Christopher Swope was GOVERNING's executive editor.E-mail: email@example.com
There's fantasy baseball, fantasy football and fantasy basketball. And if you scrape around the internet a bit, you'll find that there's even fantasy lacrosse, fantasy water skiing and -- my favorite -- fantasy curling.
Well brace yourselves. Now there's fantasy legislating.
The idea comes to us from the good folks at Minnesota Public Radio, whose statehouse reporters in St. Paul must be getting bored of their beat. Or more valiantly, as online editor Bob Collins told the Star Tribune, MPR is trying to get people "more engaged in the legislative process."
How does it work? According to the rules, 40 teams draft six legislators each. Your team rises and falls based upon how prolific, in a lawmaking sense, your reps and senators are. You score points when one of your picks introduces a bill (1 point), gets it heard in committee (5 points), pushes it to the House or Senate floor (15 points), and so on. The sliding scale tops out at 100 points, which you can only score if your player gets a bill passed, vetoed by the governor and overridden by both houses of the legislature. Huzzzah! Unfortunately for all of us wonks, registration for 2007 is closed.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by this development. Politics is already stuffed with lame sports analogies--horse races, slam dunks, moving goal posts and too many others. And obsessive number crunching is endemic to both pasttimes. Some people know from memory what percentage of the vote John Kerry won in Missouri in 2004. Others can tell you Albert Pujols' slugging percentage from the same year. In fact, I'll bet there's a good bit of crossover between those two groups of people, judging from a few sports/politics junkies I know.
Fantasy leagues are good for sports. In the era of free agency, rooting for a favorite team has lost its meaning. Pro sports teams these days are little more than groupings of overpaid strangers who happen to be wearing the same uniform. Star players are the real franchises, and the popularity of fantasy leagues only reflects that reality.
I'm not sure that this concept translates so neatly to politics, however. For one thing, as MPR openly acknowledges, there's flaws in the methodology. Making many laws does not necessarily make a good lawmaker. It's not unimportant. But constituent service matters. Social skills matter. Negotiating skills matter. Communications skills matter. You can't quantify these things. I'm not sure how many bills Barack Obama got to the floor of the Illinois Senate in his days there, but I do know this: whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, you'd want him on your fantasy team.
Still, you have to love any effort to make state government more interesting to more people. I hope MPR releases the results of this experiment. It would be interesting to know whether fantasy legislating is a brilliant tool for engaging the public--or if it's merely one more way for a few insiders to measure who's winning and who's losing at halftime.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.