by Tim Potts, The Majority Party PA, 12/14/11
Good morning. I’m Tim Potts, a private citizen with an idea.
Today, I have the pleasure of announcing the creation of a new political action committee that may, if citizens support it, become a new political party in Pennsylvania.
The Majority Party PA is an entirely new approach to politics and governance. Republicans, Democrats and other parties approach citizens with an ideology. Their basic question is, “How do we get people to buy into our ideology?”
The Majority Party PA turns that on its head. It looks at what people want from their government and asks, “How do we help the people get what they want?” It is a classic free-market business model. Find out what people want and let them buy it.
What do people want? They want a government that is honest, pragmatic, efficient, and accountable. Today, they have almost none of that, at least not at the state level, and especially not in our legislature.
Beyond the rhetoric, what do people want? Thanks to the science of public opinion research, we know a great deal about what people want. The list is impressive:
With regard to taxes:
* 57% of us are willing to pay higher driver’s license and car registration fees but only to pay for road and bridge repairs. The governor and lawmakers can’t be bothered.
* 71% of us want to tax Marcellus Shale, but lawmakers have failed us.
* 72% of us want to tax smokeless tobacco and cigars, but the tobacco interests prevail year after year.
* 83% of us want to maintain support for public schools, even in bad times, and are willing to sacrifice other programs and raise state taxes to do it. But our political leaders are predicting more cuts next year.
With regard to public integrity and how our government operates:
* 72% of us want a constitutional convention where citizens can repair their government. Lawmakers refuse to authorize the necessary referendum.
* 76% of us want to reform the legislature by imposing term limits and reducing its size. Legislators refuse.
* 76% of us want to change the way state and local governments are financed, primarily focused on property taxes. Legislators refuse.
* 78% of us want to reform the laws with respect to campaign financing. Legislators refuse.
With regard to other issues of the day:
* 59% of us want local governments to make the decision about where to locate natural gas drilling sites. There is a good chance the majority will lose.
* 72% of us oppose opening more public lands to Marcellus shale drilling. The governor may do it anyway.
* 80% of us want to legalize marijuana, but only for medical purposes with a doctor’s prescription.
On many important issues, citizens are very clear about what they want. Yet the government thumbs its nose at the citizens, plowing ahead with their ideologically driven – and financed – agenda to do things the majority of citizens don’t want while refusing to do things the majority does want.
For example, it is clear that the public wants to solve our transportation problems, and there is no majority for sending taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools. Yet our governor and legislative leaders are pushing ahead with education vouchers and twiddling their thumbs while bridges and highways crumble.
This disconnect between what the public wants and what their government does undermines the very basis of our government – that people should have the government of their choice, not the government’s choice.
Most citizens understand that Republicans and Democrats are so wedded to their ideology – and the money that pays them to remain wedded to their ideology – that actually giving citizens what they want is not even seriously considered on many issues. You see that in poll after poll where the views of those who identify with each party are often far from the overall majority, although in different directions. It is politically independent citizens, not those who are allied with the big parties, whose views most closely match those of the public at large.
The only ideology of The Majority Party PA is the one that forms the basis of the United States of America and this Commonwealth. It is the idea that people should govern themselves, and the role of the government is to help them do that. That is the sole mission of The Majority Party PA.
It is a mission that embraces all citizens, from conservatives to the growing percentage of independents to liberals, who believe that the foundation of American representative democracy needs to be strengthened, not further eroded by today’s unremitting partisanship.
To accomplish that mission, we first have to know what the majority of people want. Today, unlike 1776 or 1787, we have the science of public opinion research, which will set the agenda for The Majority Party PA, not contributors or ideologues. It frankly doesn’t matter what I think about issues or what anyone else representing The Majority Party PA thinks. It only matters what the majority of our citizens think.
To ensure that The Majority Party PA’s agenda truly represents the will of the majority, we will apply three screens to any poll that purports to represent public opinion. To help us do that, five of the state’s leading public opinion researchers have agreed to serve on a Polling Standards Team. Any time a poll comes out, they will help us answer three questions:
1. Does the poll meet the standards of the American Association for Public Opinion Research? Among other things, these standards require complete transparency in how polls are conducted and the release of polling data. Partial polls and polls with unproven methodologies will not form the basis of The Majority Party’s PA’s agenda.
2. Is the language in the poll as neutral as possible, given the context of public debate over an issue? Push polls and polls that are biased in their language or in the way the questions are presented will not influence The Majority Party PA’s agenda.
3. Is public opinion settled on any given issue? We will use both the immediate poll and previous polling on the issue to determine whether a majority is solid, or whether it is reasonable to think that it may shift in the near future. Issues on which there is no clear majority opinion will not make it into The Majority Party PA’s agenda.
