Political Notebook: Social Media Can Trip Politicians

Twitter and other social media are becoming intertwined with politics.

Two situations illustrated that in the past week, and showed the connection can be politically dangerous.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., got the most publicity on the topic after it was discovered he tweeted lewd photos of himself to women. He resigned Thursday over the scandal.

Minnesota state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, received far less notoriety, but also lost a battle over a tweet. In Hoffman’s case, a Senate ethics panel ordered her to apologize to the senator she offended, remove her original tweet and send a new tweet with a link to the ethics report about her.

One person’s tweet late in the week declared: “Our politicians need a Twitter for Dummies guide.”

During Hoffman’s ethics hearing, it was apparent that not all politicians understand social media, and Twitter in particular.

Ethics Chairwoman Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, was confused about whether messages Twitter users send can be 40 characters or 140 characters long. She consulted a young staffer on that, and other issues, and found they could be up to 140 characters.

Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, said he “Googled” Twitter to learn more about it before the hearing, but admitted to still not understanding much about it.

On the other hand, the two Democrats and two Republicans on the committee knew about the short-messaging service and knew it is a powerful medium.

In the Minnesota Capitol, some reporters “live tweet” news conferences, meetings and other events, almost so completely that if the short tweets were strung together readers would have an entire story.

Some lobbyists add their thoughts, too.

But the most prolific tweeters seem to be taxpayer-paid staff members, mostly in the governor’s office and the legislative communications offices, who often send strongly worded partisan messages.

For instance, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s senior communications advisor, Bob Hume, sent a tweet late last week saying: “GOP strategy: attack the governor, attack the media, attack the messengers. Attack anything but the problem.”

On the other side is Michael Brodkorb, deputy Republican Party chairman and GOP Senate communications director, who declared in a tweet that Dayton “wants to ‘create chaos’ and ‘pain.’”

Not just Minnesota

Other states are talking government shutdown, so Minnesotans need not feel lonely.

Just to the south, the Iowa Legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad cannot agree on a budget, either. Like in Minnesota, Iowa government could close if spending is not approved before July 1.

In both states, there is discussion about a “lights on” bill that would continue at least some funding after July 1, even without a full budget.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that about 20 states have started a budget cycle without a budget since 2002 and five dealt with partial government shutdowns, including Minnesota in 2005.

Another similarity between the Iowa and Minnesota situations is that reporters found it hard to get information about how the governor envisions a shutdown.

In Minnesota, that question was partially answered when Gov. Mark Dayton filed a court document summarizing what he would like to stay open. However, documents each state agency produced outlining shutdown plans remain secret.

In Iowa, Branstad’s office gave in to requests for his administration’s planning documents on Friday. Without Iowa shutdown plans available, the Des Moines Register reported on what Dayton proposed in Minnesota.

Fighting for pork

Minnesota’s U.S. senators are fighting for pork, the meat not the local federal spending.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken signed onto a letter asking U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to address a decline in Russian pork imports.

“Pork producers in Minnesota and across the nation have suffered from restricted access to Russian markets,” Klobuchar said. “The U.S. pork industry plays a significant role in our economy and U.S. pork producers should be able to sell their products in international markets without unfair barriers.”

Franken said Russia is playing politics.

“This is among the most important issues that need to be addressed before we should even consider Russian membership in the World Trade Organization,” Franken said.

Minnesota is the country’s third largest pork producer, with 20,000 jobs in hog production and pork processing.

Emmer pays

The Minnesota Republican Party has not paid all 87 counties for documents related to last year’s governor’s race recount, but candidate Tom Emmer nearly drained his campaign coffers to pay up.

Cyndy Brucato reports in MinnPost that when Emmer discovered the unpaid bills for making documents copies, he took it upon himself to pay. The party coordinated and did most of the work during the recount.

“This is not my responsibility, but I feel it’s my obligation,” Emmer told Brucato.