The Nose is smitten.

He's fallen, nostrils over septum, for a fiftysomething preacher from North Carolina. A divorcee who, by her own admission, is a few pounds north of glamour weight. In short, just what a man needs when he's on the rebound.

No, everything is fine on the homefront (though the hints about cleaning the gutters are about as subtle as a Freightliner). Rather, the Nose's heartbreak was political. Two weeks ago, he cast a vote for John Kerry, and look what it got him.

After 10 days spent in an angry funk, into the Nose's life walks the Rev. Carrie Bolton. The good reverend was in town to tell us to turn our back on Satan--which is what she thinks of money in politics.

As a non-voter, the Nose was never a fan of publicly financed elections. He wasn't convinced that campaign contributions really were the bribes that some claimed they were. There are plenty of examples of politicians, from George Bush to Randy Leonard, voting against the fat cats who write big checks.

But the Rev. Bolton, in town Friday to speak to the City Club, made the Nose realize he was, as usual, thinking about this thing all wrong. The real benefit of publicly funded elections isn't who it keeps out of the process; it's who it lets in.

Bolton's point is that the cost of campaigns has driven people like her out of politics. Despite the fact that she knows practically everyone in Chatham County--and she has two post-graduate degrees and enough charisma to charm the ivory off Thomas Lauderdale's keyboards--she couldn't win elective office in North Carolina. It's not because she's a black single mom. It's not because she's too liberal, or too religious. She says it's simply because she's "not wealthy or connected to people who are wealthy."

Sure. Tom Potter's low-budget mayoral triumph seems to prove Bolton wrong. But the retired police chief was able to mount a challenge to City Commissioner Commissioner Jim Francesconi only because he had high name recognition, a fat pension, a lot of time on his hands and an opponent with high negatives.

For a more typical example of what happens in Oregon races, look to Gresham, where state Rep. Laurie Monnes Anderson edged out former state Rep. Ron Sunseri for a state Senate seat. Even though both had unspectacular records in the House, they raised more than a million bucks between the two of them. Their connection to lobbyists in Salem, not their performance for the district, was the only criteria that mattered.

What's the solution? In Portland, City Auditor Gary Blackmer and Commissioner Erik Sten are pushing a plan that would allow citywide candidates to tap into public funds, if they raise enough small contributions. Bolton, for her part, is more ambitious, urging Oregonians to adopt a statewide plan like the ones used in Maine and Arizona, where the number of candidates running is rising while the amount of money spent is dropping.

The Nose isn't one to sweat the details. All he knows is that when Rev. Bolton says it's time to junk the old system, this is one voter who says, "Amen."