Going For Broke
Tim Potts '71 And George Hicks '13 Work To Fix An Ailing State Government
by Brett Shollenberger '11
April 1, 2011
Two generations of Dickinsonians, Tim Potts ’71 (left) and George Hicks ’13, are leading the charge for reform of Pennsylvania’s state government.
Six years ago, Tim Potts ’71 was mad as
hell, and he wasn’t going to take it anymore. He’d spent 21 years
working inside state government, largely unable to effect the
improvements he saw necessary, and when he got outside he felt even more
strongly that the government was not working for the benefit of its
citizens but rather for the benefit of special and moneyed interests.
Potts saw that Pennsylvania’s government was broken. So he decided to fix it.
2004, he founded Democracy Rising PA, a nonpartisan, grassroots
organization with the mission to turn “one of the most corrupt state
governments” into “the best state government in America.” As Potts says,
he has his work cut out for him.
the last six years, Democracy Rising has grown to more than 7,000
members who work to pressure the state legislature to enact reform.
According to Potts, as of January 2010, 72 percent of Pennsylvanians
were in favor of holding a constitutional convention, which would allow
the state to reform its government, and Potts guesses that number could
now be as high as 80 percent.
an indication of how unresponsive the government is to the citizenry,
that this kind of majority exists, and the legislature hasn’t done
anything about it,” Potts says. The goal then is to enlist more
Pennsyl-vanians—that’s where George Hicks ’13 comes in.
and Potts have much in common. Neither politico took a Dickinson course
in political science (George is an Italian major, Tim was an English
major). They also have unique networking approaches. While Potts, who
resides in Carlisle, understands the subtleties of traditional
networking, Hicks, a progressive Democrat from Philadelphia, employs the
power of social media—spreading the message to the private college and
university students of Pennsylvania.
one of the values of a liberal-arts education,” Potts says. “You don’t
have to be a political-science major to understand the need for
reforming your government and playing a role as an active citizen.”
And when Potts and Hicks get active, they get really active.
also contacted the state’s student newspapers. “We are starting with
the [community leaders] to get the message to the grassroots—the
students,” he says. In addition, Hicks worked with college and
university political-science departments to host Potts as a speaker and
is helping another student at the Pennsylvania State University–Main
Campus to make Democracy Rising prominent there.
last time Pennsylvania held a constitutional convention was in 1967.
Yet it was only a partial convention, and the slate of delegates looked
more like a Pennsylvania red-carpet show than an accurate representation
of the state’s citizenry. The author James Michener was there, as were
future governors Dick Thornburgh and Bob Casey Sr.
the 163 delegates, only 11 were women, five were minorities, and 44
percent were lawyers,” says Potts. In a new delegation, Hicks would like
to see “African Americans, gays, lesbians—the whole spectrum of ethnic,
religious and sexual differences in Pennsylvania represented.”
While Democracy Rising cannot advocate for any particular issue at a convention, there are many that concern Pennsylvanians.
have the largest full-time legislature in America, the second-largest
legislature of any kind, and the most expensive legislature in America,”
says Potts. “So, naturally, a lot of people are talking about reducing
the size of the legislature.” Citizens also have expressed interest in
debating whether or not Pennsylvania should have a full-time legislature
or whether representatives should have pay caps.
the 2000 census, we became the second-most gerrymandered state in the
country,” continues Potts. “So some people want to talk about changing
the way we draw the district boundaries.” Others are interested in
getting rid of election of judges in favor of a merit-based selection
system, like the one used on the federal level.
says he’d like to see legislators held accountable. “I think we have to
have some kind of system where, if I’m a taxpayer paying you $67,000
per year, plus your staff, plus your per diem, plus costs for your
legislation, your caucuses, your committees, then I have a right to know
what I’m paying for. I’d like a report every year on how legislators
benefited their community directly.”
just because Democracy Rising doesn’t advocate for particular outcomes
doesn’t mean the group doesn’t educate Pennsylvanians about the issues.
“A language major comes in very handy, if you look at it from the view
of communication,” Hicks says, referring to both his and Potts’
Dickinson degrees. “To me, a language major is someone who is
well-versed in the art of communicating. My major has helped me both to
craft political messages and determine the best way to spread that
“George’s generation has a
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to communicate the way they want to
fashion government,” Potts asserts.
with the help of many other college-age Pennsylvanians, may just help
to build Democracy Rising’s vision of the best state government. In
fact, he is so committed, that he hopes to stay in Carlisle after
graduation to continue to spread his message and help guide political
discourse and commerce in the borough.
town has a nice charm to it,” he says, “and in my eyes it is an
undeveloped piece of land with great potential. I hope to eventually be
able to develop the town with real estate and commercial chains, as well
as bring out its many distinct neighborhoods and communities. I’d like
to help the many different groups and communities to define themselves
so that the residents and even the world might know who these people
from Carlisle are and where this very special town might be going.”