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Branstad's resistance to technology is unacceptable

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | AUGUST 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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Before you waste your time composing a thoughtful and detailed email to Gov. Terry Branstad about your political views, concerns, or insights — you might want to know that, due to the "overwhelming" number of emails he receives each day, he doesn't take the time to respond to a single one, apparently.

In fact, Branstad does not even have a computer in his office. According to Branstad staffers, he mainly corresponds with his constituents through standard mail.

It seems strange that a politician would not use technology as a means for developing a deeper connection with her or his constituents or as a basis for quick and efficient exchanges of thoughts and ideas, and it should. Nearly every professional manager in the modern world requires a computer, that is, if that manager places any value on quality and efficiency.

The highest elected official in a state with a population of over three million needs to incorporate technology as much as possible. It is outrageous that he does not even have a computer at his desk.
Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, agrees.

"[The number of emails] should not be overwhelming if you're the governor," he said. "You have both staff and you yourself to communicate with Iowa citizens. I know it's a bigger district than I have, but that's what you're elected to do.

President Obama demonstrated how invaluable a tactic employing social media and technology can be during his 2008 campaign, in which he won 68 percent of the youth vote. Today, campaigning for his re-election, he keeps his supporters up-to-date through Twitter and mass emails. Obama's social media-styled website serves as a platform not only for communication but also for fundraisers and volunteer recruitment for various presidential initiatives. There is also a "groups" tab that allows communication between Obama supporters of all backgrounds.

Legislative bodies around the country recognize the benefits of social media, and several senators and representatives, as well as mayors, governors, and many others, have used Facebook and Twitter as a means to appeal to younger constituents and disseminate information.

"I certainly do [use technology]," Jacoby said. "I use technology to share what's going on locally and in Des Moines on Facebook. I send out newsletters, email, and texting is obviously a great extension to replace snail mail.

"I started in 2004. I'd say 80 percent or more of my correspondence with people is electronic now. What's also interesting is, when you got an email in 2005, as long as you got back to someone within a week, everyone was happy. Now someone will say, 'I emailed you three hours ago.' It's a whole new world."

Jacoby said he responds to every email he gets within 48 hours, which he calls "The Jacoby 48 Hour Rule."

In this technologically dominated era, where, on average, people spend more time on computers than they do with their spouses, it is vital to the success of any political campaign and/or initiative to use these tools. Even the White House has created a YouTube account, and Rep. Ron Paul is also known for his effective use of technology and media to appeal to the general public.

But the use of technology and social media is not just vital to the success of politicians, it is also necessary for the satisfaction of constituents.

"You do want to have a balance between working with people face-to-face and phone calls," said Jacoby. "But I don't understand how you can talk about being globally competitive and not have technology at your side. I'm not a tech person, but I have my iPad 2, and that's the world we live in. It's a little quicker.

"The governor is trying to move us back to the '50s, so maybe that's his plan, to eliminate computers and technology."

If Branstad wants to govern the state of Iowa with the efficiency and effectiveness even close to that of basically any small-business owner in the modern age, he must be more open to technology — even if it means browsing his "overwhelming" number of emails every once in a while.


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