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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, April 17, 2000

Athletes don’t make
the cut in politic game

RUSS Francis seems intent on becoming Hawaii's Jesse Ventura. He ran for City Council against Andy Mirikitani and lost, barely. Now he is running for U.S. House of Representatives against Patsy Mink, which is going to make his tangle with Mirikitani look like a Nerf Ping Pong match.

Why perfectly nice sports figures are drawn into the brutal world of elected office, I don't understand. There are several former professional sports figures in Congress, the most notable recently being Bill Bradley, the Lurch-like basketball player. Bradley is a good guy with a noble heart who had no business running for president.

To run for president you have to have the temperament of a rabid Chihuahua, scruples of a pimp and conscience of a Colombian hit man. Bradley, the big, lovable lunk, had none of those qualities. That's why Al Gore punk-slapped him from one end of the country to the other during the primaries. If you could ever get Gore liquored up enough for him to show his true personality, it would be quite a show. Inside that Brooks Brothers shell is ruthless, cold-blooded leg-breaker.

Jesse Ventura was a professional wrestler who accidentally also had a brain. At least enough of a brain to convince a bunch of people in one of those large and largely empty states at the top of the map to elect him governor. What was it, Montana? North Dakota? Who cares? A part-time park caretaker can run any of those states. You spray Roundup along the roads, empty the dumpsters and talk to Larry King. Big deal.

NEVERTHELESS, Ventura's behind this sudden jock interest in politics and Russ Francis is our latest homegrown aspirant. As a pro football player, Francis was fast and had great hands. As an end, he'd jump up into the air to catch the football knowing that some guy would be smashing him in the gut like a pinata. That takes either guts or a complete disinterest in one's well being or both.

In other words, it is sort of like running for elective office. Especially if your opponent is an incumbent, meaning he or she already has a proven ability to rip someone's head off with no more care than twisting the cap off a beer bottle. Sweet, smart and diminutive Mink doesn't look like a bruiser, but trust me, she'll pop Francis like a pimple if he's standing between her and Capitol Hill.

Mink is one of the most liberal representatives in Congress. And that's saying something. She's for all the socialized causes and probably for repealing two or three of the more pesky Constitutional amendments. I haven't heard her position on Elian Gonzalez, but she's probably not only in favor of sending him back to Cuba, but also having the U.S. government provide universal health care for his entire Havana family, if not all of Havana.

But Russ Francis shouldn't confuse liberal do-gooderism with weakness. Mink may not be built like a linebacker but she's got the instincts of one.

I'm sure Francis is hoping Hawaii voters realize that having a left-wing representative in a right-wing Congress is like having Arnold Palmer run the football against the Dallas Cowboy defensive line. But with all-pro pol Dan Inouye still pulling in gobs of money for Hawaii, voters don't seem to care that players like Mink and Neil Abercrombie rarely even get in the game.

In any case, to beat Mink, Francis better have some great plays in his playbook. And I mean something other than a Hail Mary.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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