Monday, October 16, 2006

The Role of Blogs in Local Politics

Until very recently, I was a new media skeptic. I never would have imagined that blogs could be all that useful to local political campaigns.

The conventional wisdom went something like this: If you're reading a political blog, especially one concerned with local issues, than you must be a political junkie, and thus your mind is made up. You are not persuadable. So I figured that blogs were little more than campaign diaries. I felt their main function was to provide reading material to the party activists - Keep them informed of campaign news, supply them with talking points, etc. And that's exactly what a lot of blogs do, and that's fine. There's a lot of value in that.

But this campaign season, we tapped into something deeper. Something more fundemental...It's now 20 days until the election, and the messaging phase is over. What have we learned?

1. Local blogs can influence local media coverage.

I'll give you a couple of examples: Some of you may remember this post on Muse Musings about the fishy campaign finance reports of State Rep John Davis. After some more digging, Muse and company found enough evidence to prompt a KHOU Investigative Report. And then of course there was the Bob Hebert endorsement fiasco. Blog coverage here disseminated on Fort Bend Now led Hebert to contact local press and give an interview denying any wrong-doing while simultaneously editing his campaign website to eliminate the incriminating evidence.

2. Local blogs can raise money.

As anyone who has driven practically anywhere in Fort Bend in the last two months can tell you, the online Adopt-A-Sign program exceeded the club's wildest expectations.

3. Local blogs provide candidate information for undecided voters.

Candidate websites are all about credibility. Every candidate has one, but they have a very low persuasion factor. Research has shown that when a wired voter wants to find out about a candidate, they overwhelmingly start at one place: Google.

Now let me give you an example...Google search for "Brady Elliot" -

First two hits are mine. A fellow Democrat blog, Half Empty, has the next hit. The next hit is a family tree for a different Brady Elliot. The next hit is Elliot's campaign site, and the next two hits lead to local Democrat blogs: Bryan's Blog and Off the Kuff. And that's it. Go a few more pages, and you begin hitting some more Democrat blogs. Long story short - Undecided voter finds out Brady Elliot has been censured by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for “failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”

Google "Bud Childers", and you get a lot of hits about some basketball coach, but this post of mine is on the first page. And the only relevant hits on the next few pages come from Democrat blogs. Thus, our voter discovers Bud has no courtroom experience.

Annie Elliot's name is too common (you get results for actresses and lacrosse players), but try searching "Annie Elliot clerk." First three hits are articles from local papers about the controverisal contributions and political favors given to Mrs. Elliot. Next hit is my Election Guide. The only two other relevant hits on the page are also both Democrat blogs. It goes on and on. Voters searching for "Jeff Council treasurer" will find out that he knows how to handle the ladies...A "Ken Cannata" search produces three different Dem blogs on the first page.

Now go try searching our candidates...

Albert Hollan
Rudy Velasquez
Neeta Sane
Veronica Torres
Farhan Shamsi

4. Local blogs can exert influence on the opposition.

First off, continued reporting on our efforts, complete with photos, has helped seriously demoralize the local GOP. Long gone is the idea that local Democrats are unorganized and lacking support. The local GOP has now seen pictures of phonebanks, lasers, volunteer blockwalks and jam-packed events. And they are afraid. They even admit it in the press, reinforcing the idea to voters that they are loosing their grip on power.

Second, and even more importantly, our blogs have successfully framed the local campaigns. Indeed, they have been so effective in this regard that they have begun to exert control over the content of our opponent's messages.

Depending on how much of a political junkie you are, you may have heard of this book. It spawned the term "framing," one of the most commonly used and misused buzzwords in politics. To nutshell it for you, framing is about setting up the model to be used in any conversation, and we invoke frames with our language. Once an argument is made within a certain frame, the counter-argument also invokes the frame.

Thus when I tell you "Don't think of an elephant," you instantly think of an elephant.

I had been hearing rumors for some time that local GOP candidates were attempting to respond to our blogs in their stump speeches. Yet it really didn't sink in until one recent candidate's forum...

Brady Elliot began his speech with a series of long and awkward excuses for not being AV rated and being censured for improper judicial conduct. Bud Childers followed with a series of equally long and perhaps more awkward excuses for having zero experience in the courtroom. (BTW - His most recent defense is that when he resigned his job, he was given a secretary's position in the County Court so he could learn how it operates.)

Annie Elliot tried to cover for her lack of clerical or supervisory experience by citing her "good Texas values" and a mysterious Bachelor's degree "from somewhere in Tampico." Ken Cannata reinforced the fact that he has no experience with the juvenile justice system. And
Jeff Council didn't even try to dispute our frame: We tell you he's a greedy insurance salesmen and good buddies with the guys on Commissioner's Court, and he bragged about it.

