Guest Commentary

Parsing the voter guide, from fruit to nuts

Tucson must be the world capital of junk mail. I base this assessment entirely on my own mailbox, which on any given day (save Sunday) gets stuffed with colorful but useless mailers that invariably crush my important mail into neat little balls. Usually, I deposit this junk mail in my recycling bin so it can be hauled away to the junk mail factory and efficiently turned into future junk mail. Sometimes, I cut my junk mail into confetti in the hope that ticker tape parades will once again come into vogue. (Of course, that's wishful thinking, since we're unlikely to walk on the moon or win a war anytime soon.)

To be fair, not all junk mail is created equally, and there are some fliers from which I do derive pleasure. For example, something's oddly compelling about those images of impossibly long Wienerschnitzel hot dogs, and it's nice to finally use my college calculus when determining whether 50 cents off bowling shoe rentals is worth the mandatory purchase of 10 frames and a medium soft drink. Then there's the one piece of junk mail that I actually use on a regular basis: the weekly Food City flier.

I like everything about the four-page Food City flier: its easy-to-read layout, stealth Spanish translations, old-school grocer's font, product names I've never heard of, and those sexy staged cameos of beef tongues. Also, it's never lied to me. The deals in the flier are the deals I find at the store, and if I want a piñata to go with my confetti--no problema!

So, for the sake of argument--and humor--let's compare my favorite piece of junk mail, the Food City flier, with another bilingual brochure full of fruits and vegetables: the Citizens Clean Elections Commission Voter Education Guide. The C.C.E.C.V.E.G. (henceforth referred to as the Voter Guide) dominated my mailbox--and probably yours--last week, pushing bills and checks out of its way and reducing other junk mail to shreds. Weighing in at 10 ounces, the Voter Guide is truly the blue whale of junk mail! Ninety-three pages long (not counting a baker's dozen of lined pages for "notes"), it proves, contrary to Wienerschnitzel's new foot-long, that sometimes size really doesn't matter. So, in the name of democracy--and humor--let's compare these two mailers in three categories: word usage, cost efficiency and consumer utility.

First, word usage. Number of times the word "green" is used: Food City, 2; Voter Guide, 13. Number of times the word "family" is used: Food City, 1; Voter Guide, 91. Number of times the word "tripe" is used: Food City, 1; Voter Guide, well ... not spelled out in so many letters but definitely underlying every single page. Now, if we divide word usage by the number of pages in each mailer we find that the Voter Guide is 22 percent less likely to support "green," 171 percent more likely to harp on "family," and much more steeped in "tripe" than a bowl of menudo. With regard to word usage, Food City wins.

Second, cost efficiency. The average annual cost (salary) of a state representative is $30,000, and the average weight of a state representative is 150 pounds. That means the average state rep costs $200 per pound per year, or $3.85 per pound per week. That roughly equates with the cost efficiency of Food City's skirt steak at $3.99 per pound. Skirt steak, however, is excellent when grilled, while state representatives hold up less well under a good grilling. Thus, Food City wins this category, too.

Last, consumer utility. With page after page of empty platitudes and promises, the Voter Guide offers consumers almost no real usefulness. Granted, it's thick enough to prop a short table leg, or kindle a winter fire. But oxymora like "independent-minded collaborator" compare unfavorably with Food City's "oxtail, $4.29/lb." Food City's flier wins again, promising and delivering a wide diversity of consumer utility including brown potatoes, black beans, white asparagus, yellow squash and red leaf lettuce.

In conclusion, this bitter middle-class voter demands better junk mail, because I don't want to wake up on Nov. 5 and realize that I voted for a lemon.

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