Question: What's the difference between campaign season and duck season? Answer: At least the ducks have a chance.
We, the hapless voters, have no chance of escaping the ceaseless barrage of campaign flyers, TV ads, radio spots, billboards and telemarketing calls on behalf of candidates for offices large and small.
Let's start small. Colorado elects 35 state senators. Along with the 65 members of the state House of Representatives, that makes 100 elected officials who, with the governor, make laws and create policy for our fair state. State senator is not a particularly well-paid position -- base salary, plus per diems, plus a little cheating on your expense account, plus free parking at the state capitol, plus free meals from lobbyists -- hey, you'd be lucky to clear 50 grand a year.
So to snag one of these no-hoper jobs, Ed Jones and Tony Marino each plan to spend close to half a million dollars of other people's money on their campaigns.
Ed's an amiable, reasonably moderate Republican; Tony's an amiable, reasonably moderate Democrat. If both were elected to a nonpartisan body such as the City Council, or the D-11 School Board, they'd probably vote the same way much of the time.
So why is this race such a big deal? We can round up the usual explanation: Control of the state Senate hangs in the balance!!
Yep, if Ed prevails, those nasty GOPsters will control the House, the Senate and the governor's mansion. And should that come to pass -- Katy, bar the door! The Republicans will rubber stamp school choice, outlaw abortion, make conversion to evangelical Christianity mandatory for all Coloradans, put gays and lesbians in concentration camps, trade our state parks to Ken Lay for Enron stock, and punish dope smokers with the death penalty!!
And yep, if Tony prevails, the Dems will be able to block our governor and his Republican allies from leading our state to a peaceful and prosperous future. It'll be Katy, bar the door! The police will be disarmed, and so will the rest of us. Math and English will disappear from public school curricula to be replaced with pornography and pedophilia! Public prayer will be banned, and the Mount of the Holy Cross will be bulldozed flat. No more state-supported religion, thank you very much!
Well, if such were indeed the alternatives we face, it'd be worth spending the money. In actual fact, just as the differences between Ed and Tony are slight, the differences between probable policy outcomes are equally slight.
Granted, we haven't had single-party control of state government for decades; nevertheless, governments, like supertankers, don't easily change direction. And regardless of who's signing the checks, there's not a whole lot of discretionary revenue for legislators to play with.
Factor in voter initiatives over the last 15 years, which have made it impossible to raise taxes without voter consent and have set aside tax revenues for specific areas (open space, historic preservation, K-12 education), and you'd think that there wouldn't be much for elected officials to do.
Unhappily, that's not the case -- our chosen scoundrels can still make plenty of trouble.
It's because in government, even small and apparently cost-free policy shifts can disproportionately benefit or harm powerful constituencies.
If, for example, the Republicans control both houses of the Legislature and Governor Bill is re-elected, we can expect some major fireworks.
Education dollars will be shifted to vouchers. Various legislation will strangle the breath out of the unions. Business will be given sweetheart tax deals. Corporate polluters will get looser standards. The Republican-controlled Legislature will limit the powers of local governments, making it impossible for county governments to regulate or control water/energy/mining projects.
If Democrats keep a Senate majority, they will continue to thwart such extreme efforts.
But, remember, if you vote for Ed, or for Tony, you're not electing either of these sensible moderates; you're casting a vote for the special interest groups who have vetted and financed their candidacies. If you're a card-carrying member of any of these groups, you'll be happy -- they'll take a bullet for you.
And if you think that elected officials ought to be independent, thoughtful, willing to change, and ready to make honorable compromises, think again.
Candidates can protest all they want, but a corrupt system corrupts all who participate. Tony, Ed: If you take hundreds of thousands to run for a piss-ant job, you've been bought. You may not even know who bought you, but wait 'til November 6. One of you will win, and you'll get a phone call.
You better pick up. It's your owner.