You won't find many surveys that involve over 365,000 respondents, but that's how many online forms were completed to determine the top three planks of the tea-party movement's platform released Thursday as part of the new "Contract From America."
Leading the list as issue No. 1: "Protect the Constitution: Require each bill to identity the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does."
That proposal won the approval of 80.7 percent of the survey responses collected so far. Voting will continue through Monday at ContractFromAmerica.com.
The second most popular of the 21 issues that are up for a vote: "Reject cap and trade: Stop costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation's global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global temperatures."
The goal of that plank, tea party officials say, is to block any imposition of the cap and trade tax, whether by congressional fiat or by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has threatened to act unilaterally if Congress fails to do so. The issue won the support of 70.8 percent of respondents.
Issue No. 3 was unveiled Thursday based on the survey responses: "Demand a balanced budget: Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax hike." That plank received the approval of 69.9 percent of respondents.
Ryan Hecker is the 29-year-old Houston attorney who came up with the Contract From America concept even before the tea party movement was launched in February 2009. He says the ultimate objective is to influence the outcome of the midterm elections the way the Contract With America did in 1994, only more so:
"My dream, my hope," Hecker tells Newsmax, "is that economic conservative candidates and those who want to be economic conservatives in the future will sign on, and that we get a bunch of blue-dog Democrats and tons of elected officials onboard, and that they recognize that any document they craft themselves won't be as powerful as one coming from the people.
So I'm hoping this will be the legislative agenda, coming from the people, for the 2010 elections."
The Contract From America proposal first emerged at CPAC in February, promising a legislative agenda bubbling up from the grass-roots rather than down from legislators. Since then, Hecker his colleagues at the Tea Party Patriots and other grass-roots organizations have sifted through a small mountain of proposals submitted from voters across the United States.
Using more than 5,000 surveys mostly completed by members of the grass-roots movement, they winnowed the ideas down to 21 proposals.
Next they posted the list online in the form of an extended survey, and directed voters to the ContractFromAmerica Web site to select the top 10 ideas.
The 10 proposals that the grass-roots voters deem the most important will be included in the full ContractFromAmerica proposal, which will be unveiled on April 15 during the massive Tax Day Tea Party rally being conducted in the nation's capital. Reflecting the widespread, de-centralized power of the tea party movement, the Contract From America also will be simultaneously revealed in Houston, Austin, Atlanta, and 80 other locations in the country.
Hecker, who sits on the national leadership council of Tea Party Patriots, gives many others due credit for helping to make his vision a reality. He tells Newsmax that the Contract From America is intended "to help turn the tea party movement into more than just a protest movement. One of the major criticisms, which I is think is unjustified, is that they're just 'anti.' This is offering powerful ideas from the people."
The Contract From America concept has received the backing of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, one of the architects of the original Contract With America, which helped frame the political debate that preceding the Republican takeover of the Congress in 1994.
It’s not the handiwork of me or any public official," Gingrich wrote regarding the new Contract in a February column. "It is the genuine voice of the American people. Unlike the current political dynamic, in which the will of Washington is forced on America, this is the voice of America coming to Washington."
Hecker is careful to emphasize he has deep respect for the original Contract. But he says this one should be even more effective.
"The Contract From America was a great document," Hecker says, "but what this says is it's not top down, it's bottom up . . . It comes from the people, and it's how representative government should work."
What got Hecker, a young attorney fresh out of law school, interested in promoting a new political covenant in America?
"It was my frustration with the Republican Party's lack of legitimacy on economic-conservative issues," he explains. "They no longer represented for me a proxy for my beliefs on the economic front. So this idea came from that. I thought, 'How do we move this country back into an economic conservative direction if that's not where it seems either party is headed. And then it just fit perfectly within the tea party movement."
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