Shearon Roberts, an LSU Masters Student working for the Wall Street Journal conducted a series of interviews with interesting and innovative political bloggers as a project for a class I taught. In January of 2005 she talked to State Representative Aaron Pena, (D-Texas) of District 40 in South Texas. He blogs at http://acapitolblog.blogspot.com/

How involved are you in operating the blog, making posts and reading comments?

100% of it is my personal involvement. I started doing this in I think January of 2005. It’s become not only a way for me to communicate with constituents but a hobby. I’ve come to enjoy the banter between myself and other bloggers not only in Texas but from around the globe.

How frequently is the blog updated?

Three or four times a day.

How is the blog designed, is it a true blog–a strict daily diary for the politician, or a mix of website features and posts? What is the writing style or tone of the blog?

It’s personal, it’s conversational. Well I just got off the floor of the House and we just voted on a bill. So I explain the vote, what it was on, and the mechanics of it going on to the governor’s desk. But this is just an example of a factual, informational kind of post. It’s written from a first person position and very conversational. Sometimes it’s as personal as (sigh), philosophical feelings about death or my outings with my family.

Sometimes its biographical, sometimes it’s humorous. It runs the gambit of human emotions. My son’s…the anniversary of his passing…I had a son who passed away, that day I typically make note of his passing and do not blog on that day out of respect for his memory. If somebody significant to me passes, I will mention it and go into detail about their lives. But like I said it’s almost like I’m speaking to my next door neighbor.

Why did you begin the blog and for what reasons?

I found that my one or two sentences that the local newspaper was giving me were two-dimensional. They were not as descriptive of the nuances or the journey that it took for me to arrive at an opinion. I also wanted people to know exactly what I was doing because I spent every waking moment working as a representative. So it allowed me to document my daily events. It allowed me to let the people know where I was and know that I was working. And it also allowed that when I got to Austin, to know details that the paper would not otherwise publish. And about…usually they report on your position and rarely do they report on how you got to the point, sometimes your position evolves and that I found that allows the public to see you as a human being as opposed to a caricature that most people have of public officials. And they’re free to comment to me and ask me where I stand and I respond accordingly.

To what degree is the blog filtered and what is the extent of the feedback in terms of comments?

Well, I do not filter them at all. The only time that I filter them is when they use what I consider to be language that is of the four letter variety. Or if there is a clear slander situation. You know, we’re all public figures and I’m a lawyer and I kind of understand what the limits are. And most people are fairly respectful.

What have been the outcomes of the blog?

I don’t see them to be disadvantages but some people will see that you’re taking a position on everything. Or you’re exposing every detail of yourself. It’s a disadvantage, one from a public official’s point of view, your opponents know exactly where you stand on issues and some politicians hide their votes. I’m very upfront and feel like people may disagree with me but they understand that I typically will communicate how I feel and it’s always for the best interest of my district. And so they understand…they’re more forgiving like you are with a normal person. One of the disadvantages, I live far away from my home, I’m six hours away from my district, driving. People can know when I’m at my house making me vulnerable to burglary. But I am very cautious about how I reveal…if I’m concerned about my family, I will reveal that I’m driving after that I know that they are secure or that they have arrived. I’m careful about it.

Do you consider blogs to be a valuable tool for politicians and why? If not, then why not? [Are there subjects that a politician should blog about and others that s/he should not?]

It can be, but it is a bit…in other words. The blog is only as good as the author chooses to use it. It I own a blog yet I withhold my…if I am distrustful of the electorate and withhold my true intentions or I try to be deceptive. Or I use my blog as a mechanism for press releases or for self-promotion, and rather than showing yourself to be a regular person, a three-dimensional person, it can be not useful, it can be counterproductive. Otherwise it is nothing more than a press release machine. I think people are looking for, it’s like any dialogue that you have with a person. If I was talking to you in a conversation…and I chose not to be….if I withheld information or only gave you selective information or I was not a full person in the way I presented myself. I think the other person or the readers in this case can sense that. And they will resent you for it.

How large is the audience for your blog? Who is the main audience for your blog?

Me actually. I’ve never really thought about my audience in great detail. I write to help flesh out my thoughts. To document where I was so that when I arrive somewhere I can see how I got to that point. It forces me to gather information on a topic. So my primary audience is myself. Mainly so that I can flesh out my thinking.

My secondary audience are the people in my district who read the information, but the reality is…cause I have a site meter where I’m able to track…my audience is all over the United States and other parts of the globe to be honest. My perspective on that is a good idea has no boundaries. And if the idea comes from, let me pick a country, if it comes from Germany, the idea has the same validity here as it does there. So if somebody chooses to write me, it doesn’t matter where they come from, what matters is the content of the arguments and discussion.

On a high day, typically my biggest number of hits are when we are in regular sessions. Because I’m the only blogger/legislator. My following doubles when we are in session. When we are not in session it tends to decrease because I have lobbyists and there are insiders all trying to gather information by reading my thoughts on a subject. I have other legislators looking for me to highlight an issue, to frame an argument and so my traffic doubles or triples during regular session. When we’re not in session, you know I don’t have the answer; I guess I’ll have to go to my blog.

Like I say when we’re in session everybody tends to read it. A lot of the lobby and interested stakeholders told me that the reason they look at it is because they’re trying to gain an advantage.

Average daily visit 211, that’s what it says on this site meter.

Congressmen will always pick up more traffic nationwide. I don’t have that luxury. I come from a little corner in Deep South Texas where we probably we have the fewest numbers of computers per capita.

People say that blogs are one way for political leaders to talk directly to the people, bypassing the filer of big media. Do you see that at work in your blog?

Especially in Texas there is a good number of established bloggers that blog on political issues and I regularly comment on theirs. The Burnt Orange report, Capital Annex, Dos Centavos (or 2 cents in English), In the Pink Texas, Off the Kuff, which is one of the really good ones, Pink Dome, the Red State, these are Texas blogs that you will see me communicating with very often. Then I have some really local ones in my south Texas community and we have one city councilmember who just started a blog and I’ll comment on his and by blogging you mean commenting right not as a visiting blogger right? Commenting, I do a lot, as a visiting blogger, I typically don’t do that unless I’m asked. Somebody will say can I copy your post and put it on my blog and I’ll say sure.

Originally posted August 29, 2006 at PolicyByBlog

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