It makes you wonder who is consulting these guys...Or has the local GOP apparatus fallen into outright disrepair? Did they just get used to a system in which any crony in a bad suit with a GOP nomination could win in November? Think about it: Grassroots activists used blogs to control the content of their opponent's message. It is a watershed event.

I don't know what's going to happen on election day. But I do know that the prospect of a Democrat winning a county-wide office used to be unthinkable. And now, for the first time in over a decade, all of the county-wide Republican candidates are genuinely frightened. I'd like to think that no-cost online messaging was a small part of that.

In two years, I think it will be fair to say that any credible campaign for a county-wide office or higher will include a network of supporter blogs.


1. Local blogs are most effective with local content! Nobody cares what you think about Rick Perry or the Dubai ports deal. Get connected into your local party, get to know your candidates, and get to know the gossips on the other side. Get someone to every local political event, preferably with an audio or video recorder.

2. Learn how Google works and manipulate it.

3. Be active in local online media. Local news sites like Fort Bend Now will continue to increase in popularity and importance. Participatory news presents interesting new dynamics, and activists must explore this territory.

4. Member blogs are better than party blogs. Get a blog ring together. Here in CD22, I have a fairly big concentration of fellow Democrat blogs dealing with local politics, including:

Muse Musings
Off the Kuff
Half Empty
Truth Serum
Bryan in 22
Bay Area Houston Blog
Greg's Opinion
Brians and Eggs
Dos Centavos
Fort Bend Democrats
Houston Democrats

Distribute a list of blogs and news sites at your club and party meetings. Tell your members to email their friends and family about where to get local info online.

5. Most importantly, facts are better than opinions. An undecided voter will usually dismiss the opinions of a party activist, but facts are more difficult to ignore.

EPILOGUE: WHAT NOT TO DO (Or Why We Shouldn't Worry About the Other Side)

Some might worry that I'm giving away too much to our opposition...And in the next few days some GOP blogger will spike Google with information on GOP candidates. Well, the good news is that there really isn't a right-wing blogosphere covering the local campaigns. There are a few here and there, mostly talking about the Governor's race or Mark Foley or something they heard on Sean Hannity.

But one GOP CD22 blog has been extremely active during the campaign season - It's called Rhymes with Right. In fact, during the DeLay replacement fight between David Wallace and Shelley Sekula Gibbs, this blog suddenly published a boatload of meticulously researched negative material on David Wallace. And to this day, he continues to be a vocal activist for Sekula Gibbs - Some of you may be familar with his rants on Fort Bend Now.

And he knows his Google. Go search "Sekula Gibbs." I'll wait...

Did you see it? Fifth hit, right after her campaign sites. A little article titled: “Sekula-Gibbs Supports Public Safety – Pro-Wetback Council Members Play Politics.” And as if that wasn't enough, his article goes on to accuse Councilwoman Ada Edwards of "scrambling for a few more Hispanic votes like they were crack rocks."

And as if THAT wasn't enough, this isn't just some loner nut:

He is Greg Aydt, Republican Party Precinct Chair. And this is why we shouldn't worry about the other side. Frustrated racists are rarely undecided voters. So let GOP officials like Greg get all worked up and spill their hateful bile in public view. In fact, we should consider paying him for it.


Anonymous Rhymes With Right said...

You are hereby directed to remove my personal photo from your website as a violation of my copyright. Appropriate action will be forthcoming if you do not comply.

And given that there was no racist statement at all, I suggest you remove your defamatory statement about me as well. I did refer to individuals present in this country in violation of American law with a derogatory term regarding their immigration status, but made no comment whatsoever about their race or ethnicity. As such, your statement is clearly libelous. So consider this to be your notice of potential action on my part in that regard as well.

Your immediate compliance is demanded.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

Wow Greg, you hit a real sore spot. Great photo, I could not a pictured it any different.

5:40 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Mr. Aydt:

You are hereby directed to cry me a river.

The appearence of your publicly available photo on my website is clearly allowed under fair use provisions. My use of the photo is for non-profit purposes, and my use has no effect upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. You can find that in the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 107.

Also, Section 107 of the Copyright Act explicitly allows me to use copyrighted material in criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

So unless you produce a judicial injunction that says otherwise, the picture stays up.

As far as your pending (giggle) defamation suit...I could think of few greater joys in my life than causing a GOP elected official to launch a very public frivolous lawsuit where he must defend his use of the term "wetback." Feel free to email me, and I will even provide an address where you can serve the papers.

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Rhymes With Right said...

The terms of service of your current host which you accepted indicates as follows: "All files are © to their respective owners."

You therefore falsely assert copyright over my my work by hosting it there.

