Thursday, July 16, 2009

A ballgame is hardly controversial, except to those who always have complaints

It appears that Barack Obama was not the only Chicago politico who was in the stands on Tuesday for the baseball All-Star Game held in St. Louis.

Some pundits are trying to make an issue of the fact that several members of the General Assembly, including Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, got tickets and went to the game.

WHAT THEY ARE trying to claim is controversial is the fact that negotiations toward a state budget (which is 16 days overdue and counting) were taking place Tuesday during the day, and they were put on hold so that the legislators could leave the Statehouse to make the roughly 90-minute drive to downtown St. Louis for the ballgame.

I have a hard time getting worked up over this so-called controversy, mainly because I doubt it would have accomplished anything to have the legislators remain within the Springfield city limits Tuesday night, except to have them break for the night and have the individual legislators find a bar to hang out in for a few hours – possibly to watch the game on television.

It’s not like the sides were so close to a deal that there was any chance they would have reached agreement, then have the rank-and-file legislators themselves come in to vote to approve a plan that gives the state a budget.

Even if they had stayed in Springfield, we’d still have them returning to the Statehouse on Wednesday to continue their talks - which appear to have resulted in a budget deal for the next six or so months. I’m not sure I really see how any significant time was lost for negotiations by what has happened.

IN FACT, THE only people I can think of who seriously would have a gripe are those Springfield tavern owners who lost a chance to serve some alcoholic beverages to our legislators. They lost some business.

The bottom line is that our Legislature blew its deadline for approving a budget a month-and-a-half ago (this was supposed to be done by May 30).

They blew an absolute, problems will now occur no matter when the situation gets resolved, deadline a couple of weeks ago (the old fiscal year ended June 30).

The fact is that the state is now two weeks (and counting) into the current fiscal year without a budget in place. Whether the final budget proposal gets approved July 15 or July 16 really doesn’t matter any more.

OUR OFFICIALS BLEW it. Only this time, they don’t have the presence of Rod Blagojevich to blame for the inability of all the factions of state government to get their act together and figure out the plan by which the state will spend its revenue and serve the people.

People who are now trying to get all worked up over the fact that John Cullerton sat in the stands at Busch Stadium on Tuesday to see a ballgame sound to me like those who are trying to distract attention from their own screw-ups by trying to create a screw-up by someone else for people to observe.

It’s all a little silly.

Of course, I can remember people getting worked up back on April 13, 1992.

REMEMBER WHEN THE Chicago River sprang a leak and tunnels underground under the Loop became flooded? That was the date that the flood water reached the basements of downtown office buildings and department stores (remember the fish in Marshall Field’s?)

It was also Opening Day for the Chicago White Sox, and then-Gov. Jim Edgar was on hand for the festivities.

Despite the fact that he only stayed for about two innings before returning to his office to figure out how the state could help Chicago cope with one of the most bizarre floods in recorded history (rivers are supposed to overflow, not spring leaks), he got some criticism for not immediately jumping all over the Chicago River situation.

But Edgar wound up serving his two full terms as governor, and only the most hardcore conservative has any serious gripes about the man. Edgar’s Opening Day appearance (the White Sox beat the Seattle Mariners 1-0) is a minor footnote – and that is what ought to become of the fact that John Cullerton & Co. took advantage of the fact that the All-Star Game was played in a city close enough to the Illinois capital city that they could realistically go to the game and return home the same night.

IT’S NOT LIKE they had to hop a jet plane, or make the haul to Chicago (which at about a 4-hour drive is long enough that an overnight stay would be needed). They got back to work on the budget on Wednesday.

And as long as we’re on the All-Star Game (I’m an American League fan, so all is right with the world these days), I also think the people who are trying to make an issue of Obama’s “first pitch” are being absurd.

I honestly didn’t hear the “boos” that they kept referring to. I was listening for them, because I always expect political people to get heckled in a sports stadium (most people, including myself, follow baseball and go to ballgames to get away for a few hours from the realities of life).

Yet all I heard was the usual roar of a large crowd when they see something they recognize. There probably were a few “boos” in there, but I also heard cheers. And as far as the pitch itself, now we know why he became president, instead of a high-priced slugging outfielder for the White Sox.



Androcass said...

(Long-time reader, first-time commenter. I enjoy your blog, and generally agree with your take on things - of course, I say that right before I'm going to disagree with you, but such is the nature of the Web, I guess.)

Here's why it's a big deal:

1) Symbolism matters. We have a legislature that has neglected this issue time after time, has put it off and refused to do their job, and then we see members, at a critical time, taking time off to attend a baseball game. Mortal sin? Perhaps not, as you contend. But it certainly gives the appearance of a profoundly non-serious approach to the job at hand, and I understand people's disgust.

2) Additionally, the ability to score tickets denotes a kind of privilege that most of us will never know. I'm a baseball fan, but I have to face the reality that I'll likely never attend an All-Star Game. Cullerton, however, can just get tickets and go, demonstrating that he sees his office not as a responsibility but as a perk for a job, well, not well done. If he were doing the job, making Illinois a better state to live in, rather than spending his time engaged in unending brinkmanship, I might accept that his office comes with those advantages - but he's not, and neither are his colleagues, and I (and others) find that most distasteful.

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