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Reflections from the floor of Madison Square Garden. What political reformers could learn.

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

What political reformers could learn from the coaches I'd been interviewing

I'm always torn this time of year because if I don't email out my brackets by Tuesday I start getting lots of phone calls and texts asking where they are, but ... I also always get unsubscribes from the annual bracket email from political reformers who are simply annoyed by all the buzz about March Madness. So this year I will redirect you to click on my sports blog for the South, East, Midwest, and West Brackets.

While interviewing some of the greatest basketball people of all time in Madison Square Garden, I reflected on how intense and precise the planning it takes to be successful in high-level sports - and a couple of lessons that could translate to help frustrated Americans win grassroots reform.

Example 1. Listening to Shaka Smart admit the obstacles Marquette faced in some match-ups ("they presented some real problems for us with such a size advantage, so we had to ... to win), I could see how he took Marquette from 9th place forecast to Big East Champion and took VCU from outside the top 50 to the Final Four years ago in my childhood hometown of Richmond, VA.

Making sure to focus on realistic goals that will take extremely hard work can be accomplished.

What if instead Shaka and Big East Player of the year Tyler Kolek instead were so mad at the beginning of the year at being ranked 9th in the conference that they said, "Forget the Big East, we are actually going to schedule and beat the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks this year to show how underrated we are." Well, we would immediately conclude that was bonkers - since only 1% of all college players even make the NBA.

And yet, twice in the last year, I've seen a completely different set of reformers insist that a lot of time and effort be put into efforts that had no chance to succeed.

First, when I moved to Wisconsin in October of 2021, I immediately started receiving calls from out-of-state people telling me they had received information that the 2020 Wisconsin electors for Joe Biden would be decertified. In a combination of wet blanked and messenger who wanted to be shot, I responded that there was a zero percent chance that was going to happen - and yet the effort continued for months. I just wished the reformers were not being led down that path, since they also supported goals that could be accomplished such as drop boxes and voting before it was legal - or in Nevada mailing live ballots to millions of people on a flawed list.

Second, in January I was amazed at the number of people that told me a state legislature was going to pass instant runoffs into law in 2023. Again, anyone with any political contacts in that state could make just a few calls to be told firmly "that is dead on arrival," and yet reform efforts were absorbed in an effort to pass something that never was even going to be considered.

Example 2 . Don't make excuses, learn and improve strategies. The second half of what political reformers could learn from coaches is taking the blame when unsuccessful. Sadly, last week was my last chance to ask questions of one of the all-time great coaches Mike Anderson, and one of the all-time great players Patrick Ewing - as both were fired before I was on the floor celebrating the win. If political intel is bad and something was not going to happen, figure out what went wrong and change strategy - don't just "blame the ref" or the effort never improves.

Luckily, the main part of the weekend was a wild celebration as I was on the floor of Madison Square Garden for the 6th time after a Big East title, but for the first time, it was with student-athletes from my alma mater - Marquette. So be careful if my brackets are a bit biased this year.

But like Shaka Smart ringing up successes en route to being nominated for national coach of the year, or Tyler Kolek doing the same to be nominated as the top point guard in the country - let's focus on political reform successes and build on them.

For Take Back Our Republic Action you can find them on, but some building blocks include:

1. Our testimony in Indiana last week and the passage to a final floor vote of measures to stop local officials from violating state election laws, and requiring Voter ID for absentee ballots.

2. Taking on Facebook and winning at the FEC.

3. Exposing the completely unsecured process of ActBlue's method for sending billions into US elections.

4. Lobbying for and passing Georgia instant runoff for military overseas voters - the only instant runoff legislative success in the state's history.

5. Writing about the reason Nevada Final Five made sense as compared to New York-style ranked choice voting as air support for a great local campaign there that won a 52% to 48% vote.

6. Even in taking short leaves, breaking down traditional political barriers to win several races including the stunning Republican win in a majority-minority city, Shreveport, Louisiana.

Let's all act more like coaches and build on these wins, and learn from losses to enact real reform in the coming years to restore voters' confidence in our elections. In other words, let's act more like successful coaches.


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