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These are days of discontent

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, November 4, 1994

As the 1994 election approaches, competitive races Hare beginning to tighten. That usually happens just before Election Day. Reason: Undecided voters make up their minds and potential turncoats who may have flirted with the “other” candidate come back to the party fold.

But as partisan preferences shift back and forth, there is an underlying reality that is bound to affect this election and the national political agenda for some time to come. That reality: Most Americans think the federal government has grown too big, spends too much money and has too much authority over their lives.

According to the University of Michigan’s National Election Studies poll in 1993, only 14% of Americans trusted the government in Washington, D.C., to do what’s right “just about always” or “most of the time.” That’s down from 73% in 1958. Today, 70% of Americans say government creates more problems than it solves; 75% say government wastes “a lot of their money.

Republican presidential hopeful Lamar Alexander is tuned into these sentiments. The former Tennessee governor and education secretary in the Bush administration has traveled across the U.S., listening to people and testing campaign themes.

One theme that gets a positive response in every region of the country is Alexander’s proposal to limit to six months the time Congress may be in session each year, barring a national emergency, and to” cut congressional pay in half. Alexander would also repeal the rules — except for the disclosure of income — that keep members of Congress from holding real jobs and leading normal lives in their hometowns.

There are now public opinion data to support Alexander’s proposal. According to an October poll of 1,000 adults by Market Strategies Inc., a respected Michigan-based public opinion research organization, more than three out of four (76%) Americans say “Congress’ pay should be cut in half and (members should spend six months of the year back home with their constituents.” Only 18% disagree.

The poll also establishes “cut their pay” as a cutting edge issue with many voters. When asked “Would you be more or less likely to vote for a congressional candidate who supported the ŒCut their pay and send them home’ proposal?,” more than two out of three (69%) said “more likely.” Only 18% said “less likely.”

Why this discontent with Congress? The poll gives some insights. First, an astonishing 89C%c agreed that “Lobbyists in Washington have more impact with members of Congress than the voters do” and that ‘ Members of Congress are more interested in their own re-election than in the best interests of the country.” Three out of five (59%) felt “the government in Washington is getting too powerful for the good of the country” and 85% agreed that “Power and influence need to be moved away from Washington and back to the states and local communities.”

When asked, “Are things in this country going in the right direction or are they on the wrong track,” two-thirds responded “wrong track.” Only 22% thought things were going in the “right direction.”

There is a heap of discontent in America. Politicians and pundits who dismiss it as “alienation,” “frustration” or mere “anger” will do so at their own risk. These sentiments are deep-rooted and will shape a lot of political behavior before this decade is finished. A real transformation is brewing.

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