David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Thursday, October 13, 2005
In Praise of Local Candidates Who Blog
Consider these rarities:
Candidates running state- or nationwide usually manage to get voters plenty of information about themselves and their views, but local candidates and the voters who study them have fewer ways of communicating detailed thoughts. A typical, reasonably well-funded local campaign can only afford one mailer or newspaper flyer, or at most two. There's a limit to how much information can usefully be crowded into effective newspaer ads, even if the campaign budget will support them. And there are just too many local candidates for a newspaper to do much on its own to communicate candidate platforms.
Enter the Internet. A basic World Wide Web site is not costly, and most campaigns can find a volunteer to do most of the work and maybe even the hosting. To my knowledge mayoral candidates Shirl LeBaron and Heber Thompson and city council candidate Heidi Rodeback are the only American Fork candidates who have campaign web sites. These help voters quite a bit, if they're used well. But in many cases, adding content to a Web site is just troublesome and time-consuming enough that it's hard to do from day to day during a local political campaign. It's not necessarily a quick-response medium.
For a look inside the mind of a candidate, short of lengthy, substantive interviews, which are few and far between in a local election, there is nothing like the candidate's blog (short for "Web log"). A blog can be painless and free of charge, both to create and to update regularly. Having done it a few times, I can set up a new blog in about five minutes, complete with the blogger's photo. (The first time I did it, it might have taken ten minutes.)
After that, the blogger (here, the candidate) can log in at will, type an entry, then post it immediately or save it for future editing. The major challenge isn't even technical; it's good writing.
To my knowledge, the only two American Fork candidates who blog are LeBaron and Rodeback. Both are relative newcomers, having been at it, apparently, a couple of months. Since I already have daily access to Rodeback's thinking (the shared surname is not coincidental), I'll use Lebaron's blog as an illustration here, since my experience with it is more nearly that of a typical inquisitive voter.
Note that one universal feature of blogs is that the most recent post (meaning entry or article) is placed at the top of the main page, and earlier entries follow in reverse chronological order. Normally, there will be several posts on the main page, but each post will be archived as its own page, too. This is mostly for the benefit of other bloggers, who may want a permanent link to a particular post. Bloggers vary in the frequency of their posts, from many times a day to once every few weeks. Both these American Fork candidates tend to post a few times a week.
Topics from LeBaron's recent posts include: beefs (low attendance and a scheduling conflict) with meet-the-candidates events, the community basketball team he coaches, Supreme Court nominee Harriett Miers, hiring a new police chief, and things some people think are negative campaigning which aren't (I agree, except for thinking such complaints may come from motives other than covering up a candidate's weaknesses, such as a sense that disagreeing is not nice). All of this helps the voter or constituent understand what and how the candidate/official thinks, and what sort of person he is - even if basketball isn't directly relevant to politics, and even if a city councilor gets no vote on the confirmation of a US Supreme Court justice nominee. (Part of the beauty of blogging is that it forgives, or even encourages, recording thoughts on any topic that is on the blogger's mind, whether or not it fits thematically with everything else that is going on.)
Two other recent LeBaron posts serve more significant political purposes. One, in a fact or fiction format, attempts to clarify some details on various topics which have arisen in the mayoral campaign, and to clarify LeBaron's positions on certain issues on which his message so far, I think, has not been as effective or focused as he might have hoped. (Yes, I know know "clarify" is something of a euphemism in politics. Frankly, it may not be the only euphemism in that sentence.)
Another, a letter on city finances, co-signed with Councilman Rick Storrs, is written more in the mode of an elected official than a candidate. It reports briefly on various significant financial issues at the City. Frankly, I wish we could hear this sort of report regularly from all members of the City Council, the Mayor, and some other senior City officials, especially in a format (such as the blog) which features reader replies. Assuming most or all of those officials were generally candid and truthful, not obfuscating and blustery, this alone would go a long way toward rehabilitating the City's well-earned reputation for preferring to avoid, where possible, the messy inconvenience of informing and hearing the public.
Most blogs are set up to allow readers to comment on posts, as I sometimes do. Most of the wiser bloggers filter the comments to remove advertisements of various unwelcome sorts, but it's more or less the norm (such as at my blog) to post comments from people who disagree, as long as the comments are germane and civil.
I don't know how many people in American Fork are reading the blogs yet, but some are, and more will. The blog is becoming one of the local candidate's (and official's) best friends, allowing direct contact between candidate and voter, and also quick response to questions, charges, and issues which arise during the campaign.
It takes more than a blog to make a good candidate or official, but I suppose it's no surprise that I'm a big fan of candidates' and incumbents' blogs. (LeBaron's is actually a hybrid, as befits a man who is both in office and running for office.) Here in the early twenty-first century, when some local officials and candidates still either don't have or don't answer e-mail, let alone have informative, current Web sites, the blogs which exist tend to reassure us that there is some long-term hope for open government.
For what it's worth, a particularly good example of the incumbent's blog is State Representative John Dougall's. He writes well, principally on state issues but ranging more broadly at times, and seems to do his homework.
Copyright 2005 by David Rodeback.