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Freshman rep: Going rogue on my blog

By Jared Polis, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rep. Jared Polis: I write my own Facebook, Twitter and blog posts
  • He says it occasionally gets him into trouble, but it's worth it
  • Polis says social media connect him with his constituents

Editor's note: Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, represents Colorado's 2nd District in Congress and is writing a regular series of reports for CNN.com on his freshman year. For a Republican freshman's view, read here.

Washington (CNN) -- My communications director, Lara Cottingham, gets upset with me regularly about my blogging. (She says every time I "go rogue" it gives her ulcers.) What she fails to understand is that I am a child of the digital era.

For me, blogging is just like talking. I don't check with her every time I say something in public (she wishes I did that, too) and the same should be true for blogging. If I did, I wouldn't feel true to myself or my constituents, and that's one of the reasons that the public is so frustrated with politicians these days.

I enjoy the banter and give and take of an online discussion, and yes an occasional "flame war" (or hostile posting battle). I blogged, tweeted, and Facebooked long before my campaign, during my campaign much to the chagrin of my campaign staff, and, much to the chagrin of my congressional staff, I continue to do so today.

Do I get in trouble occasionally? Sure, but my mistakes are just as likely to happen in the spoken word as in the blogged one. In talking about the rise of new media, I seemed to gloat over the decline of the newspaper industry, I once accidentally said that a law that passed in Colorado had also passed at the national level; and I have recently been accused on a blog of trying to kill the Internet (the exact opposite of my position, ironically).

Watch the latest episode of "Freshman Year"

My constituents want me to be outspoken -- it's part of the reason they elected me -- and the inevitable side effect of being outspoken is that occasionally you put your foot in your mouth. Sure, I could avoid mistakes by sticking tightly to a script, as some politicians do, but I might as well not speak at all. I ran as a different kind of politician and I'll continue to speak and blog off the cuff -- and I'll take the credit and sometimes the blame.

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I grew up using electronic bulletin boards (BBSs) beginning at age 10. I remember well my first 300 baud modem, which dialed up and scrolled text at an agonizingly slow speed.

While still in college, I started my first Internet company -- American Information Systems -- a dial-up Internet provider in the Internet's formative years. Since then I've started several Internet companies -- including bluemountainarts.com and proflowers.com -- and continue to be involved in developing the Internet and in mentoring young entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Today, computers and the Internet continue to be an essential part of my life. In our down time, my partner, Marlon, and I play computer games (currently Sins of a Solar Empire and Heroes of Might and Magic V), keep track of friends on Facebook and find out what's going on in the outside world.

Members of Congress have a new world of social media -- Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace -- at our fingertips. On Facebook, I can tell where someone is from and I only respond if they are from my district. Sometimes, people have entire debates about an issue all played out on my wall! Yes, a member of Congress can provide a public wall for debates of all kinds, and that's exactly what I do on Facebook.

I also tweet regularly (once or twice a day) and have a MySpace page. I try to stay on top of all new and always changing social mediums that can help me maintain my relationship with my district and my constituents.

I find it hard to imagine what it would have been like to serve in Congress early in our nation's history, before phones and before the Internet. No daily access to international newspapers, relying on snail mail or the dreaded fax machine to get input from constituents, no ability to access a world of information at my fingertips during dry committee hearings.

Being in Congress must have been a different job back then, and it is a remarkable testimony to our constitution that our government has stayed strong, given the incredible changes wrought by technology.

Many people wonder whether it is "really me" responding to their letters, e-mails, or blogs. I can't speak for other members of Congress, but if it's a blog post or an e-mail that says it's from me, then I wrote it.

For our constituent mail, I write one response letter for a subject (say health care), and then send it out to anyone who writes in about health care generally. If constituents have a specific question or comment regarding health care, I ask my staff to find and draft a more specific answer to their questions.

So with regard to these CNN articles: yes, it's me, Jared, typing. I'll even respond to any comments or questions down below in the interactive section if anyone cares to post something. Technology is such an important part of my life that I can't imagine what this job or my life would be like without it. Long live innovation! And for those bloggers who think I'm against net neutrality: Long live the Internet!

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jared Polis.

 
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