Lawmaker-blogger keeps constituents up to date
Rep. Stephen Urquhart has ventured into new territory to keep his constituents up to date on what he's up to.
Urquhart is a blogger (Internet jargon for a person who keeps a Web log, or journal).
In what may be a first for a Utah lawmaker, the St. George Republican frequently posts comments on his Web site, http://www.steveu.com, chatting about bills or the latest news. His constituents get more than just an occasional quote in the newspaper, they get his full explanation.
"Because the session gets so busy, the blog is a wonderful way to communicate with constituents," Urquhart says. "They might send me a friendly e-mail, like 'Vote against HJR 1, you moron!' or 'Vote for SB34 - or next election you're toast!' "
Urquhart's idea apparently is spreading. House Republicans are setting up their own blog, http:// http://www.utahhousemajority.com, and Rep. Jeff Alexander, R-Provo, is planning to launch http://www.jeff- alexander.com.
"We better finally step up," Alexander says, not wanting to be left in the dark digital age.
Urquhart says it doesn't take much work, maybe 10 to 15 minutes a day, but the payoff is great. It's well worth it for the lawmaker who once rented a hot-air balloon and offered free rides to draw constituents out to chat.
"About 20 people showed up - and I'm rounding up, because my ego is still bruised," he quips.
His Web site is a quick glance inside Urquhart's head. Want to know what he thought of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s State of the State address, his stand on the never-ending bank/credit union battle, or a skirmish over budget priorities? Just look it up.
Anyone with computer access can keep track of what Utah lawmakers are doing by clicking on http://www.le.utah.gov; residents can read bills, check votes and watch video of the floor time.
But for St. George resident Darci Hansen, Urquhart's blog is one step further.
"It is a bold move for any politician to open themselves up to the public expressing ongoing personal views on legislative issues," says Hansen, who reads the blog everyday. "Although, isn't that how it should be?"
Some Utah lawmakers also are pretty tech-savvy; Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, for example, uses instant messenger while on the floor. Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, has his own Web site for his consulting business. And House Speaker Greg Curtis taps into UtahCitizen.com, which allows him to e-mail out occasional alerts and comments.
Others, of course, are still figuring out e-mail. An ongoing joke on the Hill is who will inherit Rep. Brad Johnson's barely used laptop when it's exchanged for a new one. The Republican rancher isn't a big tech fan and doesn't use a computer outside the session.
Some of Urquhart's constituents praise his postings, though he admits it has downsides.
"Others, of course - probably the smart ones - thank me for the written proof that I am, indeed, a moron and ask when the filing date is to run against me," Urquhart says, tongue-in-cheek.
Urquhart says he is not trying to replace the Capitol press corp. "The media has an obligation to present different sides of an issue, whereas on my blog I mostly stick to the side of the angels - which, for ease of reference, I always happen to be on."