Thursday, August 31, 2006

Have You Bugged Your Congressperson Today?

After a very restful two weeks away, I came back to a pleasantly quiet Washington, DC. No one's in town. Almost every e-mail I send out comes back with an out of office reply. It's actually quite nice.

But what quiet in Washington DC really means is that members of Congress are wandering around outside the beltway spending time in their districts and states. They'll be back in DC next week so that gives you only a few more days to try to connect with them while they're at home. Why would you want to do that? Well, a number of decisions about important policy and funding issues will be made in the next few months -- decisions that may impact you and the issues you care about. It's always a good idea to try to grab the attention of elected officials when they're at home to be sure they remember what they're supposed to do (or not do) when they get back to DC.

Try checking their websites at and or call their district offices to see their schedules. You may find that there's a town hall meeting or other get together already scheduled that you can be a part of.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Newest Tipsheet Posted / What if Congress Engaged?

I hope you'll take a minute to review my newest tipsheet at In it, I talk about how you can actually do something with the do nothing Congress. Take a look!

In other interesting (hopefully) thoughts on the Advocacy front, I was talking in my other blog ( about the newest, fasting growing sites on the Internet, and what they have in common with one another. Essentially, they all seek to engage the user in some way, such as by finding and rating news stories ( or allowing users to create their own profiles and collect a network ( I was thinking... What if Congress figured out a way to do that? What if, instead of worrying about logic problems and math puzzles, members of Congress figured out a way to use new technologies to let constituents rate what problems they think are most important or what solutions they think are most viable. Sure, it sounds like fancy polling, but what it really might do is give real live people a way to become more engaged in the policy process. Perhaps, just like people are flocking to (their subscribers are doubling every day), people might flock to a real, viable site where they actually have some say in what government is thinking.

Someone get on that, OK?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Incumbents Losing!

When incumbents win easily 95% of the time, it is news when three incumbents go down or are threatened on one primary day. Yesterday, Connecticut, Michigan and Georgia, among other states, hosted their primaries. In those states, Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), she of cell phone throwing fame, was defeated, along with Rep. Joe Schwartz (R-MI), a moderate Republican. And, of course, the big news was Senator Lieberman's (D-CT) defeat based largely on his support of the Iraq war.

Pundits are all acquiver about what this means for November. Is there really a seething electorate out there that is eager to "throw the bums out?" It's hard to say. In each of the races that incumbents lost yesterday, one can certainly see extenuating circumstances based on the individual politics of the region and the candidates' own foibles. Perhaps is McKinney could keep her temper, she might still be in office -- and this isn't the first time she's lost. Perhaps if Schwartz were a little more conservative, he would be more appealing to his rural, conservative district. And perhaps if Senator Lieberman had been opposed to the war, he would have kept Democrats with him.

Nevertheless, what these primaries do point to is a stronger willingness on the part of voters to try someone new, and less of willingness to vote for the incumbent "just because." It will be interesting to see how that plays out in November.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Congressional Attention Span

There is a really interesting new study available at regarding the use of computers to track phrases or packets of words in the Congressional Record. The researchers describe in their report their method for assigning computers certain words to track and then measuring the use of those phrases in comparison to other phrases. Essentially, what the scientists have achieved is a means of finding out what members of Congress are talking about and how those topics change over time. For example, "Judicial nominations" is the most used phrase, while "abortion" has been on the decline. The findings also offer interesting insights into the perspectives of members of Congress. According to the authors "[t]he most interesting meta-cluster is the substantively odd “regional” grouping of energy, environment, agriculture, and trade. Exploration of the language used here shows that these are topics that divide rural and or Western senator from the rest – distributive politics at a different level of aggregation."

Note that the overall report is very technical -- the most interesting findings for practitioners start around section 4.