City Lights: The circus act that is the election cycle

This just in: The 2012 presidential race heated up last week, slightly, as a pair of new challengers threw their hats in the ring.

Some may recognize former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who ran unsuccessfully last time. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whose name turns up almost no matches on Google, is new to the ballot.

Both candidates, after posting a few lawn signs at busy intersections, will challenge incumbent Barack Obama, who has quietly done his job the last three years and hinted that he plans to seek reelection. Some time before November, we hope to find out about each candidate's background and political stances, which will be aired for the first time at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.

The above was a fantasy on the part of your columnist. Actually, it was easy to write — I just substituted Romney and Paul for Erik Peterson and Robert Wentzel, the new candidates for Huntington Beach City Council, and Obama for Devin Dwyer, the only incumbent in this year's race.

Election season has begun in Huntington Beach, and the next five months promise plenty of excitement. Election season in America, meanwhile, has been plugging along since about three hours after Obama took office, and I've arrived at the mixed emotions I always have at this point in the cycle: misty-eyed gratitude for our democratic system, coupled with a desire for the whole maddening circus to end.

I know, I need to keep it in perspective. Last week, my colleague Mona Shadia wrote a piece about the first (presumably) fair elections in her native Egypt. However much we may tire of watching presidential hopefuls on the news, it's far preferable to tiring of Mubarak or the Brilliant Comrade. I do count my blessings.

The thing is, though, I usually make up my mind fairly quickly about how I'm going to cast my blessed democratic vote. My decision usually comes down to a few key policy issues; some bit of heroism in the candidate's past may help too. Give me a few weeks or months, and I can mark my ballot assuredly.

In short, if I knew exactly as much about the nominees as I do about Connie Boardman or Joe Carchio, I would consider myself a savvy voter. I don't need an extra three years of media saturation to help enforce my preference. Did anyone else feel a little blase on the day of Obama's swearing-in, namely because, with his face and voice dominating the news for so long, it felt like he had already been our president?

That's why our local elections, by comparison, are such a relief. We've gotten a good look for the last year at Barbara Delgleize and Blair Farley — but as planning commissioners, not media darlings. We've seen Jim Katapodis in action — on the 9/11 memorial committee, not as a "Saturday Night Live" host. When it comes time to vote in November, we may remember their actual work more than their campaign ads.

I have no doubt that among our eight candidates for council, a couple have religious beliefs that go against the mainstream. Perhaps one of them smoked something in college or had an eccentric pastor who made outrageous statements. Perhaps, horror of horrors, one of them recently committed a "gaffe" — you know, an unscripted remark that was less than poetic and showed them to be human like the rest of us.

Politicians are human, yes, and they're also capable of greatness, whether it's winning the Cold War or decimating Al-Qaeda or tweaking troublesome budgets. That's true on the local level, too; candidates run in hopes of making lasting change, and I'm confident that whoever takes the dais in November will leave his or her mark on Surf City.

And here's the beauty: To get there, they can run on their records without becoming our reality stars of the moment. In my fantasy world, that's how the 2016 presidential race will play out too. First, we'll give the campaign cycle a rest for three years. Then we'll host a few forums, compare what the candidates have done since we voted last, pick a winner and mercifully call it a night.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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