I very much enjoy the ability to utilize new forms of communication with constituents. This is a unique time in history because these forms of communication are quickly evolving.
I was introduced to the idea of using Twitter by Edmond Senator Clark Jolley who was probably the first Oklahoma legislator to make use of the service. In the summer of 2008, I started using the service and over the course of the past two years, I have observed and attempted to apply what I believe to be a set of best practices.
I have determined that the main focus of my use of Twitter as an elected official will be to provide resources to my constituents.
For example, I have found that one of the greatest strengths provided by Twitter is that of an excellent real-time distribution network for documents which would otherwise remain largely inaccessible to the taxpayers. For instance, prior to a recent local school bond election, I received an e-mail from a constituent. He wanted to know how his local property taxes compared to other school districts in the state. We requested the information from the Oklahoma Tax Commission and subsequently posted a link to the document using Twitter and Google documents (the document is available at ping.fm/W8V67).
As a result, voters were allowed instance access to data which is probably not available anywhere else on the web (although it should be). Because of Twitter, the link to the document was instantly available to a wide purview and could be forwarded through e-mail and other social media. The potential impact of the proposal on local property taxes compared to the tax of surrounding districts had been an issue of dispute up until that point, but with the publication of this document the voters could see the exact impact of the proposal.
During the last session of the legislature, Twitter provided an avenue for informing constituents of upcoming votes of interest in the House. Voters can now observe the House debating bills online at okhouse.gov. While it is true that an agenda is posted on the House website, the actual debate and vote on a bill can occur at any time, or not occur at all. Twitter allowed me to alert voters to issues of interest where I was able to attach a link to the live broadcast of the debate.
I have also observed Twitter practices which I have determined to avoid. The foremost practice which I have determined not to emulate is that of using the network as a forum for launching partisan attacks. I view the service as an excellent opportunity to share information that will allow voters to make decisions on their own without editorializing against or demonizing those who have a different point of view. I have found that elected officials can appear especially partisan when they are forced to make a statement in the 140 characters or less allowed by Twitter. It is my intent to use the service as a positive venue and not as a political attack tool.
If you are interested in following my Twitter account, you may do so at twitter.com/jwmurphey.