I miss Gia Arnold.

What the former Republican/Libertarian state Senate candidate lacked in decorum, she made up for with pizzazz. When she was in the race for the 62nd District seat, I felt like anything was possible.

Now we’ve got two candidates whose quotes I could easily confuse if I didn’t put their names in front of them. Oh. And a candidate-in-name-only who is the poster boy for election reform in New York; We’ll get to him later.

Oct. 15, 2014, I had a crucial decision to make. It was my 40th birthday and I had to decide whether to spend it with Mason Winfield and a glass of wine at Flight of Five Winery for their “Ghost Toast” or with Johnny Destino and Robert Ortt at Niagara County Community College for a political debate hosted by the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce.

Easy decision, right? You go with the wine and WNY’s premier ghost guy. That’s what all my Facebook friends seemed to suggest. In fact, I put it out as sort of an informal poll. Everyone said Winfield and wine. Everyone. But in the true spirit of election season, I ignored my Facebook constituency and did what I thought needed to be done — for freedom. Or something.

So there I was at NCCC Wednesday night listening to Rob Ortt and Johnny Destino each tell me why they should be my (our) next state Senator. And I immediately kicked myself for not listening to the “voters” on Facebook.

Ortt doesn’t like Common Core because President Barack Obama and Gov. Andrew Cuomo like it. Destino thinks it’s OK but was implemented badly. Destino thinks the tax cap hurts schools because it doesn’t come with mandate relief. Ortt likes the tax cap but thinks it should come with mandate relief.

Destino thinks the state should help repair and replace aging infrastructure. Ortt agrees and says that it does. But it could do more. Ortt wants the SAFE Act repealed and got an A+ rating from a gun group. Destino wants it repealed, too. He only got an A rating. Destino thinks the sky is blue. Ortt thinks it’s more of an azure. Plus, he likes puppies. Whoa! Destino likes puppies, too. But that’s not to say that kitties don’t have their place.

Seriously, guys?

Gia Arnold would have disagreed with something. Somewhere. Plus, she would have mentioned her three-day affair for no reason whatsoever. And Paul Brown? He would have … talked about fish? Seriously, I have no idea what Paul Brown would have talked about. He doesn’t return my calls. I’m not sure he actually exists.

In a way, it’s kind of great: The voters in this district are going to get a competent representative, be it a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican. They’re going to get someone who doesn’t necessarily tow the party line. Someone who can think for himself. And someone willing to go it alone. So we kind of win.

But I wanted a train wreck!

No really, what we have now — in a sports metaphor — is a defensive battle. It’s a low scoring game where each side keeps the other side at bay, waiting for them to make a mistake. What I wanted was a Jim Kelly, run and gun offensive bonanza. I wanted the 1999 Buffalo Sabres. Defense? What’s that? I wanted the candidates out swinging … calling each other names. Supporting gay animal abortion rights. Or whatever. I wanted a circus. I was promised a circus!

Side note: Remember circus peanuts? Those peanut shaped marshmallows with extra sugar flavoring? Me too.

Anyway. It’s great to have two good choices come November. I just wish we could have two opposing choices. (Irony: As a registered Libertarian, if the candidates were actually a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat as I’m advocating here, I wouldn’t like either of them — but the voters deserve a choice).

After the debate, I spoke with both candidates and mentioned to them their similarities. They each made it a point to spell out their differences. I also mentioned it, offhandedly, to a long-time political insider who I will leave nameless. Their response: “Well, Johnny’s really a Republican.”

And I guess that’s what it comes down to. We have two Republicans running for the spot. If Gia were still in the race, we would have had three. But one of them would have sent me emails at 12:30 in the morning with way too much information about their personal life. And women who email me at 12:30 in the morning with way to much information about their personal life can’t be all bad, can they?

I should note that the candidates did get testy at points. But it was minor compared to the love fest I watched most of the night. And it has more to do with them playing on different teams than their having different points of view.

But what about Paul Brown? First of all, I was pleased to see that the Niagara USA Chamber set up a podium for him despite the fact that he didn’t show. It was good for the audience to see that empty spot.

I live tweeted the debate on ENP’s twitter account, twitter.com/EastNiagaraPost. I posted Ortt’s answer. Then Destino’s. Destino’s then Ortt’s. If I had really thought about it, after each question, I would have also posted “Brown said nothing because he’s not here.”

Let me be clear: Paul Brown is not a real candidate. He is making a mockery of the state’s political system. If he were a real candidate, he would have been at the debate, not said he had a “prior engagement.” Honestly, what could be more important than the only scheduled debate in the race? Let me answer that for you: If Paul Brown or one of his children (does he have children?) got married Wednesday, I’ll give him a pass and issue an apology. Otherwise, there’s no excuse.

Destino, of course, says that Brown was put up to being on the ballot. (Brown stole the Working Families line from Destino on primary day as a write-in candidate.) But whether Brown was put up to it or not, he still did it. He still chose to make a mockery of our election system — a system that needs to change.

Paul Brown should apologize to the voters. And me. I should get like a dollar or something for every time I’ve had to type his name. Because every time I do so, my faith in our republic dies just a little bit. It’s damn near treason. And if I have to be complicit in someone else’s treasonous manipulation of the state election system, I should at least get a dollar.

So come Nov. 4, vote for whoever you like … as long as his name isn’t Paul Brown. And this is the closest you’ll get to an endorsement from me.

Scott Leffler is a poli-sci geek who will always choose a meaningful political debate over wine and ghost stories … even if the devil on his other shoulder (and all his Facebook friends) suggests otherwise. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.