Monday, May 5, 1997


This past week I found out I am just as effective public speaker as I am a softball player. It was a week that will go down in the annals as containing both the Monday Night Debacle and the Wednesday Night Massacre. I'll let the witnesses testify which one had to do with what looks like will be a regular event this summer- my softball team's weekly lopsided loss.

But on that other night I would just as soon forget, I made my way to the Woodbury City Hall Conference Rooms A and B and proceeded to endure for the next hour what only seemed like being stabbed by a hundred steaming cattle prods. The topic of the presentation was Election Process Safeguards and the audience was the Republican Sixth Congressional District.

First off my speech pattern took a rather eclectic twist; I for some reason spoke in sentences where the predicate consistently preceded the subject. Thus it sounded: "The state voter registration system we use." and "The registration card of the voter we check..." Technically those are acceptable sentences but string twenty of them together and it sounds positively Yoda like. "Ask away your questions, I'll do my best to answer..."

And having prepared for my speech by heavy research and focus on dealing with the topic and my own nerves, it never really occurred to me that I would be speaking to a group that wasn't exactly sympathetic to the ideas put forth. The first question asked was why we don't require all voters to show a form of picture identification before receiving their ballot. Harking back to last fall's elections all I could remember was the anger of the many calls we dealt with regarding someone having difficulty meeting the necessary requirements to register because they didn't have a current driver's license. Now I was in a room full of people who wanted to make it tougher for people to vote (imagine how much more time and thus longer lines if election judges had to thoroughly picture identify every one signing the election roster).

Apparently the group was convinced voter fraud is a major problem in Minnesota. Rather than trying to figure out ways to increase voter participation and turnout- admittedly a primary focus of most election officials- this group wanted tougher laws in guaranteeing that only the finest upstanding citizens are allowed to vote. Perhaps their concerns are legitimate, perhaps voter fraud is running rampant in our elections. Skeptics might say however that lower voter turnout is beneficial to the Republicans because statistics show more registered voters are DFL'ers. On top of that the majority of unregistered voters probably aren't the rich suburban types looking for this year's tax break, but rather the poor, the under and uneducated, the type of person who one doesn't immediately associate with the Republicans. A person like the homeless guy that came to our counter last fall and complained because he didn't have an address he couldn't vote, yet because he owned a parcel of land he was still paying taxes. Didn't seem quite fair.

So as I did my best to answer while at the same time ducking from the many pointed questions being thrown my way, I kept trying to tell myself those words once passed along by a kind soul: "that which doesn't kill you can only make you stronger." And actually it was good to see people impassioned about the political process, people who do care how the system works rather than the usual apathy I see.

And then I stood there on another night of the week with the cold howling through my ears as I tried my best to chase down pop flies swirling in the wind, I couldn't help but wonder what the summer holds in store. Life is like the highest of skied balls, the sudden upward trajectory can be strangely fulfilling but in the end, that damn thing is always going to come speeding down. As a hitter there is a momentary frustration after one hits a pop up, but that's followed by the slimmest ray of hope that the fielder will somehow screw up and the ball will fall even though that usually doesn't happen. As a fielder the arc is entirely different- the moment the ball is hit there is a momentary increase in the heart's beat followed by the return of confidence as you camp under the ball. But you don't want to get cocky. You want to watch that ball all the way into your glove because you never know when you have grossly misjudged things. All this came to me too late. If I'm ever asked to speak in front of that group again I'll be sure to use my metaphorical anecdotes. You can count on it (but just don't rely too heavily on the accuracy of that count).

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