Friday, October 29, 2004

May I Have Your Attention (Please)

We usually stay away from the controversial world of politics here at Twins Chatter, and for good reason. For some reason, while people will tolerate my thoughts and musings on baseball, they are always perturbed when I (or my fellow baseball bloggers) delve into the realm of politics. I can’t really explain exactly why this is, but I’m willing to accept it. That is, until today.

Today, inspired by Greet Machine’s informative voter’s guide and a recent article in the Strib, I decided I would take a chance. As you all know, election day is next Tuesday. Tensions are running high, as a number of close races (national, statewide, and local) will be decided. There are a great number of issues to be considered—education, Social Security, foreign policy, taxes, abortion—the list goes on and on. But if you’re a Twins fan and a Minnesota resident (sorry out-of-state readers) I would like to remind you of one other issue that you need to consider before you make your choices next week: a potential stadium for our Minnesota Twins.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but we all know how desperately the Twins need a new venue. With Olympic Stadium no longer in use, the H.H.H. Metrodome is now undoubtedly the worst ballpark in the major leagues. I know many of us have fond memories of the place; two World Series championships, numerous playoff games, scores of memorable performances. But it is simply a terrible place to watch a baseball game. The sightlines are poor, the lighting is obtrusive, the seats are uncomfortable, and most importantly, it is indoors! And atmosphere? Forget about it. Baseball was meant to be played out-of-doors, and it is a crying shame that an entire generation of Minnesota baseball fans have never seen a game in an actual major league stadium.

The stadium debate has been raging since 1997, and there have been many ups and downs along the way (mostly downs obviously). Below is a brief timeline of the stadium issue in Minnesota, provided by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library:

1997 - 11 bills are introduced in the Minnesota Legislature regarding a new professional baseball stadium and a special session is called to debate the issue. Nothing passes. Joint bipartisan Stadium Task Force formed.
1998 - Twins owner Carl Pohlad attempts to sell team to North Carolina businessman Don Beaver. Charlotte voters reject a new stadium.
1999 - The legislature proposed to create public ownership of the Twins, but nothing passed. Minneapolis and St. Paul generate competing proposals to build a professional baseball stadium. A St. Paul referendum on the issue fails on November 2, 1999.
2000 - New Ball Park Inc., a group of downtown Minneapolis business leaders, works to find private money to finance a ballpark. Minnesota Twins announce the creation of Minnesotans for Major League Baseball, a citizen committee to address keeping the franchise permanently in Minnesota.
2001 - An 18-member Stadium Task Force prepared recommendations for the 2002 Legislature to address stadium concerns of the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, and the University of Minnesota.
2002 - The existence of the Twins is threatened by Major League Baseball contraction plans. The legislature passes House File 2214, providing state financing for a $330 million stadium in St. Paul. The Twins turn down St. Paul's plan.
2003 - Governor Pawlenty sets up a Stadium Screening Committee to provide information, analysis and advice in making a professional stadium proposal for the 2004 legislative session. The Committee's Final Report published February 4, 2004.
2004 - Stadium bills are introduced, fail to pass

What can one glean from all those “events”? In short, the Twins have spent a whole lot of time and money to accomplish nothing. While there have been periods of hopefulness (last winter comes to mind), the Twins will begin their new stadium campaign pretty much from scratch this year. At least stadium campaigning is now old hat for Jerry Bell and the Twins’ brass.

Obviously, I’m staunchly pro-stadium (which, despite what some naysayers would tell you, doesn’t mean I’m “against the children”). I don’t care how it gets done, I just want my favorite team to have a decent stadium where I can go watch them play. But it’s not that simple for the vast majority of Minnesotans. I recently e-mailed my local state representative Ray Cox (who happens to live just down the street) about this very issue, and here is how he responded:

Thanks for your message. I suspect the reason you may hear conflicting things on a Twins stadium is because there are several different plans out....some people support one plan, others all plans.
I can support a Twins stadium as long as it does not use any general tax dollars. I don't want to have people in Winona, Warroad, or Mankato pay tax dollars for a Twins stadium if they never go to the stadium. I have no problem with a variety of funding plans such as ticket taxes, tax on sports items, rental cars, etc. to pay for a stadium. I also don't have problems with using some type of tax increment financing to assist a stadium.
Bottom line, as long as the Twins bring in a plan that doesn't consume general tax dollars I will be happy to support it."

Mr. Cox sums the argument up quite well here. I firmly believe this is the way most people feel about this issue, citizens and legislators alike. This begs the question: why hasn’t anything been done? To be honest, it baffles me. I’m tempted to believe the problem lies in our legislative system. Per the nature of American democracy, it is (by design) difficult to get anything done quickly in a legislative branch. Things move so slowly (balancing the budget, funding programs, etc.) that there is often little/no time to discuss more frivolous issues such as a stadium. Thus, even when it is generally agreed upon that something must be done, there isn’t enough time left before the end of the legislative session to approve a viable and acceptable plan. Will 2005 be the year that this changes? Perhaps, but somehow I doubt it.

Please keep in mind that I am not trying to convince you to vote for one candidate over another on Tuesday. I am just trying to bring to your attention this issue, and perhaps shed a little light on it in the process. Perhaps you are on the fence about a certain candidate — e-mail them and ask about their views on the stadium issue. Let your local legislator know that you a constituent who wants something to get done. Make your voice heard both on Tuesday and in the future.

Most importantly, think about watching a Twins game on a warm July evening, as the ball soars beyond the fence and disappears into the beautiful night’s sky.

May that dream some day come true.