Chaminade. What is it? Does it taste like chicken. Is it Justin Bieber’s new song? University of Virginia basketball fans are cringing as I write this. Anyone reading this in Charlottsvile, Virginia is shaking his head, cursing and calling his therapist for an emergency consultation. It’s indeed an epic tale.
On December 23, 1983, the University of Virginia basketball team was on vacation. To say that UVA was pretty good that year is like saying that Usain Bolt is pretty quick. They were being described as one of the best basketball teams in history. Led by 7’4″ center, Ralph Sampson, who had previously been the NCAA’s player of the year, not once; not twice; but three times, they had mowed through a non conference schedule full of elite competition.
As you may know, the NCAA will not allow a member school to send its basketball team on vacation. It does allow a member school to go to Hawaii and play a game. Against an NAIA team. This is pretty much the same thing as allowing the New England Patriots to scrimmage against your local junior high school team. In other words, go to Hawaii, hit the beach, eat some poi, run around with leis on your extremely high necks and scrimmage the Chaminade University Silverswords hoping that none of your starters slips on a stray slice of pineapple from the buffet table. A funny thing happened on the way to Waikiki beach however.
The Chaminade Silverswords defeated the Mighty Virginia Cavaliers on December 23, 1983 by a score of 77 to 72. Most sports fans consider this the biggest upset of all time. We all know upsets happen. They happen every year in every sport. We all love March Madness where in the NCAA tourney, we can watch a team like George Washington University make a deep run in the NCAA basketball tourney. In football we cheer when Appalachian State University defeats the mighty Michigan Wolverines. In baseball, millions were spellbound in 1991 when the “worst to first” Minnesota Twins defeated the “worst to first” Atlanta Braves in a seven game World Series many baseball pundits consider the greatest World Series of all time. Americans love an underdog whether in sports or politics as every election has its upsets. And we love them.
In 2014, Eric Cantor, then House Majority Leader lost in a stunning defeat to an Economics Professor named Dave Brat. Losing to someone name “Brat” added insult to injury no doubt,and not one pundit or pollster predicted this amazing upset. Cantor had all the money in the world with which to run his race and seemed well liked in his district. His district simply decided it was time for a change, and just like that, the House Majority Leader was gone. In 2012, North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp defeated State Representative Rick Berg, who led by six points in the polls, to win a Senate seat in North Dakota. In 2010, Representative Solomon Ortiz, from Texas, in a 71 percent Hispanic district, lost to Republican Blake Farenthold whose only claim to fame was attending a lingerie party in blue ducky pajamas. The (hopefully) embarrassing pictures weren’t enough to prevent a Farenthold victory over 14 term incumbent Hispanic, Ortiz. That Texas district simply felt a change was necessary and made it.
As election season is upon us here in 2016, those of us who are political junkies wonder where the next upset will come. Which district will wake up on Election Day and just decide to make a chang? You can’t predict that. Vegas won’t give you odds, so instead, I will give you four races to watch where you could see anything from a mild upset to one that registers on the Richter Scale of politics.
One of the most interesting candidates for my money is the wonderfully named Zephyr Teachout. Terry Teachout, one of my favorite music writers of all time, who is now the Drama Critic for the Wall Street Journal, among other positions, bears the same last name, which is why I was drawn to Ms. Teachout when I saw her name in a Bernie Sanders posting I viewed about a year ago in the primary election. She fascinates me.
Ms. Teachout is a law professor at Fordham University. She met Bernie Sanders when she had just graduated from college and was living with her sister in a trailer on 50 acres of land. She and her sister bush hogged the property for rent. She saw in the paper that there was a lecture on NAFTA nearby and attended with about a dozen other folks. She was smitten with politics and the rest is history as they say. She is running for Congress in New York’s 19th Congressional District against former New York Assembly Man John Faso. Faso is a lobbyist whose firm was once banned from appearing in front of the State Public Pension Fund for improper conduct. That says a lot right there.
The latest polls show him leading Ms. Teachout by one point, within the margin of error. Watch Ms. Teachout’s ads. She absolutely seems like the kind of person you want to sit down and drink a beer with and eat nachos and discuss the TPP. Down to earth and smart as a whip. Senator Sanders has said she would be the BEST member of the House when elected. Listen to her speak and you will agree with me that she is someone with the skills to become another Elizabeth Warren.
The Senate race in North Carolina is the next one for your consideration. Duke Law Professor Deborah Ross is running against incumbent Richard Burr. Ms. Ross is a Duke University Law Professor and former State ACLU chairperson. Currently this race is rated a toss up. Burr is a more moderate Republican who is well liked on both sides of the isle in DC. He is currently caught up in North Carolina’s noxious anti LGBT law which is causing all manner consternation.
