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Restoring the public to public service

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Don't look now, but something potentially profound happened on Election Day. Odds are you don't know a thing about it.

How profound? How about a statewide official who has pledged a classic free-market approach to his duties?

At a Capitol news conference in September, Auditor General-elect Eugene DePasquale signed the Public Service Pledge. The pledge requires public officials who sign it to use their positions of leadership to serve the priorities of Pennsylvania voters, as determined by state-of-the-art public opinion research.

In free-market language, "Find out what people want and let them buy it."

For the first time, a statewide-elected official will heed the majority of voters in the conduct of his office. For the first time, when a pollster calls, we will know that someone in state government is actually paying attention and intends to do something about it.

In fact, there are three someones. The others are Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, and Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre.

The Public Service Pledge is the heart of a new political action committee, The Majority Party PA, which I chair. Our mission is to empower the 60 percent to 70 percent of Pennsylvania voters whose opinions are routinely ignored when political leaders play to their "base," which generally amounts to 15 percent to 20 percent of the public on each end of the spectrum.

To some, the idea of restoring the public to public service sounds radical. Yet it's as old and urgent as America, whose bedrock principle is that people have the right to govern themselves and the role of government is to help them do it, not stand in their way. What has changed since 1776 is that we now know, better than at any time in history, what the people actually want.

Some say public opinion can't be trusted. Yet businesses invest billions in public opinion research each year because it helps them market their goods and services, gives them an edge against their competition and improves the odds of success for new products.

Some who say polls can't be trusted are the same politicians who rely on public opinion surveys to tell them what to talk about, when to talk about it and how to talk about it with different audiences. Yet after they are elected, they say public opinion research can't be trusted. Please.

The Majority Party PA focuses on what people want their government to do, to stop doing and never to start doing. We give voice to huge majorities of voters who support public education, investment in transportation, protecting the environment, job creation, greater public integrity and better budget priorities. We emphatically reject polling about people's individual religious, political, human or other rights, which thankfully are protected by the Constitution.

After the election, I can't blame readers who are turned off by beauty-contest polling. The Majority Party PA ignores such surveys, because we do not care about predictions, only about actual opinion over time.

We only consider surveys that meet national standards for methodology, transparency and neutrality. Peddlers of partial polls or push polls aren't welcome, and their findings do not influence the Majority Mandate. Plus, we require multiple surveys on each issue to ensure that the majority's opinion is settled.

Experience in recent years makes some people twitchy about pledges. Some say that all pledges are bad. What did the Pledge of Allegiance ever do to them?

I have an ongoing argument with a Capitol reporter who claims that elections are the best way to know what the public wants. This, of course, is utter nonsense. All an election tells you is who will be in office. It tells you nothing about what people think about issues.

Set aside that candidates have figured out how to avoid talking about issues almost entirely. The simple fact is that we vote for people in spite of where they say they stand on some issues because we agree with where they say they stand on issues that are more important to us.

Our approach also is completely different from a referendum. Like elections, referenda suffer from last-minute "smear-and-scare" campaigns that are intended to confuse voters, not to help them reach reasoned opinions.

OK, look now. Look at the government the great majority of us want — the Majority Mandate — and ask yourself, "Wouldn't this be a whole lot better than the government we have?"

If your answer is yes, welcome to the America the founders had in mind. You now have a political home at The Majority Party PA.

Tim Potts is president of Democracy Rising PA. Email him at tim@democracyrisingpa.com.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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