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July 22nd, 2004:

Phil Rizzuto Park

Hey, they named a park in New Jersey after Phil Rizzuto, the Yankees’ Hall of Fame shortstop and broadcaster.

Holy Cow! Former New York Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto was on hand Wednesday to dedicate a park named in his honor. But those huckleberries eliminated the three baseball fields that used to be there in favor of a soccer field!

There is a soccer field, a gazebo with a replica of the Yankee Stadium facade, and some oversized bats and balls at Phil Rizzuto Park. But there are no traces of the three baseball diamonds that used to be home to a local youth baseball league.

The park, at one of Union County’s busiest intersections where Union, Elizabeth and Hillside meet, is named after the Hall of Fame shortstop and 40-year Yankees broadcaster. With the area’s growing Latino population, it was practical for the soccer field to supplant baseball diamonds at the site, said Angel Estrada, chairman of the county freeholder board.

“We have the soccer field because it’s what our kids need today,” he said.

Ah, well, if it doesn’t bother The Scooter, it doesn’t bother me. Congratulations, Phil Rizzuto!

And of course, the subject of his musical stardom came up:

“I want to tell you about that huckleberry,” Rizzuto said, using one of his favorite expressions to describe Meat Loaf, a huge Yankee fan. “He really tricked me into it. He said, ‘Phil, I have an idea for a song, I want you to come. We just want you to say these words.’

“All of a sudden I started reading the paper he put in front of me, and I said, ‘Wait a minute: Why is every play a close play?’ Finally we got through it. A year later, my son calls me up and says, ‘Dad, you’re a rock star. We got your record here, ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light.’ He had to play it about six times before I realized what it was about.”

Rizzuto said he enjoyed the recording session, terming it “a good day’s pay.”

“I got in trouble with some of the nuns because of some of the language,” he said. “But then they forgot about it.”

There’s just one thing The Scooter still wonders about from his fictional account of the front-seat follies.

“We never found out whether he made it or not.”

I guess Phil never really listened to the bit after his play-by-play, since the whole “will you love me forever/praying for the end of time” thing is a dead giveaway, but never mind that. What I’ve always wondered about is why any manager would call for a squeeze play with two outs in the inning. I mean, all you have to do is throw the batter out and the run doesn’t score. Am I the only person who’s ever been bothered by this?

Thanks to 26 Rings Around New York for the link.

Playing the ponies with Perry

All of you who are surprised to hear that Governor Perry received large campaign contributions from horse racing interests shortly before the special session in which he proposed to allow slot machines at horse tracks, raise your hands. No one? I didn’t think so.

The $232,800 in donations rolled in on Feb. 11, a couple of months after Perry’s office acknowledged that Chief of Staff Mike Toomey had begun talks with certain groups about a proposal to allow video lottery terminals at racetracks and Indian reservations to help raise education funds.

[…]

Perry’s office on Wednesday denied any questionable fund raising with the racing lobby, which stood to gain as much as $10 billion, by some estimates, if video lottery terminals were allowed at dog and horse tracks.

Robert Black, a Perry spokesman, said the donations were typical of the governor’s fund-raising efforts.

Already, Perry’s campaign has collected $5.1 million for the 2006 race.

Black said Perry had a fund-raiser in Austin on Feb. 11, which has been his most profitable campaign day so far, taking in a total $307,745, mostly from breeders and racetrack owners.

“The governor has supporters on both sides of the issue,” said Black, responding to the report, “those who support gambling and those who oppose it. We have numerous campaign donations, and our books are open for all to see.”

On that day, Houston-based Maxxam Texas PAC, affiliated with Maxxam Inc., which owns Sam Houston Race Park, topped the list with a $50,000 donation. In all, 67 donors accounted for the total.

Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, said the timing of the gifts suggests the gambling interests tried to buy their way into the Legislature.

“It matters that his supporters who would profit most from gambling all seemed to reach him at the same critical time,” McDonald said. “I can’t say for sure that they influenced Perry, but it sure looks like it, or it at least deserves questioning. Why else would Perry support ideas even his own party doesn’t support?”

Now, I dislike Rick Perry as much as the next guy, but this is a bit of an overbid by Craig McDonald. Even in Tom DeLay’s Texas, there are disagreements within the Republican Party, and I’m not sure that I’d claim there’s a default party position on gambling. I don’t endorse gambling, and I certainly don’t endorse its use as a pillar of school funding, but I don’t see Perry’s position on gambling as being unusual in and of itself.

That said, it should be clear to anyone with two brain cells to rub together that these donations stink.

McDonald pointed out that the timing of the donations — more than a year and a half away from the gubernatorial election — makes them unusual.

Officials with Max-PAC and other donors, however, said their checks were run-of-the-mill contributions that they have given to candidates from both major parties in any given year. The timing was coincidental, they said.

“I suspect our check was submitted independently,” said Elizabeth Brumley, Max-PAC treasurer. “We just happened to cut a check that day.”

