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TechnoLegeBacklash: Strama Slags Twitter

At least one legislator thinks Tweeting is for the birds

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 10, 2009

Mark Strama
Mark Strama
Photo by John Anderson

Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, has a reputation as a tech-savvy lawmaker. But it's his position on Twitter – the 140-characters-or-less messaging service that legislators love – that has the Lege all aflutter. As Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, Tweeted to his 123 followers on March 31: "Rep Strama just called Twitter stupid in Public Ed Comm. I felt so ashamed of myself!"

So is the chair of the House Technology, Eco­nom­ic Development & Workforce Committee a secret technophobe? "I'm willing to entertain the possibility that I just don't get it because I'm old and out-of-touch," said Strama, 41, "but I think that Twitter is one of those things that people think is hip and cool, and then they look back, and it's this year's mullet."

Considering how easily accessible most information is, Strama said he couldn't work out exactly how the limited format of Twitter improves the situation. Take Gov. Rick Perry's March 12 announcement in Houston that he would be rejecting the federal unemployment insurance cash. Rather than wait for the press corps to Tweet it, Strama recalled, "I got a copy of his full speech in real-time from his website."

It's not that he's completely opposed to these newfangled forms of communication (aside from his official House and campaign websites, Strama is also on MySpace and Facebook). His prime concern is that they can open legislators to access in a bad way. "I find text messaging very valuable for my wife and I to coordinate making sure someone's taking care of our daughter while we're at work," he said. "I'm not so thrilled about getting texts from a lobbyist wanting help."

So why does he think so many lawmakers are Tweeting? "They're bandwagoning," he said. "It's like they're saying, 'I have to be on top of what's new and cool.' ... I may be wrong about whether it's cool or not, but it's not politically valuable." Rather than improving communication between lawmakers and constituents, Strama said he was concerned about politicians opening up their stream of consciousness through ill-considered and easily misinterpreted Tweets. "If we're expressing policy in 140 characters or less, that's the ultimate degradation of politics," he said (in 97 characters).

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