Monthly Archives: January 2016

Political Lessons from Hockey

I am a native of Finland, so hockey is my sport of choice.

Over the last 20 or 30 years, the United States has made impressive gains in international hockey. When the “Miracle on Ice” happened in the 1980 Olympics, the U.S. was far from a hockey powerhouse. That is one reason why the victory over the mighty Soviet team was such a big deal. Since 1980 things have changed significantly. The number of American-born players in the National Hockey League has risen significantly, and in today’s international hockey tournaments the U.S. is always considered one of the favorites.

So what happened to enable the rise of American hockey? While I am not the foremost expert on the topic, two factors jump out at me. First, the NHL has significantly expanded its presence in the U.S., from the traditional hockey areas in the Northeast and Upper Midwest to all over the country, including the not-so-wintry states of Florida (2 teams), California (3 teams), and Texas (1 team). The spread of hockey to these new areas has brought a greater number of youth to the game. Besides the geographic expansion, USA Hockey—the primary organization promoting youth and amateur hockey in the country—has focused on reaching out to non-traditional groups and areas.

Note that both of these factors relate to expanding the reach of hockey. As you grow the pool of potential hockey players, the available talent pool expands as well. As a result, American hockey teams in all age groups have become stronger and more competitive, and more American players reach the highest level of the game.

What is the political lesson in all this? – As with most things with me, it all comes back to the role the incumbent slates play in Maryland politics. When an election is rigged by an incumbent slate, fewer potential candidates are willing to throw their hat in the ring. Why bother with the significant effort when the election is decided by incumbent politicians behind closed doors?

As long as we let incumbent slates pick our elected officials, we are hurting ourselves by shutting out top talent from the system. If we want a top-notch political team, we need to expand the pool of potential candidates by providing truly competitive elections—especially in the lower ballot “entry-level” races.

Letting incumbent politicians decide our elections is like a youth hockey coach reaching out only to his closest friends to find kids for the team. It is no way to build a talented and successful team.