Ms. Ross is an unabashed progressive and her possible election would be the first election of a progressive in a Southern state since Al Gore in Tennesee (although he equates more to Tim Kaine). There is a good chance of this because of the North Carolina electorate’s distaste for the current Republican Governor who is still promoting the LGBT discriminative statute. Amazingly enough, Senator Burr is not running a very hard race much to the dismay of the Republican Party which is spending an enourmous amount of money on this race. Even with all the money Burr has this is a toss up race. This is a race to watch for what it means to Southern politics.
Jesse T. Smith is also a Southern politician in the Third District of Alabama. A long time military man and Department of Defense employee, he is running against incumbent Republican Mike Rogers. Congressman Rogers has been in office for more than a decade and like Burr is also well liked. While not a significant national player, he works for his district.
Smith began his fight for Congress after receiving a response from Congressman Rogers to a letter he had written to him. Smith was unhappy with his response and decided that he would run for office. That is the type of action that should take place routinely. Instead of cursing at the actions of political figures, wouldn’t it be a better response to run against them? I think James Madison and Thomas Jefferson would smile and say that’s the America we envisioned!
Also a progressive, Smith wants to bring back the jobs lost when the textile industry left the District after disastrous trade deals such as NAFTA came into law. He also wants to do more for veterans in the district. It’s a tough race he is in but it is not dissimilar to that in North Carolina.
In the last election, President Obama received the votes of EIGHT percent of white males in Alabama. If you wanted to volunteer for President Obama in Alabama in the last election you were instructed to go to a parking lot. There, a bus picked you up and you were driven to Pensacola, Florida to go knock on doors and hand out leaflets. To the Democratic Party, Alabama is a lost cause. An Independent voter in Alabama spends much time praying to St. Jude. Smith’s resources are small as the National party has this view. Why does he have a shot?
The state of Alabama has always had corrupt politicians. Only Louisiana is more corrupt. There a former Governor said he would only be voted out of office if he were found in bed “with a live boy or a dead girl.” He was right too. Recently the Alabama snake pit of corruption and graft has boiled over. The Republican Speaker of the State House of Representatives was convicted of corruption by a State Court. The Republican Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court was just thrown off the Court for the SECOND TIME, this time for instructing State Courts to ignore the Order of the United States Supreme Court validating gay marriage. To top it off, Alabama’s Governor was caught on tape having, what to a 70 year old dermatologist thinks of as “phone sex” with his also married paramour. (He stated he loved feeling her “big breasts’ with his hands.”) He is facing impeachment if the legislature can ever figure out what to do. I dare say he should be impeached for not knowing how to have more appropriate phone sex if for no other reason. Could this be the year the Alabama electorate is finally fed up and votes to “throw the rascals out”
Smith’s district is 65 percent white. Smith is African American. Could a extra large black turn out and half the white majority vote to throw the Republicans out of office? We will see in about a month.
For my last race to watch, I offer for your consideration, the singular case of Ryan Solen. Mr. Solen is running against another Ryan – Paul Ryan- for Congressman in the First Congressional District of Wisconsin. Paul Ryan is of course Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and possibly the most exalted figure in the Republican Party. I must admit that I enjoy asking my hard core Republican friends what Mr. Ryan has done to deserve such heady reverence. They are stuck for answers.
Congressman Ryan’s most significant accomplishment is writing a budget plan sometime back. It has not been passed into law. He was also a failed Vice Presidential candidate. Despite his lack of accomplishments, he is nonetheless regarded as the great white hope who will eventually save the Republican Party from going the way of the Whigs. I suppose, the ability to put something into writing is an accomplishment for the modern Republican Party. I digress.
Mr. Solen is also a former military officer and Iraq war veteran. His platform contains a call for term limits on all Congressmen and Senators. Right there he would get an intelligent person’s vote. The revolving door between the K Street lobby and Congress would have a difficult time operating efficiently if our elected officials knew they had to go back to “real life” after a period of time. They might actually vote for laws that would help citizens in the long term as opposed to merely lining their reelection accounts for their next election. Mr. Solen has a tough road, but there are positive signs.
A recent poll found only 54 percent of the electorate viewed Mr. Ryan favorably. ONLY 54 percent view the Speaker of the House and savior of the party favorably? That is NOT a good number. When 56 percent of the people in the United States view the President of the United States favorably and only 54 percent of your district likes you, President Obama’s chief critic, there is something afoot! I would suspect that Eric Cantor would have had at least as good a number as that before he lost in his primary. Could Ryan be “Cantored” by Mr. Solen in the general election?
Those are the four races I’m watching. Your mileage may vary. I encourage all to watch these down ballot races. They may not have the spark and sizzle of this insane Presidential race, but they are just as important to our democracy. I can’t wait for November 8 and see who becomes the next Chaminade. If you still think it can’t happen, let me close with this. Vegas had David as a 19 1/2 point underdog to Goliath. How did that turn out? Find out on November 8.