Harlan Crow, who owns a significant stake in Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, contributed $25,000 on Feb. 11. Lone Star Park President Corey Johnsen was one of the company’s officials who kicked in an additional $5,000.

“I wrote a check in support of something I believed in,” Johnsen said. “I don’t think it’s a case of us coming together as a group. If it was, I honestly can’t remember. I make a lot of donations, and I believe in writing a personal check as an individual to the person I’m supporting.”

Oh, please. I never cease to be amazed at how rational, profit-maximizing firms like Maxxam can claim to fling their money about willy-nilly, without any thought of or concern for a return on the investment when it comes to making political donations. If they really are that profligate with their campaign cash, their shareholders ought to rise up in revolt and demand better oversight. Either we admit there’s always quid pro quo when a corporation gives to a politician, or we risk having our brains fall out of our ears from believing there isn’t. I choose the former.

Texas Tuesdays on ActBlue

I’ve set up an ActBlue page for all of the Texas Tuesdays Congressional candidates (ActBlue is for federal candidates only, so no State Rep hopefuls). It’ll serve as a repository for links to the profile/interview posts that we’ve done and will do, and as a convenient entry point for making donations. Check it out and let me know what you think.

New frontiers in recruiting

Via Women’s Hoops and Off Wing Opinion comes this article from The Oregonian about how modern coaches are recruiting players to their college programs.

Pam Stackhouse spent a recent workday making phone calls, writing letters and sending e-mails lobbying high school basketball stars to consider playing for the University of Kentucky.

But when the women’s basketball assistant coach’s cell phone buzzed at 9 p.m., as she dined at a restaurant, she did not hesitate. She left her friends, sat in the lobby and tapped out a 15-minute text message conversation — “on my phone, click-click-click” — with Kentucky’s top prospect.

Stackhouse’s reasoning was stark: “If I don’t respond, then she’s going to text coach So-and-So at the other university.”

Burgeoning tales of coaches tethered to electronic gadgets have led to an unusual request. This week, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association recommended that the National Collegiate Athletic Association outlaw instant messaging and text messaging in recruiting.

The proposal came after extended discussion, with some coaches questioning why colleagues wanted to further restrict colleges’ already limited access to high school players. The NCAA already regulates face-to-face contacts between coaches and players, and limits coaches’ phone calls and visits.

Yet perhaps as remarkable as the women’s coaches’ debate about technology is that men’s coaches, often on the cutting edge of controversy, have barely addressed the issue.

I gotta say, banning a form of communication like this is sort of like banning certain kinds of campaign contributions. It’ll only work until someone figures out a way around it.

I’m also not sure what the rationale for banning IM contact between players and coaches is. Seems to me that the oversight types ought to be happy with this kind of development, since with IM and email, there’s a (virtual) paper trail to document any instances of recruiting violations. You’d be taking a much greater risk if you were to make an inapproriate promise to a recruit in this fashion since there’s no way at all you can erase your tracks. Heck, if I were an NCAA rules enforcer, I’d encourage this, and I’d push for the ability to do random audits of coaches’ communications with players. I’ll bet that would have a salutary effect.

The Democrats of Williamson County

It’s not easy being a Democrat in Williamson County these days.

With the Democratic National Convention set to unfold next week in Boston, the county’s Democratic candidates aren’t giving voters much to cheer about. Unlike decades past, when they dominated Williamson County’s political stage, only four Democrats who live here appeared on the March primary ballot and will be on the November general ballot.

And in a county with an estimated 300,000 people, the presidential primary in March — by which time Sen. John Kerry had all but sewn up the party’s nomination — drew a mere 8,152 Democrats to the polls, compared to three times as many Republicans.

Currently, Democrats don’t hold a single public office in this staunchly conservative county.

“This year, there are four of us either brave enough or stupid enough to stand up and say, ‘Let’s take on the monster and see what happens,’ ” said Jon Porter, a Cedar Park attorney and political newcomer trying to reach Congress.

To get there, he must defeat U.S. Rep. John Carter, a Central Texas Republican heavyweight who holds the District 31 congressional seat.

Porter, who calls the 62-year-old Carter the “grandfather” of the Williamson County Republican Party, said he ran because nobody else would.

“The myth that Williamson County is a Republican county has become a self-fulfilling prophecy because no Democrat candidates have stood up and run,” said Porter, 33. “So Williamson County is now a Communist county because we only have one party to choose from.” Melissa Irion, a Williamson County delegate to the national convention said she expects the John Kerry-John Edwards presidential ticket to attract Democratic voters at all levels.

“People want to have a say about the war in Iraq and about George Bush’s record,” she said. “People aren’t necessarily going to go to the polls for county commissioners, but once they’re there voting for John Kerry they’re going to say, ‘I want to make a change.’ ”

Porter has an uphill climb, if the hill in question is K2. Incumbent John Carter, who won 69% of the vote in the 2002 version of this district, has $279K on hand, while Porter reports twenty-two dollars. I certainly wish Jon Porter well, and for sure the Democrats are going to have to develop and nurture people like him in hostile environments like Williamson if they’re going to make any headway this decade, but I can’t say this is a race I’ll be watching.

