Friday, October 17, 2003

Booby Hatch

Another week, another scandal involving Nevada elected officials. This time, it seems to be rampant violations by state lawmakers of the federal Hatch Act. The New Deal-era law prohibits federal employees (and most state and local workers whose agencies receive federal funding) from participating in partisan politics. The act was originally designed to prevent low-level federal employees from being dragooned into campaign-related grunt work by political appointee bosses. More recently, it's become way to (potentially) de-politicize local bureaucracies.

The chief violator here is Nevada Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, who moonlights as a deputy chief at the Henderson Police Department. Or maybe it's the other way around. Anyway, in response to a complaint by local government vexer Knight Allen, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel ruled that Perkins can't be an assemblyman and a cop (Henderson gets several million bucks from D.C. each year) at the same time. Perkins plans to appeal, citing among other things the fact that the PD established a Hatch Act Compliance Program to ensure that Perkins' duties didn't violate the law. Wow. A law enforcement agency diverts taxpayer dollars and manpower to help one of its employees break, er, evade the law. To protect and to serve, my ass.

A hearing is set Monday to resolve the matter, and the city has hired the law firm of Akin Gump to state its case. Thursday, Perkins said he might pick up the tab for the appeal (no doubt in reponse to reporting by the Review-Journal here and here and these editorials here and here). And if this isn't bad enough, several other lawmakers appear to have Hatch Act troubles, too, including -- wait for it -- Wendell Williams.

To justify the claim that he was actually "working" at his city "job" during this year's Legislature and should have been paid, Williams filed documents stating that he spent two weeks helping the city establish a federally funded program to help ex-cons get jobs once they've paid their debt to society. A noble cause. But, oops -- any elected official who simultaneously served as a municipal employee procuring federal funds would clearly violate the Hatch Act; this is not even a close call. So, either Williams was falsifying his city timecards or he was breaking federal law. And why hasn't he been fired yet?

The other three state Assembly members -- all Democrats -- face Hatch Act queries as well. While all claim that they're exempt because they didn't "supervise" the disbursement of federal money, the language of the OSC ruling on Perkins is crystal-clear:

"It has long been established that an employee of a state or local agency is subject to the Hatch Act if, as a normal and foreseeable incident of his principal position or job, he performs duties in connection with an activity financed in whole or in part by federal funds. ... Hatch Act coverage is not dependent on the source of an employee's salary, nor is it dependent upon whether the employee actually administers the funds or has program or policy duties with respect to them."

Not much wiggle room there. Violators can be fined as much as two years' salary, but it's not clear to me who would pay that, the individuals or the agencies that hired them. Anyone know?

Baseball rant

As I decompress from the best and most infuriating postseason in my lifetime, a few thoughts:

Dusty Baker has the rare opportunity to become the next Bobby Cox: A fine manager who can get his team into the big dance and then never win the whole thing. At least Dusty's teams play with some passion.

Speaking of passion, how bout those Fighting Fish? Wednesday offered a true gut check for the four teams still in the playoffs. Boston had to start John "batting practice" Burkett because Tim Wakefield and Pedro Martinez said they were too tired to go. Meantime, in the NLCS, Jack McKeon's kids Brad Penny and Josh Beckett, both spent from recent starts, said, "Give me the ball." Penny pitched a shutout inning, and Beckett was lights-out for four innings. Reminds me of the way the postseason was played when I was a pup, when starters might go three games in a seven-game series, starters would pitch out of the pen the day after a start (say, the way Randy Johnson did when the D-Backs beat the Yankees) and everybody on the staff was expected to contribute if needed. You have all winter to rest.

Give McKeon all the credit in the world. He wanted to keep the bats of Miguel Cabrera, Mike Lowell and Jeff Conine in the lineup every day, so he stuck the 20-year-old Cabrera out in right field ... a position he had never played in his life. Cabrera responded by hitting three homers in the NLCS. Now that's the way to manage. I had completely forgotten that McKeon was aka "Trader Jack" years ago when he was the general manager of the San Diego Padres. In fact, he was the Padres' GM in 1984, the last year the Cubs made (and lost) the NLCS. Lesson for Chicago fans: If McKeon is on the opponents' payroll during the postseason, hang it up.

The Bosox's Grady Little (former manager of my beloved Durham Bulls) may be looking for work soon. When Giambi hit his second home run in the sixth inning, I was thinking, OK, Pedro has to come out. When he not only finished that inning but came out for the eighth, I said, OK, one baserunner and he's gone. When Little let Pedro stay out there until the game was lost, I wanted to pull an Elvis on the TV set. ARRGGHHH!

When did Joe Torre become a genius? Mind you, from all accounts he's a wonderful guy and a fine human being, but he has to be (ahem) the luckiest man on the face of the earth. He was an average manager at best with the Mets, the Braves and the Cardinals. He goes into the broadcast booth for a few years -- some of them with the Angels when I lived in SoCal, and he was damn good -- then gets the Yankees' job. Now he's ticketed for the Hall of Fame as a manager. (You could make a good case for him to make the HOF as a player; see Bill James' Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?)

Speaking of Bill James, here's this from his 1983 Baseball Abstract:

[T]his is one bandwagon [Joe Torre for manager of the year] that I'm definitely not jumping on. Torre managed the Atlanta Braves in 1982 very much the same way he managed the New York Mets for four years. He never did establish a starting rotation. He had a red-hot prospect in center field; the kid went into a slump and he gave up on him. He was indecisve, unreliable, continually trying to ride a hot hand. Maybe his style will fit the needs of the Atlanta organizatinon. [He was fired a year and a half after they won the National League West.] Casey Stengel never set up a starting rotation in hi life; he won the pennant in '57 with no pitcher who started more than 28 times. He never used a set lineup eithr; he was always shifting from one guy to the other. He lost big with this style in Brooklyn and Boston, but he posted the greatest record that any manager ever had with the Yankees. Maybe Torre's style just needed the right circumstances to be successful. I'll believe it when I see a little more of it.

This is one instance in which Steinbrenner's megabucks have indeed bought success. Torre can muck around with lineups and rosters (didn't McCarver say last night that the Yankees had used 20 different guys in relief?) because he has a $180 million payroll and has potential All-Stars atrophying on his bench who can step in when Joe gets impatient with the guys on the field.

The Yankees are also lucky in another, crucial way: They have Mo Rivera, the best, most dominant rubber-armed closer of all time. Torre can (and has) worked Mo like a Grand Canyon pack mule, and with few exceptions, he's responded every time. IMHO, any other closer who had been expected to work as long and as often as Rivera has since Torre got there in '96 would have broken down long ago, and the Yankees would have been an expensive, occasionally successful, but never dominant team. Oh, and Jeter's good, too.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Ahead of the curve?

Virginia Postrel (thanks for the plugs!) links to this Washington Times story, putting meat on the bones of the speculation (first offered here) that David Dreier might indeed challenge Barbara Boxer for the Senate next year.