1. What are the Reds going to do, if anything, about their pitching?
2. What is the University of Cincinnati is going to do, if anything, about men's basketball coach Bob Huggin?.
3. Who are the Republicans going to nominate in the special June 14 primary for the Second Congressional District seat recently vacated by Rob Portman?
Reds fans are almost uniformly apoplectic when talking about the team's abysmal performance so far this year. Offseason moves and the accompanying escalation of the team payroll led to hopes for a good season. In recent years, the Reds have had a strong, longball-laden offense and poor pitching. The result: Teams that held or hovered near the top of the National League Central Division until just after the All Star break and then, plummeted precipitately.
This year, in spite of seeming improvements in the pitching staff, that pattern has been broken. The offense is still formidable. But the pitching is atrocious, with only a few bright spots here and there. The result this year: The Reds are cellar-dwellers.
Many Reds fans are willing to part with some of the offensive cogs in the Sputtering Red Machine in exchange for some pitching that will provide "defensive support."
For the past several weeks, Reds general manager Dan O'Brien has issued escalating warnings that some players, giving no evidence of notching up their performances, might be expendable.
Attendance at the ballpark is showing the increasing frustration of the fans. This is saying something. The Reds are an ingrained part of this town's culture and it's probably safe to say that other than Saint Louis, Cincinnati has the most dedicated baseball fans in America.
In recent seasons, once it became clear that the Reds weren't going to the playoffs, the team engaged in wholesale horsetrading, referred to here as "fire sales." Those fire sales have brought some good pitching prospects into the Cincinnati farm system. Whether the organization deems it a good time to bring those young arms to the majors or they find veteran arms for which they can trade, I think that something is going to happen soon.
The same can't be said at the University of Cincinnati, where men's basketball coach Bob Huggins has pointedly not been offered an extension on a contract that has two years left on it.
Clearly, UC president Nancy Zimpher, an able and experienced educational administrator who recently came here highly touted, wants Huggins to go.
Huggins, a coach who put UC back on the map and whose program foots the bill for much of the university's athletic programs, doesn't want to leave.
For years now, the university has routinely offered to extend Huggins' contract. But he was suspended last year following a DUI conviction, the basis for which was documented in a frequently-broadcast police videotape. It was after that incident that the president indicated she wanted to review things before deciding whether to extend Huggins.
Still, Huggins did his time for his crime, so to speak, and it's doubtful that incident would have been enough to cause Zimpher to want the coach to be on his way. But there have been a number of other incidents during Huggins' tenure which, to some, indicate a program that is out of the coach's control.
In letting Huggins know recently that she would not extend his contract, Zimpher, who was supported by the university's board of trustees, was hoping that Huggins would resign and save her the trouble of firing him. But Huggins isn't going softly into that dark night. He had a press conference this week in which he said that he was going to coach at UC for the two years left on his contract.
Sentiment in this town seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of the guy people around her affectionately refer to as Huggs. I listened to a sports radio call-in show for quite awhile last week while doing some housecleaning. The host knew that he had a hotbutton issue and accused Zimpher of being a liar, seeing her forestalled decision on Huggins' status as making high school players the coach has recruited this spring the victims of a deception designed to lure them to UC under false pretenses. The host encouraged callers to engage in some nasty and base name-calling toward Zimpher. Many happily complied.
There's scuttlebutt in the neighborhoods all around town about this too.
The special congressional primary in June and the general election in August are occasioned by former Representative Rob Portman's appointment to be US Trade Representative. The Second District is safely Republican. Nonetheless, not only are 11 Republicans running, so too are seven Democrats.
The real race is among the GOP candidates, from whose number the next Representative will emerge.
There are really only three, maybe four, viable candidates: Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine; State Representative Tom Brinkman; former Representative Bob McEwen; and former State Representative Jean Schmidt.
The district covers portions of several counties and the percentage of the district population in Hamilton County (where Cincinnati is the county seat) has shrunk dramatically in recent years. This potentially creates opportunities for someone from outside of Hamilton County to be elected.
But at present, DeWine must be seen as the frontrunner. He has a proven track record of winning elections in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, he has the name recognition that goes with being the son of Ohio's senior US Senator, and access to lots of campaign money. After weathering a scandal in his primary battle to become county commissioner last year, DeWine has probably left the questions raised by that situation behind him.
Brinkman will have solid support for his crusades against taxation and has recently received the endorsement of a major gun advocacy group.
Schmidt is the only candidate from Clermont County, the population of which has increased dramatically in recent years. She is a formidable fund raiser. She also will have solid support from the pro-life movement. But last year, in her bid to move from the State House of Representatives to the State Senate in Columbus, Schmidt lost the Republican primary narrowly, mostly because she lost in her home county. The county Republican Central Committee, which endorsed her in last year's primary for the State Senate, has also endorsed her in this race.
Every time I see the amounts of money raised and spent in these campaigns, it makes me sick. Think of how much good could be done with the money generated in these campaigns. And what, exactly, do these donors think they're buying when they make their campaign contributions?
I don't blame candidates who are only dealing with a system they had nothing to do with establishing. But the need for change not only in our laws, but in our attitudes about politics, government, and public office is obvious. Meritocracy has never existed in this fallen old world. And ultimately, who among us can claim to be truly meritorious?
But do we have to continue suffering under the politics of the highest bidder?
UPDATE: Chip Taylor at Miscellany has some insightful observations on why people contribute to political campaigns here. Chip has lots of interesting things to say on his blog.