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Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Well, you won't find me complaining about a little bit of a drizzly afternoon. Now, if it keeps up for a couple of days and the driveway gets flooded and the garden is drowned and the house starts sinking and we never see the sun again and the earth opens up and swallows everything — then I might start to get upset. But so far, it's not having any effect on me.

The rain began about 3:30 this afternoon. I know this only because I looked out and saw that the paving stones were starting to get wet. So I pulled on my new Florida Marlins jacket and walked out to get the mail before it got any worse. By the time I made it back to my front door, the stones were soaked and so was I. And so was the mail, but it was just a wad of advertisements. For the first time in weeks, there weren't any political lies in the mailbox.

I suppose we'll use this little shower as our excuse for not voting this time. The experts said the turnout would be light, about 36%. I'd say that was shameful if I thought there was any compelling reason to rush out and cast a ballot. I do it out of habit as much as obligation, and I do it by mail so it's easier than standing in line and punching a machine. But I can see how someone could be uninspired by the list of candidates and measures we're being asked to vote on the first week in March.

With luck, this will be the last time California votes this early. People are already talking about moving the primary back to June, where it always used to be, or even later. September sounds good. That's only two months before the general election. Two months of overblown rhetoric and insidious accusations. That sounds like about enough to me.

This one got pretty nasty, even though no one had time to really rev things up. The problem is, it works. Negative campaigning, as much as we claim to hate it, is effective. It brought Bill Simon from a distant third to the Republican nomination for governor. Obviously, things aren't going to change as long as we respond to attacks on character more than we do to discussion of issues.

With a later primary, we could get to know the candidates better and dig a little deeper, maybe even uncovering the truth beneath all the innuendo. It would give new people a chance to get better known and might rattle a few political cages. Only the voters would really benefit, though, and no one on the inside is much interested in that.

If this year's primary had been in June or September, maybe someone would have stepped up to run against Gray Davis for the Democratic nomination. There were three other Democrats on the ballot for governor, but nobody had time to find out who they were. They were names and mission statements, and I had to pick one on that flimsy basis. That's no way to run an election. But I'm proud to say my guy came in second, with 7% of the votes.

It's easy to say everybody should vote. It's not so easy to fix the system, in which the same people and their money control the way elections are run, year after year. It's not easy to find a candidate that inspires people to get out and vote, and encourage their friends and family to vote. It's not easy to believe that anything will change, no matter who gets elected. It's easier to pick a side and hope you're not as disappointed in the future as you have been in the past.

And I'm not even a cynic! (Well, not much of one, relatively speaking.) I believe in the system, and the process. I just think it's been subverted by people who put their own interests above the public interest. I think there are probably many people in politics whose ideals are high and whose motives are pure. It's hard to tell who they are, though, because the other guys will make up stories about them or keep us from finding out the truth. (Okay, maybe I'm a little cynical.)

Sometimes we forget what it's all about. We're not sending politicians to Washington and Sacramento just to react to the latest crisis. We don't elect them so they can make speeches condemning illegal business practices. We aren't holding elections to decide who gets to attend the secret meetings, where they're let in on how other, more powerful leaders, who may or may not have been elected themselves, are going to run the war.

We should be seeking out candidates who have all the answers. Failing that, we need people who care enough to try to find the answers. Somebody who wants to make the world safer — both the big world, with all its countries that can't get along with each other, and your neighborhood, where children can't play outside without fear of danger. Somebody who cares about people, not demographics, the old as well as the young, the poor as well as the rich.

If there was such a person on my ballot, how would I know? All I hear is how this one failed to vote in a recent election, or that one changed his mind on abortion rights. Gray Davis is the best campaigner in California, and he'll win reelection easily in November. But that doesn't mean he's a great governor. He was very good at helping conservative Republicans defeat a moderate candidate who might have had a chance to unseat him. This just doesn't seem to me like campaigning in the public interest.

In spite of it all, though, I'm glad to live in a country where we have choices, even if they're bad ones. They're better choices than the Taliban ever gave the Afghans, for example.


Looking southeast from my yard on a late afternoon in early March.

Watching the election returns come in tonight was disappointing, and not just because of the results. I've ranted before about local TV coverage of election, so I don't have to do it again. It's a rare newscaster who has any idea what he's talking about when he's going over the numbers. I flipped through the channels for a couple of hours, trying to find someone who was smart enough to know what was really happening. I'll just have to wait for the morning papers and interpret the results myself.

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