You have already had one image account deleted by its management for the same reason.

3:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Are you serious Greg? You actually said wetbacks?

Well, now you and Shelly have something in common. Racism.

What an asswipe. If you held any office worth spitting on, I would ask you to resign, like I asked Shelly.

Wetbacks? Did you refer to Ada Edwards as a Nigger also?

What an jackass.

5:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know Greg, this really pisses me off. Where do you get off calling Mexicans "Wetbacks"? Do you know that is a very racist term.

You and I may have disagreed in the past, but you have crossed the line of decency.

You and Shelly are good for each other.

6:20 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I don't have an image account - I use a host of different anonymous batch uploaders for each image, like imageshack, freeimagehosting,, etc. And while I have fair use protection, THEY do not.

Does "all appropriate action" mean writing a crybaby email to an automatic image linking service, only to see me replace the picture the next day? Seriously, is that the best you can do?

Are you going to sue me or not?

8:07 AM  
Anonymous a good friend said...

He has a copyright on that?!

2:10 PM  
Blogger StopKinky said...

Rhymes With Right said... "You are hereby directed to remove my personal photo from your website ..."

Mark said... "You are hereby directed to cry me a river."

This exchange amused me to the extent that it literally improved my spiritual net worth.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Rhymes With Right said...

Yes, I have in fact used a term that refers to illegal immigration status to refer to folks with illegal immigration status.

I do not hate Mexicans at all. I do not hate Hispanics at all. I do, though, hold in contempt those who violate our nation's immigration laws and feel no need to be sensitive towards them -- other than sensitively returning them to their countries of origin in the most expeditions manner.

Now i am very confused here -- I have always understood teh term as referring to mmigration status only. Are you, in good faith, stating that it is a more general slur? If it is, that is not my experience of the term or my intent in using it. I therefore will offer an apology if I am misinformed as to the term's meaning. Because this Republican will sincerely apologize when he is wrong.

Oh, and John, I simply extended Ada's "pimp" analogy a little bit further to cover her actions that day at City Hall.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Of course the term wetback is commonly used as racial slur against legal immigrants, and even U.S. citizens. And here's a ton of dictionaries that agree with me. Next time, try searching "wetback defintion" on Google, genius.

And nobody believes you anyway. George Allen may have had an excuse on "macaca", but seeing you on Fort Bend Now try to tell me you call Canadian illegals "wetbacks" is HYSTERICALLY FUNNY.

But seriously, nobody really cares. I think people are more curious as to whether you are going to follow through on your threats or not? Have you just given up on all your tough legal talk? I mean, you demanded my immediate compliance...What happened to that?

IE - Are you just a blowhard with nothing to back it up on the issue of race, or does it spill over to your threats too?

Begone racist!

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Rhymes With Right said...

Actually, do you see any place where I used the phrase "legal action", Mark? I said appropriate action.

Rest assured, appropriate action will be taken

And by the way -- I'm not in the habit of looking up words that I believe I know the definition for. My assertion stands, whether you accept it or not -- as does my apology.

5:42 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Rhymes With Right said...
"As such, your statement is clearly libelous. So consider this to be your notice of potential action on my part in that regard as well."

That sounds like the threat of a certain kind of action to me...Namely an action for libel. What other action is there for statements that "are clearly libelous?" It's even worded in the requisite legal phrase of "notice of action." And now you try to retract your blowhard legal threats and sulk. Why don't you grow a pair? After all, you claimed I defamed you with "clearly libelous" statements! Follow through on your threats and serve suit on me!

You know, it reminds me of something an old timer once told me: If one person calls you a horse, you should call them a jerk. If a second person calls you a horse, you should punch them in the nose. But when a third person calls you a horse...Well, maybe it's time to go shopping for a saddle.

After multiple people in multiple places telling you that "wetback" is a digusting racial slur, you probably should've looked it up instead of adopting a fake self-righteous act.

Ironically enough, the horse anecdote above is equally applicable to people calling you a racist.

I'll be waiting for your "appropriate action."

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Nate said...

Wow. Even without the moron calling people wetback and threatening to sue, this is an awesome post.

The moron is just icing on the cake!

8:48 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

"Actually, do you see any place where I used the phrase "legal action", Mark? I said appropriate action.

Rest assured, appropriate action will be taken."

Some people who have read that statement told me they thought it sounded a vague terroristic threat. After all, if you're not pursuing legal action, that may mean you'll be pursuing illegal action. And I think they have a point. So perhaps you should clarify what you mean.

But if you meant you'll keep sending automated abuse requests to image hosting sites, don't bother. I arranged a contract for storage on a more secure server with a fellow local blogger, thereby ensuring the interested public can see your handsome face for the forseeable future.

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