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CAPITOLIZING ON FANTASY SPORTS GAME ON FOR POLITICAL JUNKIES.

Byline: LISA FRIEDMAN Washington Bureau

Growing up in Denver, Andrew Lee was the only Chinese-American student in his middle school. Concerned that her son wouldn't learn about his heritage, his mom would often bring home movies that she thought would help enlighten him.

One day, she got Lee the mystery-thriller ``Chinatown.'' Well, the movie of course taught Lee very little about his Chinese heritage. But its tale of a vast conspiracy of government corruption piqued Lee's interest in politics.

And now, after a series of internships in Washington, D.C., the 21-year-old Claremont McKenna College senior is piquing interest among political wonks around the globe with his creation of a new online political game modeled after fantasy sports games such as football.

``Politics reminds me of sports. There are a lot of similarities,'' said Lee, who with three other Claremont McKenna students created the site. ``We're hoping this will get more people educated and into Congress, and make it a little exciting.''

Less than two months old, FantasyCongress.com already has logged more than 600 players from Los Angeles to Denmark eager to draft their fantasy congressional teams and watch them ``play.''

As in fantasy sports games, each player drafts a real-life team -- in this case, lawmakers form the team rather than football or baseball players.

Players choose 16 legislators -- a dozen from the House and four from the Senate -- and are required to pick politicians from across the power spectrum.

Players earn points depending on their legislators' success in introducing bills and shepherding them through the legislative process to the president's desk.

The site uses a massive database, updated daily, to track legislation moving through Congress and reflect the progress of real legislators passing real legislation.

And as in fantasy sports games, some on a team are more successful than others, so Fantasy Congress also allows players to trade politicians on a team's active lineup.

With strategy playing a key role -- and with the recent Democratic takeover of both the House and Senate during last week's midterm elections -- some potential players likely are holding off on their picks.

Kiko Ochoa, a 28-year-old Pasadena lawyer, is one of those waiting to see how the political field will shape up.

Initially, Ochoa wanted to pick his favorite lawmakers, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Los Angeles Democrat Henry Waxman.

But in a Republican-controlled Congress -- where GOP leaders decide which bills live or die -- Waxman has been able to earn just 255 points, ranking him 105th among House members. Pelosi, meanwhile, ranks 213th.

Those rankings could go up, however, now that the Democrats have won control of the House.

``It really is like sports. You have your own personal favorite team and players, and you don't want to root against that team, but if somebody else is going to score you more points, you draft them,'' Ochoa said.

``What's the point of drafting now? The whole thing might change.''

Michael Szeto, a senior at Polytechnic High School in Pasadena, has already chosen his lineup and said he chose more along party lines.

Szeto, a Democrat, has only one Republican on his team: Sen. John Warner of Virginia. But Warner also happens to be the top-ranking Fantasy Congress lawmaker with 1,991 points.

Still, Szeto said he made the pick because Warner helped lead the GOP opposition to President George W. Bush's plan for prosecuting suspected terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay.

Also on Szeto's team are Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who last summer sponsored the 17-year-old as a page.

``You gotta pick the boss,'' Szeto said, adding that Feinstein's also a solid pick. ``She's probably the busiest woman in the Senate.''

That may explain why Feinstein also is the highest-scoring Democrat in the entire Congress, coming in 10th with 1,508 points.

Both Feinstein's aides and the game's creators attribute her score to her ability to work with Republicans and get bills passed.

``She got a number of significant pieces of legislation passed this Congress,'' said Howard Gantman, a spokesman for Feinstein.

On the bottom end of picks among the California delegation is Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-City of Industry, who ranks second to last at 542nd with only six points.

Napolitano spokesman Jeremy Cogan pointed out that a lawmaker's effectiveness can be measured in several other ways that the game -- which focuses solely on legislation -- does not capture.

A lawmaker's overall influence, Cogan noted, also rests on elements such as constituent services, committee rank or the ability to get language inserted into a bill quietly, without even having to go through the legislative process.

``Some of these things can be calculated. Some things aren't really calculable,'' he said.

The game's creators said they agree and plan to beef up the game with new measurements. For now, however, House Speaker Dennis Hastert -- who wields momentous political power but passes few bills -- ranks 306th with 146 points.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, by comparison introduced nine bills and passed one naming a post office in Reseda after UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. That ranked him higher than Hastert with 152 points.

Meanwhile, other local lawmakers who work largely behind the scenes -- such as Rep. Howard Berman, D-Van Nuys -- also earn few points for players.

Berman, who has only 53 points, rarely introduces bills and often engineers a Republican to carry legislation he wrote so that it stands a better chance of passing the GOP-controlled House.

Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College who served as an adviser to the game creators, said its purpose is not to gauge the quality of members of Congress.

``It is not a rating system. It's a game,'' Pitney said. ``You can't use this as a way of measuring the quality of members of Congress. You can use it as a way of getting people interested and getting people thinking about what members of Congress do.''

Lee said he hopes high schools and colleges use the game to teach students how Washington works.

Ochoa said that's exactly what a friend who's a political science professor in New Mexico plans to do.

In the meantime, he said he and his political junkie pals are berating themselves for not coming up with the idea first.

``Our first thought was, `Why didn't we think of this?'''

lisa.friedman(at)langnews.com

(202) 662-8731

CAPTION(S):

4 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Claremont McKenna College students Arjun Lall, from left, Andrew Lee, Ethan Andyshak and Ian Hafkenschiel created Fantasy Congress, a new online political game, seen projecting across their foreheads above.

(2) Claremont McKenna College students, back row from left, Arjun Lall and Ian Hafkenschiel, and front from left, Ethan Andyshak and Andrew Lee created Fantasy-Congress.com, which already has logged more than 600 players.

Hans Gutknecht/Daily News

(3 -- color) Sen. Dianne Feinstein

(4 -- color) Sen. Barbara Boxer

Box:

How area lawmakers stack up vs. two California senators on FantasyCongress.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 12, 2006
Words:1159
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