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Spin Control: Email down, but officials still sure they know public’s mind

SUNDAY, JULY 31, 2011

OLYMPIA – It was difficult to catch any member of Congress on television last week who wasn’t talking about doing what the American people want.

The American people, it seems, want them to cut the deficit, increase jobs, avoid tax increases and balance the budget. Or to stimulate the economy, increase jobs and make the wealthy pay their fair share. (You can guess which parties’ members say which.)

Just how members of Congress divine the wishes of the American people isn’t always clear. Elected officials dare not listen too closely to polls for fear of being accused of holding their finger to the political winds and then being blown in that direction. It’s also possible to get just about any answer one desires from a poll by the way one words the questions.

There was a time when they’d check their mail. Not personally, of course, but Washington is a magnet for eager young interns who come hoping to change the world and get issued a letter opener and a desk in a small, dark room. Later, interns would check voice mail and the fax machine.

In the 21st century, they also check the congressperson’s Facebook page, their Twitter account and the email inbox, all of which provide more immediate communication than paper, pen, an envelope and a stamp ever could.

Except, of course, when cyberspace fails, as it did last week after President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner urged citizens to email their members of Congress to tell them to solve the debt ceiling crisis. This caused servers to crash, taking down congressional websites and blocking the easiest email route between a constituent’s home computer and his or her congressperson: the link on that website that generates a pre-addressed email.

This may have been the crescendo of the debt limit cacophony, but not the only system failure. A good friend in Spokane said she had been trying to email Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for more than a week to denounce the standoff, only to receive a “failure” message.

Even if such problems were intermittent, it does make it hard for congresspersons to say with straight faces they know exactly what the American public wants, and in what quantities.

Fighting fire with fire

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, whose website was down for at least part of that day last week, told supporters she’s been subjected to a concerted push from foes but that she’s not about to be fooled.

“Recently, my phone lines and emails have been overflowing with scripted complaints insisting I stop standing up for taxpayers,” she wrote in a campaign email. “Letters to the editor complain that House Republicans are unreasonable. But I know who elected me.”

McMorris Rodgers’ solution? For supporters to send her email explaining her stance on the budget to 10 of their friends, send their own letters to the editor, and call radio talk shows with messages of “standing up for taxpayers and our reasonable approach to federal borrowing.”

She was even nice enough to include links to this newspaper and others in Eastern Washington. So if The Spokesman-Review gets extra Web traffic, known in the business as eyeballs, we probably owe the congresswoman a thank you. But please, don’t cut and paste her letter; compose your own. We’ll likely notice the similarities, and you wouldn’t want to be accused of sending scripted complaints.

They’re in the mail

Ballots for the Aug. 16 primary went in the mail the middle of last week, so Washington voters should have them by early this week. County election officials say to call if you were supposed to get one but didn’t.

The “supposed to get one” is the tricky part, because not everyone lives in a place that has a primary. There must be at least one race with three or more candidates, or a local ballot measure. Otherwise, you settle your electoral business in the Nov. 8 general election.

In Spokane County, that means Spokane city voters get primary ballots, with at least the mayor and council president race, some charter amendments and in most cases a school board race. City of Spokane Valley voters and Medical Lake voters each have one city council race, as do voters in the Deer Park School District and Fire District 9. About 200,000 ballots went out, which is about 80 percent of all voters.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia bureau reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at spincontrol.


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