One thing The Majority Party PA will not do, regardless of any majority, is engage in debates about the human, political, religious, and other rights of citizens. The founders of our nation properly recognized that those rights must not be subject to what they called “the tyranny of the majority.” So rights are off the table.
Nor is this government by referendum with all of the irrationality of California’s notorious system. The Majority Party PA is, in fact, an alternative to government by referendum.
A referendum is a singular event, affected by election-style campaigning focused on a single day, Election Day. Further, a referendum often takes the decision out of the hands of those who are elected – and paid – to make those decisions.
The science of public opinion research is a more reasoned and less volatile way to know what the people want. The results of a single poll never will form the basis of The Majority Party PA’s agenda because public opinion develops over time and has more to do with the conversations people have; the news they read, see, and hear; and their living experience that bears upon an issue.
A good example of this is our recent debate about whether to impose an extraction tax on Marcellus Shale drilling. During the course of the debate over this issue, public opinion has moved from being strongly against a tax to being strongly in favor of it. As people have experienced drilling in Pennsylvania and learned how other states treat the natural gas industry, they have changed their minds. They have every right to expect their government to follow their lead, which is how our system is supposed to work.
The Majority Party PA also is based upon our representative form of democracy. Following public opinion does not make elected officials superfluous. Knowing what the majority wants, it is still the job of elected officials to decide the harder question of how to achieve it. Citizens will identify the destination, and their elected officials will be held accountable for finding the way. This allows public officials to exercise their considerable knowledge of complex issues while remaining faithful to the ultimate wishes of the public.
Using public opinion for governmental purposes is no different from using public opinion for political purposes. If public opinion research is good enough to drive the campaigns of elected officials, which it obviously is, it also is good enough to drive the agenda of government once those officials are elected.
To enforce The Majority Party PA’s agenda, we will use the now traditional tools of a pledge, a report card, and active participation in certain elections when we have money to make a difference.
The pledge reads, “I pledge to be a public servant. I pledge to make decisions and cast votes affecting the citizens of the Commonwealth that reflect the will of the majority of Pennsylvania citizens as publicly documented by scientific public opinion research.
“I further pledge that if I cannot in good conscience represent the will of the majority, I will resign from office so that someone else may serve who does not suffer that conflict of interests.”
The Majority Party PA will ask every candidate for the Pennsylvania House and Senate in 2012 to sign this pledge. We will let citizens know who has signed it and who has not. We further will monitor relevant legislation to see who is working to achieve the will of the majority and who is not, all of which will form the basis for a report card. For incumbents, this means action. The failure to act is not an option when it comes to what the majority of Pennsylvania citizens want. The failure to act will be held against you.
As a new political action committee, we do not know today whether we will have enough money to weigh in on election campaigns where one candidate has signed the pledge and another has not. There are no deep pockets contributing to The Majority Party PA. So how aggressive we can be in working for what the majority wants will depend on citizens’ contributions, and we actively will seek donations from citizens who agree that it is time for the majority to have its way with their government.
We see many benefits to this approach. The Majority Party PA will give citizens a greater incentive to participate in elections, knowing that candidates will take public opinion seriously. This will create a common frame of reference that encourages citizens to communicate with and understand each other better. It also will provide a reality check for those who are deluded into believing that fringe ideas represent mainstream opinion.
The Majority Party PA will require special interests to focus their lobbying efforts on citizens and the outside game rather than public officials and the inside game.
The Majority Party PA, honoring the principle of minority consent, also will require citizens to accept some things they don’t like. This is nothing new, as the above list of unfulfilled majority agenda items demonstrates.
However, people will have the consolation of knowing that what they may grudgingly accept is the result of a majority of their fellow citizens, not the result of unknown and unknowable forces with hidden agendas who frankly do not care what any majority of citizens want from their government.
One of my favorite quotes from Thomas Jefferson goes, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate power of society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it away from them but to inform their discretion. Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppression of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.” (1816 letter to Dupont de Nemours.)
We intend The Majority Party PA to be the dawn of a new day in politics and governance, driving out the evil spirits that have captured our political system. In the absence of an alternative such as The Majority Party PA, there is nothing on the horizon that can change politics as we know and hate it. Those who have mastered the system will continue to ignore the will of the people. Those who can’t bear to lend their good names to the various factions of extremists will continue to opt out.
The Majority Party PA is, by definition, a place where the majority of citizens can feel welcome politically and where civil dialogue about accomplishing common goals becomes possible again.
On our web site, http://www.themajoritypartypa.com, we will ask citizens to donate five bucks a month to the cause. Just five bucks a month from enough citizens can transform our political system and realize the revolutionary vision of America’s founders.
Citizens already have the electoral power, the intellectual power, and the moral power to achieve the goal. All we need is a place to focus our financial power through an organization that represents no one but the majority of citizens.
That’s The Majority Party PA.