Policy by poll: If politicians mimic surveys, who needs leaders?

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The last thing politicians need is one more way to dodge responsibility for their actions in office, but that's what the "Candidate Public Service Pledge" offers.

The pledge is the creation of The Majority Party PA, a political action committee created by Tim Potts, who has been a conscience in Harrisburg through the nonprofit he heads, Democracy Rising. Mr. Potts has made many wise suggestions for improving openness and ethics in state government, but the pledge is not one of them.

Candidates who sign on -- 10 have done so -- promise to make decisions based on public opinion polls. To be fair, the pledge is not tied to all polling; The Majority Party PA promises to rank elected officials based on polls that meet standards of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, use neutral language and are conducted on topics where a clear majority opinion is revealed.

Mr. Potts' idea is to create a government that gives people what they say they want. What the pledge actually would do is absolve elected officials of taking a leadership role on important issues. It would give them an easy out because they could say, "I'm just doing what the polls said people wanted." And it would heighten, not lessen, paralysis in legislative bodies.

Too many elected officials already have boxed public policy questions into a corner by signing Grover Norquist's no-tax-hike pledge, a promise that has led to such broad interpretation that even fee increases for government services such as driver's licenses and vehicle registrations can be considered "tax hikes."

Allegheny County residents who want to know how the polling pledge would play out need only look at the congressional career of Jason Altmire of McCandless, who lost a primary re-election bid to Mark Critz of Johnstown. Many of the people who sent Mr. Altmire to the U.S. House of Representatives did so because he campaigned hard on the problems of the nation's health care system, yet he failed to vote in favor of the groundbreaking Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because he said his constituents were overwhelmingly against it.

There's only one oath that elected officials should be taking, and that's the oath of office. The rest of their decisions should be guided by thorough research, clean ethics, sound principles of government and the goal to do right by the people they represent.

opinion_editorials


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