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Dems take message online

Techno-Democracy

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Taking a cue from some coastal counterparts to the west, Democrats in the Montana Legislature launched their own blog Jan. 18.

“This is an experiment in democracy,” says Bozeman Rep. Brady Wiseman, creator of MontanaStatehouse.com, and the blog’s administrator.

Wiseman says the purpose of the website is to give legislators a chance to communicate with constituents in a way they often can’t through traditional media.

“I’m hoping we can focus on what our story is more directly and get past the filter of the newspapers and the broadcast news media. Our story is so much broader and so much bigger than what traditional media can cover,” Wiseman says.

The idea came from a political blog in Oregon called “Oregon House Democrats” (www.oregonhousedemocrats.blogs.com). In 2006, Oregon House Democrats became the first legislative caucus in the nation to host its own blog, and used the site during the political season to promote Democratic candidates. Wiseman says MontanaStatehouse.com will focus primarily on communicating information from the capitol and promoting the party’s agenda rather than campaigning.

“There’s really no grand strategy here,” Wiseman says. “The idea is to see if legislators can find the time to do this, and on the other hand to see if citizens are interested.”

According to Wiseman, every Democratic legislator has an account and can blog freely on the site. Democrats have so far used the blog to write about individual bills and upcoming legislative hearings. Already Sens. Carol Williams, Mike Cooney and Dave Wanzenreid and Reps. John Parker, Brady Wiseman and Mike Phillips have taken turns posting to the website.

The blog also invites comments from readers on individual posts, though Wiseman warns that comments will be moderated.

“We’re not going to allow just anything on there. Abusive language will be gone,” Wiseman says. “But if the comments turn into civil debate we’ll leave them up there.”

Just don’t expect legislators to take part in those online debates.

“We’re cautioning all of the legislators to not respond,” Wiseman says. ”We don’t want to get folks drawn into an angry back and forth where they might say something unfortunate off the cuff.”

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