano’s new record carry an asterisk.

Just as Frick insisted that Roger Maris would be recognized only for the most home runs during a 162-game season, leaving Ruth as the record-holder for a 154-game season, I think Napolitano’s record is tainted by the changes in the game since the 1980’s. (For non-baseball fans, there actually never was an "asterisk"; instead, Frick insisted on a separate category based on number of games, but only for home runs and not any other baseball records.)


Today’s Arizona Legislature bears even less relationship to the one Babbitt faced than baseball today resembles the sport before night games, relief pitchers, integration, and expansion. Today’s GOP legislative leadership is more like batting-practice pitchers than the game-worthy hurlers Babbitt faced. These guys today keep sending Napolitano the same bill time and again that she gets to veto repeatedly, fattening up her statistics.

The latest veto, on the so-called illegal immigration bill, combined three separate bills that she’d previously vetoed and that the Legislature couldn’t override. According to statistics kept by the Governor’s office, of her 115 vetoes, 26 involved the same bills passed multiple times. The Legislature has sent her the same appropriation-of-federal-funds bill that every other governor, both Republican and Democrat, has vetoed for the past 40 years -- but they’ve sent it to her five separate times.

It’s just not fair. Babbitt had to earn his record by vetoing different bills, one at a time; Napolitano breaks his record by getting to veto the same bill multiple times. The Legislature is just grooving the pitch here, so of course she can hit it out of the park. Why bother stealing signs or working the count when the pitcher has only one pitch -- and always in the same location, way off the right side of the plate?

No wonder she uses a veto stamp. With the Legislature just photocopying previously-vetoed bills and passing them again, nobody would waste time developing original ways to crush the same pitch.


Actually, the current legislature isn’t a bunch of batting practice pitchers; they’re more like pitching machines, with about the same creativity and pitch selection abilities.

The GOP legislative leadership is confusing what’s popular in their little circle of like-minded ideologues with what’s popular in the state as a whole. All the polling data show Napolitano’s approval ratings as way higher than the Legislature’s. So naturally the Legislature keeps doing what they’ve been doing while their numbers fall and Napolitano’s rise, in hopes that this time -- or the next time, or the time after that -- when they try this maneuver yet again, the results will somehow be different.

The GOP message on the most recent veto is a bit muddled, too. The prime argument legislators make is that while immigration is a federal responsibility, we can’t wait for the federal government to get its act together. This is a potentially powerful argument, because voters are beginning to recognize that depending on people like George W. Bush or Sen. Jon Kyl to make government work effectively is a pretty crummy bet. But do Arizona Republicans really want their rallying cry to be based on the belief that Republicans in DC are incompetent and corrupt?

If so, can we Democrats agree?

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