Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ashdown as the new model of legislator (in defense of Pete)

Peter Ashdown is the Democratic candidate running against the seemingly unstoppable Sen. Orin Hatch of Utah. Ashdown would likely be a side note in a very interesting year for Western upstarts taking Repblicans if it wasn't for Ashdown doing something very interesting.

At the start of his campaign, Ashdown started a campaign wiki, asking folks to chime in on his platform:
This is where you have the power to influence my Campaign for U.S. Senate. You can help work on policy, strategize in an open forum, or simply see what needs to be done. Don't be afraid to make a mistake, I'm covering new ground every day.

This site is not an official pronouncement of the policies endorsed by Pete Ashdown. Instead, it is public forum where we, the people, can help create what we feel is good policy. Every page can be edited by you or anyone else, and each edit is tracked, so everyone can view each change and input to each discussion, no matter what content gets changed or overwritten. (Vandalism is quickly reverted and vandals banned.) Pete uses the input from these pages to form his official policy, which can be found on his official campaign web site at issues.
Some people though, have taken it that he doesn't know what to think and needs some guidance from the people (to put it lightly):

Ashdown's views undecided

Pete Ashdown is campaigning for a Senate seat in Utah, and he wants you to define his stances on major political issues such as abortion, foreign relations, taxation, etc. Shouldn't he have made these decisions for himself long before deciding to run for office?

I would be reluctant to vote for any candidate who hasn't already built a strong ideological foundation backed up by substantive experience.

Ashdown should do his own homework on the issues. Utahns shouldn't have to do it for him.

Brooke Ann Smith

The point isn't that Ashdown will believe whatever you and your friends want him to believe (yeah, let's start a killing puppies page on his wiki), but rather politicians don't solicit your input, usually. Using a wiki is a way for politicians to not only get people to speak up, but for people to do it in public and together.

Of course, people will write their representatives and say what they want them to do. In terms of crafting a collaborative policy on anything though, we leave that up to committees, bill writers and, essentially, the professionals.

A paper by Policy Consensus challenges the contemporary view of (in this case) state legislators. Our representatives, rather than marching up to the hill in Olympia with a cross between what they know our district wants and what what they believe -- and translating that into bill sponsorships and votes -- should be bringing people together to tackle issues.

From Legislators at a Crossroads: Making Choices to Work Differently:
This new role is that of convener. A convener is someone who brings a diverse group of people to the table to resolve problems collaboratively. Legislators are beginning to recognize the role of convening as a way they can take action, or facilitate action, without waiting for the legislature to act. Legislators have the power, by virtue of their elected office, to summon people to work on and resolve issues at the community level, without the need to go to the legislature at all.

By acting as a convener, legislators are able to be more responsive to the public. In the traditional legislative environment, legislators may feel stymied in their attempts to solve problems. But those who see themselves as conveners—those who pull different interests together to work toward solutions—feel more like effective problem solvers.
From a broad point of view, Ashdown is already doing this. Instead of asking for input and then putting the pieces together himself, he's asking supporters (and I assume detractors) to help him put the pieces together.

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