Lawmakers' Blogs Share Views, Insights
By Pauline Vu, Staff Writer
Alabama state Rep. Mike Ball (R) posts "this day in state history" tidbits on his blog, Idaho state Rep. Nicole LeFavour (D) offers behind-the-scenes insight on hers, and Nevada state Sen. Bob Beers (R), running for re-election, posted this limerick: "Beers' opponent's positions defy/Common sense, so she'll have to rely/On attacking the man,/Researched "dirt" is her plan,/And when none can be found, she will lie."
There are 175,000 new blogs launched every day across cyberspace, according to web observer Technorati, and state legislators' offerings are sprinkled among them. More than 50 lawmakers regularly blog, and more are joining the blogosphere every year.
Like many bloggers, state lawmakers give their opinions on the topics of the day and share their personal life with readers. But unlike other bloggers, they also sometimes give the public a unique view into the workings of the statehouse. "It's the perfect way to talk directly to constituents without a media filter," said Arkansas House Majority Leader Steve Harrelson (D), the state's first legislator-blogger who created Under the Dome in January 2007 to replace the e-newsletter he had sent constituents.
Since then, Harrelson's varied postings - he has posted pictures from the 1930s of his grandfather when he was an Arkansas legislator, blogged from the House floor during debate and explained his opposition to a controversial bill that would deny gays the right to adopt - has become a must-read for Arkansas politicos. His site gets about 1,000 hits a day, more of them from Little Rock than Texarkana, Harrelson's district, and when washingtonpost.com columnist Chris Cizzilla went on a search for the best political blog from each state, Under the Dome took the honors.
State lawmakers can reap many benefits from blogging, according to Paul Taylor, the chief strategy officer at the Center for Digital Government , which provides technology resources for state and local governments. Blogging is cheaper than mailing out paper newsletters, and makes it easier for the public to get involved. "You don't have to show up at a town meeting to engage your legislator," Taylor said. "Legislators write posts at when they have a moment to do it, and constituents can also read and respond to the blog at a time and place of their choosing, probably in the comfort of their own home, or while waiting for the kids at school on their Blackberry."
Like Harrelson, lawmakers often use blogs to explain where they stand on issues. South Carolina state Sen. Kevin Bryant (R), for example, writes on his blog about his conservative views, including banning abortion and cracking down on illegal immigration. Bryant said he plans to push next session for more transparency in government and to post state expenditures online and offers his "Blog from the backbench" as one way to begin that process.
"This is just to let my constituents know that what they hear out of my mouth in Anderson, I follow up with action in Columbia," he said. While many older adults find themselves running to keep up with technology, legislative blogging isn't just for the younger set. Virginia Democratic Dels. Kris Amundson, 58, and Bob Brink, 61, share www.7-west.org , which they started in 2006 to give their views on Virginia politics.
When they attended their first bloggers' conference, Amundson recalled, they were old enough to be the other attendees' parents. "This may be the last chance that either one of us has to be called cutting edge ever again," said Amundson, who likes to joke that she and Brink are "blogging on walkers."
Many of Idaho Rep. Nicole LeFavour's posts on her blog offer insights into little-known traditions at the Legislature (such as the hazing of freshmen lawmakers by initially voting down their first bills). But LeFavour has also blogs about being the state's only openly gay lawmaker. One post reads: "It is Valentine's day, and I send love to my partner Carol as a legislative spouse, for all she endures in long hours, stress and putting up with my months of pre-occupation with policy and strategy and the daily drama of the legislature. To Carol who doesn't get to attend the legis-ladies meetings and outings or have the camaraderie of others who live so close to the periphery of this often all-consuming place."
Some of her more personal blogs have drawn the most positive responses, LeFavour said. "In a state like this, a legislature like this, I'm hopeful that (the blog) is helpful to understand a little bit behind my votes and my persona," she said.
But legislator-bloggers have to walk a fine line between welcoming readers into their personal lives and revealing too much - including questionable taste. Pennsylvania state Rep. Daylin Leach (D) crossed the line in 2005 with www.leachvent.com , in which Leach - a self-described comedian - joked about sex, pornography, and a Palestinian bachelor party in which the groom celebrates his upcoming nuptials by blowing up a bus. About a piece of legislation he was supporting, he wrote, "The age of consent would officially be lowered to 'When Poppa ain't around.'"
Leach took down most of his posts shortly after The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about the Web site. But in September 2006, when he was running for re-election, a woman launched the now-defunct Web site, TruthAboutDaylin.com, to remind voters of Leach's previous postings. Leach won anyway and is now running for the state Senate.
Despite the risks, Taylor of the Center for Digital Government said the best legislative blogs are those written by lawmakers who don't turn to their advisors for approval on every posting. But therein also lies the danger. "It is a legislator who may speak the truth in unvarnished terms…and I suppose depending on your view of how public processes are supposed to work, that brings both promises and pitfalls," he said.
AMONG THE LIST OF STATE LAWMAKERS WHO BLOG:
ALABAMA - Rep. Mike Ball (R); Rep. Chris England (D); Sen. Rusty Glover (R); Sen. Parker Griffith (D); Rep. Cam Ward (R) ALASKA - Rep. John Coghill (R); Rep. Bob Lynn (R) ARKANSAS - Rep. Steve Harrelson (D) COLORADO - Rep.Andrew Romanoff (D) CONNECTICUT - Rep. Tim O'Brien (D) FLORIDA - Rep. Dan Gelber (D) GEORGIA - Sen. David Adelman (D); Rep. Steve Davis (R); Rep. Mike Jacobs (D); Rep. Pedro "Pete" Marin (D); Sen. David Shafer (R)
HAWAII - Sen. Gary Hooser (D); Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu (D) IDAHO - Rep. Nicole LeFavour (D)
ILLINOIS - Rep. John Fritchey (D); Sen. Susan Garrett (D) INDIANA - Rep. Ryan Dvorak (D); Sen. David Ford (R) KENTUCKY - Rep. Adam Koenig (R) MARYLAND - Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg (D); Del. Richard Weldon Jr. (R) MICHIGAN - Rep. Jack Hoogendyk (R) MINNESOTA - Rep. David Bly (DFL); Sen. Kevin Dahle (DFL); Rep. Paul Gardner (DFL); Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL); Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL) MISSISSIPPI - Sen. David Baria (D); Rep. John Mayo (D) NEW MEXICO - Sen. Dede Feldman (D) NEW YORK - Sen. Ruben Diaz (D); Sen. Jose M. Serrano (D) NEVADA - Sen. Bob Beers (R); Rep. David Bobzien (D) OHIO - Sen. Ron Amstutz (R) PENNSYLVANIA - Rep. Mark Cohen (D); Sen. John Eichelberger (R); Rep. Jesse White (D) SOUTH CAROLINA - Rep. Nathan Ballentine (R); Sen. Kevin Bryant (R); Rep. Jeff Duncan (R); Rep. Keith Kelly (R); Sen. Shane Massey (R); Sen. Glenn McConnell (R)
TENNESSEE - Rep. Stacey Campfield (R); Sen. Roy Herron (D); Rep. Susan Lynn (R); Rep. Jedd Matheny (R) TEXAS - Rep. Garnet Coleman (D); Rep. Aaron Pena (D); Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) UTAH - Rep. Steve Urquhart (R) VIRGINIA - Dels. Kris Amundson and Bob Brink (D); Del. Chris Saxman (R) WISCONSIN - Rep. Frank Lasee (R); Sen. Mary Lazich (R)