One of the topics on my weekly call-in to the John DePetro Show, today, was the idea of Democrat House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s surveying his constituents regarding their views on various issues as the House moves into its annual race to do everything that’s important within a couple of months. No doubt, he’s got some sense of the responses he’ll get and (inasmuch as he’s keeping the results secret) will only release those data points that serve his political interests.
But still, let’s not let cynicism brush off what I would argue is an excellent development. I’ve confirmed with the speaker’s office that he used campaign funds for the survey. Imagine if every representative and senator used his or her campaign funds to survey constituents annually (at least) specifically on current issues of political debate. Then imagine if they made a practice of releasing the results and then working to justify, to their own constituents, any areas in which they voted inconsistently with their preferences.
Why, that might be something like representative democracy!
Of course, in this case and in Rhode Island, one can’t step away from the cynicism of noting that this survey of the speaker’s specific 10,000ish voter span in Cranston could be setting the policy terms for a state of around one million people. But even then, if an open process of surveying constituents were part of the culture of the State House, it would be immediately clear who was voting with their constituents and who was finding excuses to vote with legislative leadership.
As a bonus, this practice would give incumbents something to spend their campaign money on, maybe avoiding the trap of letting it build up into the tempting pots that have been tripping up Providence City Council members.
If I were of a progressive bent, I’d suggest passing a law to require legislators to use campaign funds in this way. Being reasonable (which is to say, being a conservative), I’d just suggest that it’s a good reason for all politicians to face political opposition every election, as Mattiello did last year.
And as a hint to potential candidates, it wouldn’t be a bad campaign pledge to make.