Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is the La. Governor Web Tech Savvy?

Thursday, July 17th, 2008
Baton Rouge, Louisiana



By his own admission, Senator John McCain is not very computer and internet savvy. Some would argue that for this very reason, he needs to pick a young, hip and contemporary running mate who balances out the McCain image of being old and to some degree out of touch. A number of national pundits are arguing that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal fits that profile. But if you look at his communication skills and his web tech profile since being elected governor, Jindal and his staff are not even close to being on the cutting edge of new ways to communicate.

McCain certainly needs some help in the computer literacy department. The Times Picayune editorial cartoon earlier this week had a member of his staff saying: "Okay Senator -- I'm here to teach you all about the computer. Let's try an Apple." McCain’s answer is: "No thanks. I just ate.” Others have joked that when the GOP nominee was handed a new iPhone, he thought it was a TV remote control. He is regularly profiled as functionally illiterate when it comes to the Web.

So how high does the Louisiana Governor rank in being tech savvy? If you take a look at both his campaign and governmental websites, his grade will be mediocre at best. The Jindal for Governor Campaign site is still up and running. But except for press releases out of the Governor's office, it has not been updated in months. Want to send the Governor a campaign contribution or be added to his mailing list? Don't try this website; you will reach a dead end. Nothing happens when you hit the applicable link.

The Governor’s office website offers little more than references to other agencies along with press releases. Quite vanilla as is the case with most Louisiana governmental sites. But with the Jindal administration, expectations were significantly higher. The new governor, only six months in office, has surrounded himself with a bevy of young staffers who are supposed to be web tech savvy. If any newly elected governor in America was going to modernize the state system of communicating, quickly adapt to a new technology and interactive syndication, it was certainly going to be Jindal and his gang. But the results have been mediocre at best.

One of the reasons Bobby Jindal is being considered as a vice presidential candidate is because he is perceived to be capable of bringing a new approach to governing and communicating with the public. Any neutral observer will admit that the Obama campaign has been quite successful by setting a new standard in the use of web technology. Jindal was supposed to have been able to match Obama’s efforts stride for stride. So far, the Jindal team is not even close.

From the beginning of his campaign, Obama overshadowed his Democratic opponents by making much better use of technology and incorporating the latest applications, services, software and widgets. The Obama organization has looked on the web as a way of politically networking, connecting supporters and sharing information in an interactive way. His supporters have been encouraged not to merely receive information from the campaign, but to actively participate in sharing this information like so many people have done on social networking sites like Face book in MySpace.

So far, Jindal has failed to take advantage of modern web related tools which would allow him to communicate with thousands of voters in a virtually unlimited array of ways that would support his gubernatorial agenda. He should have been the first governor in America to transform the whole idea of governance. How simple it would be for him to sit down at a computer with a web cam several times a week and have "online fireside chats" with the people of Louisiana. Television stations would certainly play highlights on the evening news, and the radio talk shows would have fodder to use throughout the day. What a missed opportunity.

Jindal got off to a better start with stronger public support than any governor I have observed in the past 50 years. But for months now, he has missed the chance to mobilize support for his legislative program with just a few keystrokes on the computer. We saw what happened in the pay raise crisis. The political culture in Baton Rouge was simply overwhelmed by the public rising up in arms. With the use of computer technology, Jindal could have and should have rallied his own army of online network based advocates.

The Governor just issued a large number of vetoes from the current legislative session. Here was an excellent chance to get full public input. Jindal could have posted a number of proposed new laws online for five days before he took action, so that Louisiana's citizens could comment and weigh in on their opinion of what action the Governor should take. A blog could have been set up to discuss the purpose of the legislation, and allow the public to participate in a little common sense “give-and-take" as to why the legislation was important to begin with. Then he could have allowed an interactive link so that citizens could give him advice as to how to proceed.

Here’s another practical idea. Besides the "website chats," he could and should set up a simple system where any citizen is able to ask a video question on the Web, and the Governor could respond likewise to a certain number of inquiries each week. Look, he will get in a state plane and fly to Farmerville to speak to 35 Rotarians that will consume five hours of his time. Why not regularly sit down at his desk and handle a range of questions that citizens are posting on the Web, giving him a much better political return for his effort with much less investment of his time.

The lesson in all this seems obvious enough. We have seen, through blogging websites and radio talk shows throughout the state, the results of technology that has concentrated a significant amount of political power in hubs outside of Baton Rouge. Jindal and the Baton Rouge governmental establishment have not harnessed this power from their end.

Bobby Jindal has a unique opportunity to capture the Web as a unifying force to lobby, cajole and communicate his vision for moving Louisiana forward. If he fails to seize the moment that is lying right in front of him, he will be no more effective than John McCain who, when asked about opening a Windows program, supposedly said: Close ‘em. It's too drafty in here."


“After growing wildly for years, the field of computing appears to be reaching its infancy. “ ~John Pierce

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at

Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.


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