If you’re into trendwatching, the Democrats’ high-water mark in 2002 in Williamson was John Sharp’s 39.74% of the vote. Kirk Watson was next best with 38.44%. John Carter’s opponent, David Bagley, drew 27.34% here, essentially matching his overall percentage. The best statewide performer in 1998 was Paul Hobby with 42.43%, followed by Sharp with 41.31%. In 2000, Bush beat Gore here 67.79% to 27.71%, a much wider spread than 1996 when Dole beat Clinton 55.37% to 36.34% (Perot got 7.41%). I’d put money on Bush matching his result this year, which would make Jon Porter’s hill a bit steeper if that were possible. (All data from the Historical Elections Index at the Secretary of State’s page.)

House Ethics Committee meets today

The House Ethics Committee meets today, and judging from the comments of Chairman Joel Hefley, it looks like they know how to stay bought:

“The so-called good government groups always want us to do an outside counsel,” said committee Chairman Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo. “I have never supported doing an outside counsel.

“This is an internal police mechanism for the House of Representatives,” Hefley said.

Well, at least he’s keeping an open mind about it. Taking On Tom DeLay has a RollCall.com article about this from earlier in the week. As a reminder, here’s what that notorious bastion of liberal orthodoxy the Dallas Morning News said about this:

Let’s say you get called for jury duty. It happens that the person on trial once gave you money. Would you expect to get picked for that jury?

Heck, no.

You’d expect to be sent home, pronto, and for good reason.

Even if you, as an upright and fair-minded citizen, could put the financial tie completely out of your mind, how could those of us looking on, who can’t get inside your head, be confident in your impartiality?

That’s essentially the situation in Washington, where Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas stands accused of unethical fund-raising practices. Four of the five Republicans on the committee investigating him have received money from his political action committee.

Indeed.

Badnarik in, Nader suing

Libertarian Party candidate for President Michael Badnarik will be on the Texas ballot in November.

Election officials announced Tuesday that the Libertarian Party has met the requirements to get its candidates on the November second ballot in Texas.

As a third party, the Libertarians were required to submit a petition with 45,540 signatures of registered Texans who did not vote in the GOP or Democratic primaries.

Secretary of State Geoff Connor said Libertarians produced more than 82,000 valid signatures.

Austin computer programmer Michael Badnarik is the Libertarian nominee for president.

Meanwhile, Ralph Nader gets his day in court today as he sues to get on the ballot as an independent.

Today (Thursday) at 9am, the Ralph Nader campaign is scheduled to appear in federal court (200 W. Eighth) in a lawsuit (Nader et al. v. Connor) charging that the Texas ballot access law is unconstitutional on three grounds:

The May 10 deadline for signatures, earlier than any other state, is unnecessary and discriminatory;

The requirement that independent candidates collect more than 64,000 signatures – nearly 20,000 more than the requirement for third party candidates – is also discriminatory; and

The accelerated schedule for independent candidates (60 days to collect signatures vs. 75 days for third parties) has the same effect.

In the AP wire story, Secretary of State Geoff Connor notes that other candidates have cleared this hurdle before:

The Texas ballot requirements for independent candidates have been in place for 20 years. Secretary of State Geoff Connor has noted that Reform Party candidates Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 and Pat Buchanan in 2000 managed to get on the Texas ballot as independents.

I suppose I don’t care if Nader makes it on to the Texas ballot or not. For all his windbaggery, he got 138,000 votes in 2000. That was 2.15% of the total, and to give a little perspective his statewide total would have sufficed to win all of 16 of the 30 Congressional races that year, with three of those wins having a margin of 8000 votes or fewer. He’s a nonentity, and I’d be willing to bet he won’t match that total this year. Let him waste time and energy pursuing ballot access here; it’s time and energy he’s not spending in states where it might matter.

UPDATE: Forgot to link to this profile of Michael Badnarik and how he got the LP nod. He certainly is, um, unconventional.

Badnarik believes that the federal income tax has no legal authority and that people are justified in refusing to file a tax return until such time as the IRS provides them with an explanation of its authority to collect the tax. He hadn’t filed income tax returns for several years. He moved from California to Texas because of Texas’ more liberal gun laws, but he refused to obtain a Texas driver’s license because the state requires drivers to provide their fingerprints and Social Security numbers. He has been ticketed several times for driving without a license; sometimes he has gotten off for various technical legal reasons, but on three occasions he has been convicted and paid a fine. He also refused to use postal ZIP codes, seeing them as “federal territories.”

Via Political Wire.

DriveDemocracy blog

New blog in town, from Drive Democracy, featuring “Drive Democracy Director Glenn Smith, former Texas Observer editor Geoff Rips, and one of Texas’ most experienced online activists, Nathan Wilcox” plus various Special Guest Stars. Their initial post is about economic opportunity and voter turnout. Check it out.