Last month, Matt Lira, a member of House GOP Leader Eric Cantor’s staff, asked how the United States Congress should use social media to enhance the legislative process on Quora, the hot question and answer website of the moment. To date, he’s received 19 answers, many quite substantive.
Today, Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) asked the Reddit community for “as many questions as he could get through” when he returned to the page at 8 PM tonight.
My name is John Garamendi, and I am a Member of Congress representing the 10th Congressional District in Northern California. Ask Me Anything. I will be back at 8 PM EST/5 PM PST today (Wednesday, March 2) to answer as many questions as I can get through.
I previously served as California Lieutenant Governor, California Insurance Commissioner, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Interior Department under President Clinton, a state legislator, and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.
Garameni offered his House.gov website, YouTube channel and @RepGaramendi Twitter handle and Facebook page for Redditors to find him. When a member of the community expressed skepticism that it was “really him,” he tweeted that “Today I will join @reddit at 8PM EST for an #AMA Ask Me Anything. Thread will appear here: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA.”
As of 6:40 PM EST, there were more than 1400 comments on the thread, with many substantive questions voted to the top. The online public will see how frank he’s willing to be in that context.
Whether this is a success or not, it’s good to see representatives exploring new platforms for participatory democracy. They may be far from perfect but the moderation mechanisms on Reddit and Quora, along with their associated communities, hint at the ways that the next generation of e-democracy platforms will evolve. Tune in at 8 PM EST to see if Representative Garamendi takes the top questions on the forum.
UPDATE: The Congressman did, in fact, log in to Reddit and answered questions for nearly an hour. Here’s the the top-voted question, by “anexanhume”:
I am curious as to whether or not you believe that it is possible to be a politician that reaches any major political office (say for instance, state legislator or large city mayor as the least important office) without owing either a person, political organization or corporation some sort of favor for reaching your office. Moreover, is it ever actually possible to vote on your principles consistently without the fear of losing reelection or angering someone who helped you get where you are?
Representative Garamendi answered:
Thank you for the question. It’s a good one. I believe I vote consistently with my principles. Obviously there are some political interests who align with me more than others, and that will be somewhat reflected in whom they choose to support. And like everyone, there are personal opinions about individuals that I sometimes keep to myself for the sake of congeniality and relationships.
So the answer to your question is I honestly don’t think I “owe” any group my allegiance. I’ve been in public policy enough that I doubt there’s a single group left in America that has given me a 100% report card every year I’ve been in office.
Ultimately, public policy is about choices and compromise. When I’m on the House floor, after all the debate is done, after all the deals have been struck, I’m left with a choice: Yes or No. This means I’ve voted for bills that had elements I didn’t like (I was disappointed the public option wasn’t in the Patient’s Bill of Rights for example) and voted against bills that had some good policy (I voted against tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires even though the bill contained an important extension of assistance for people looking for work). It’s clichéd at this point, but we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
He answered two anonymous questions as well: Do you think a representative is elected to execute his own moral compass? Do you think a representative is elected to reflect the opinion of the constituency?
Good questions without an easy answer, but I’ll try. I fight tirelessly for the people of the 10th Congressional District, and luckily, priorities like transportation investments, job creation, Delta protection, health care access, fighting for veterans, ending the war in Afghanistan, and equal rights are both popular in the district and at the core of my policy goals.
My constituents have chosen me to be their voice in Washington, and that literally means making hundreds of decisions every week. I don’t expect anyone to agree with every decision, and there are times when I have access to more information than the public. Have I taken positions that a majority of my constituents disagree with at one point or another? Probably, but that’s the beauty of democracy. Every two years, the people have a chance to reevaluate who they’ve chosen to represent them.
There’s more on the Reddit thread, including answers on the budget, unions, entitlement reform, the financial crisis and more.