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Chaffetz joins ranks of Twittering politicians

Published December 15, 2008 4:51 pm

Keep it short » Messages are rapid but brief
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Rep.-elect Jason Chaffetz is bypassing the traditional media filter to talk directly to the people of Utah. He just has to keep it short.

Really short.

Chaffetz has become the latest in a growing number of politicians who are turning to the popular microblogging site Twitter as a way to connect with the public.

Under the name "jasoninthehouse," Chaffetz has written about the famous people he has bumped into at the airport, his affection for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his recent purchase of a used car.

"I bought a Suburban yesterday," Chaffetz tweeted Friday. "Used, but a great time to buy a car. Deals are amazing. Buy low, sell high."

He has also written about how he would vote on legislation and what meetings he is attending.

Twitter allows people to set up free accounts where they can write short messages, no longer than 140 characters, which are then seen by his or her "followers." An individual message is called a tweet. Largely younger people use it as a social networking site, but it has increasingly caught the attention of those in public office.

Since creating his Twitter account at the start of December, Chaffetz has attracted about 150 followers. He is the first member of Utah's congressional delegation to use the tool, though not the first Utah politician. Among the active Utah tweeters are Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who writes under the name "mshurtleff."

Chaffetz looks at Twitter and Facebook as vital ways for spreading conservative viewpoints, especially for Republicans looking to rebound after an election drubbing. He plans to use Twitter to explain his views on legislation, while keeping Facebook focused on his campaign activities.

"We need to communicate as a party with a whole different audience," said Chaffetz, who plans to join the Republican's new media caucus. "We need to communicate with a younger and more progressive generation."

President-elect Barack Obama interacted with young people through text messages, Twitter and a host of other social-networking tools, using it to garner donations and organize volunteers.

"Obama did it exceptionally well," Chaffetz said. "Republicans suck at it."

That's not true of all Republicans.

Texas GOP Rep. John Culberson is probably the most avid congressional user of Twitter. A stream of his tweets run down the left side of his congressional Web site, which he updates personally throughout the day.

He started tweeting back in May and now has more than 4,600 followers.

House rules used to prohibit members of Congress from posting on third-party sites like YouTube and Twitter for fear of mixing official messages with commercial or political advertisements. But Culberson led the charge to ease the regulations arguing that such sites are a valuable way to reach out to people back home.

Chaffetz joins 32 other House members who use Twitter, according to Congresspedia, a site run by the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Media and Democracy. But only a handful of those members actually write their own messages.

Chaffetz promised that all tweets will come directly from him, even as his schedule becomes more hectic.

"I think it will work because it is limited to one or two sentences," he said. Even though other people can respond directly to the new congressman, don't expect Chaffetz to start a back and forth.

"I'm looking at this as much more of a one-way tool," he said.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Chaffetz account

To view Jason Chaffetz's Twitter account, go to http://www.twitter.com/jasoninthehouse.