The Roanoke Times published an editorial in support of the Citizen Cabinet initiative:
Our View: Check Your Mailbox
Willy Wonka’s five golden tickets, hidden in the wrappers of chocolate bars shipped around the world, gave the lucky buyers the chance to tour his fantastical confection works. Of course Charlie, the impoverished young hero of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” has next to no hope of purchasing one of the precious bars.
Virginians have much better odds of winning a chance at something even cooler than owning their own chocolate production line: taking ownership of their government in Washington. Well, at least an advisory interest.
If that sounds like the chance of a lifetime, be on the lookout the next few days for an envelope that just might arrive in the mail from the University of Virginia Center for Survey Research, affixed with a Citizen Cabinet logo.
The Voice of the People Campaign for a Citizen Cabinet is sending out invitations next week to 500 Virginia households, scientifically selected to mirror the commonwealth’s demographics.
No golden ticket, but the lucky holder’s ticket to participate in a volunteer, online Citizen Cabinet that will be briefed on some of the nation’s most divisive issues (vetted for accuracy by congressional staffers of both parties), hear the pros and cons of different policy options, then weigh in on how they would solve the problems.
Their representatives and the state’s U.S. senators will get the feedback, and would be well-advised to pay attention to it.
Voice of the People Executive Director Richard Parsons told The Roanoke Times Editorial Board last week that researchers at the School of Public Policy at Maryland have tested the model, and found large majorities of a representative standing online panel trying to solve supposedly intractable problems were able to cut the budget deficit by $400 million a year, something Congress has not been able to do.
Virginia is one of three states in a pilot program being launched by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Voice of the People, which hopes to raise the volume of the majority of Americans above the cacophony of noise and, often, misinformation coming from organized interest groups and self-interested politicians.
For its pilot, it is recruiting a representative sample of 800 to 850 Citizen Cabinet members from one congressional district in both a red and blue state — Oklahoma’s 4th District and Maryland’s 7th. In Virginia, considered a purple state that can go either Republican or Democratic in statewide votes, researchers will not make the deeper dive into a congressional district, but will work with a scientifically selected statewide sample of 500.
Ultimately, the good-government organization wants Congress to establish a Citizen Cabinet managed by a new National Academy for Public Consultation, with bipartisan oversight. For now, Virginia lawmakers will have the opportunity — and surely it is that — to get well-informed, reasoned advice from people who have looked at all the arguments and made hard choices that elected officials are loath to make.
Virginians not among the lucky 500 will be able to have their views made known, too. Once the interim Citizen Cabinet has gone through the simulation, Voice of the People will post it online at vop.org. Then all of the people can go through the briefings, the arguments, the choices, and weigh in. Entering their ZIP code will bring up their congressman’s office, and they can submit it, and have their voice heard.
The idea is to break the deadlock in Congress and restore representative democracy to something closer to the vision of the nation’s founders: Relying on the wisdom of a well-informed majority to meet on common ground, where they are able to make decisions for the good of the public as a whole.
VOP literature sums it up succinctly: Common sense. Common good. Common ground.
All uncommon, these days. Maybe they can make a comeback.
# # #
This editorial was first published on October 4, 2014