If a candidate speaks in a forest …

You ever get something stuck in your head? Sometimes it’s an idea or a phrase. Most of the time, it’s a song. Whenever I think about the upcoming gubernatorial election, it’s that old philosophical riddle I can’t shake: If a tree falls in a forest, and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Let’s forget about the forest and the trees for a minute. What I’m fixating on is the sound: That is, is anybody actually saying anything? Is anybody even listening?

The candidates have spent a lot of money talking. Between them, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and challenger Phil Angelides have laid out more than $65 million trying to capture voters’ attention. Both are using meaningless stain-by-association tactics and tossing about tired old attacks.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Just what is it that voters are hearing to put our movie-star governor nearly 20 points ahead in the polls? Is it the sound of high-profile bill signings or celebrity appearances with the likes of the Dalai Lama, George Clooney and the British prime minister that dowdy old Angelides can’t hope to match? Or, are voters hearing candidates’ positions on substantive issues?

In full campaign mode just days before the only debate between candidates, Angelides nevertheless attempted to answer some hard questions about California’s future put to him by SN&R Editor-at-large Melinda Welsh. If he’s elected, Angelides promises, employees of small companies and the state’s children will get health coverage from new legislation he’d sign into law. If Schwarzenegger is re-elected, however, those kinds of measures will continue to die under his Republican pen.

Peter Camejo, who’s making his final bid for elected office as the Green Party’s candidate for governor, offers an alternative in a Q-and-A with SN&R’s Cosmo Garvin and Nicholas Miller when he blames the leading candidates, the Democrats and Republicans, and the system for continued failure to act to solve the state’s problems.

In Camejo’s view, no tree ever falls.

So, no sound is ever made.

And nobody’s there to hear it anyway.

What about you? What do you hear?