Political Junkies in Minnesota Play Online 'Fantasy Legislature'

George Linkert has high hopes for his first-round draft pick, Sen. Ann Rest.

"She's been in leadership and she's had lots of experience," he said of the veteran Democratic state lawmaker. "She's had a history of sponsoring bills that get the governor's signature."

Linkert manages a team he calls the Minnetonka Redress, which competes in the Minnesota Fantasy Legislature — and yes, it's pretty much as nerdy as it sounds.

A few weeks ago, 44 aspiring "team managers" signed up to participate in the league, a spinoff of Fantasy Congress, which was founded last year by a California college student.

Both are similar to fantasy sports leagues, but instead of tracking touchdowns or home runs, managers win a point every time one of the six lawmakers on their team introduces a bill. Points escalate for every step the bill takes through the legislative process, with the motherlode — 100 points — awarded if the governor vetoes the bill and is overridden.

"My fantasy football team was so bad last year, I figured I might as well try this," said Nate Dybvig, a media consultant and manager of Sine Die Sadists, which invokes the Latin term for the end of a legislative session. "You can pretty much make anything into a fantasy sport these days, it seems like."

The Minnesota league is sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio, where online editor Bob Collins serves as the league's "commissioner." He said he pushed the idea because he's constantly looking for new ways to get information to online consumers.

"Our online users don't want to just read radio copy that we slap onto the Web site," Collins said. "They like to push buttons and be entertained, and I want to find ways they can do that and get information."

It's also a way to bring attention to the work of rank-and-file lawmakers, since news coverage tends to focus on legislative leaders and veteran committee chairmen and chairwomen, he said.

Collins said it seems to be a success so far. He's heard lawmakers are following the action, and he said the fantasy legislature Web page is generating 500 to 600 views a day. If it continues to succeed, a much larger league is possible next year, he said.

He started small, limiting play to two leagues and 44 teams. No prizes are planned other than "the worldwide respect of political wonks," according to the league's Web site.

The slots filled quickly, with teams like Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, Confidential Sources, Moderate Mayhem and Wonk Cubed managed by an array of bloggers, party hacks, political junkies, insiders and other hangers-on.

"I've sort of lost interest in sports the last couple years but I've gained interest in politics," said Linkert, a 33-year-old stay-at-home dad. "I thought this would be a good and fun way to learn about the state legislative process."

The league conducted an online draft in December. The rules were pretty simple: Every team of six lawmakers had to have at least two Democrats and two Republicans. Unsigned lawmakers went into a free agent pool, and a redraft is held every Saturday to allow for trades or free agent pickups. Collins updates standings as often as he can.

Some managers picked their players by poring over the Legislature's Web site and noting lawmakers with a history of introducing lots of bills. But, given the sliding point scale, it was also important to consider which lawmakers introduce bills that actually move toward the governor's signature.

Dybvig was excited to land Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who has been among the Legislature's more prolific bill sponsors in recent years. "I got a couple of guys who get me a lot of yards and I figure that's more likely to get me into the end zone," Dybvig said.

Abeler himself is a little worried that his party's recent slide into minority status might hurt his chances of winning the fantasy league's MVP.

"Being traded to a non-contending team is kind of tough," Abeler said. "I'll be facing some tougher pitchers. But I'm glad I have a cheering section."