by Dan Gibson
Social media is a weird place for politicians in general (feel free to make your own Anthony Weiner joke here), but in 2013, a campaign would seem antiquated and irrelevant without some sort of Facebook/Twitter/whatever strategy, so inevitably there are missteps, goofs and miscalculations. The instantaneous nature of these media don't exactly lend themselves well to the over- and under-thinking that can happen in a campaign. In Tucson, for example, the last city council campaign cycle had candidates who didn't even purchase their own names as web domains. These are not generally people who should be trusted to execute semi-ambitious social media events.
But, yet, Ben Buehler-Garcia, a man who generally seems competent, allowed his campaign manager, Greg Harris and adviser-or-something Mike Shaw to convince him that five hours of fundraising via Twitter and Ustream was a good idea. Maybe they got the $10 contributions toward matching funds they were looking for, but the publicly visible end of the whole thing was a bit of a fiasco.
First, if you're a candidate and taking questions via Twitter, you have to expect that someone not aligned with your talking points will likely end up in the fray. In Buehler-Garcia's case, it appeared that a few likely Republican voters, such as former GOP county recorder candidate Bill Beard, showed up to ask questions:
How will u change the city focus back to roads/parks/fire/police? #benmatch
— Bill Beard (@billbeardaz) August 3, 2013
But also, some well-known local Democrats also jumped in:
#benmatch Ben B-G, Do you support Pension Reform Initiative (prop201)? Some say it is needed now, some say will cost City too much 2 soon
— azw88 (@AZW88) August 3, 2013
As questions go from people likely to be hostile to your viewpoints, those posed by tweeters I suspect are Uhlich supporters were reasonable, with a gentle press for Buehler-Garcia to elaborate on issues relevant to the gig he's applying for. However, he didn't answer, at least via Twitter (the place the question was posed), instead apparently responding on a Ustream feed very few people were seemingly watching. In fact, right now, the stream (and archives thereof) have racked up 98 total views over 24 hours after the event ended (and at least five of those are from me in the process of writing up this post). If you're going to take questions via Twitter, you have to ANSWER THOSE QUESTIONS ON TWITTER. I get the premise behind being frustrated that more questions are coming from Uhlich campaign staff than the general public, but you still have to participate in the process you agreed to, especially if the questions are valid and politely presented. (Pension reform is kind of a big deal, considering the city's budgetary future and the potential ballot initiative that voters could decide in November if it's not kicked off the ballot.)
So, the Ustream. No one wants to watch five hours of anything on their computer, first of all. But, hey, it's not the worst idea in theory, until most of what I happened to catch were technically challenged clips of Buehler-Garcia interviewing people. Not particularly compelling fare, especially considering I jumped in as the third part of a multi-part feature interviewing Shelby Hawkins, owner of Five Star Pest Control. Interviewing local business owners, allowing them to vent their frustrations with the City Council? Fine. Pretending that Hawkins is just a regular citizen fed up with the system? Probably less believable, considering she gave $5,750 in donations to candidates like Jesse Kelly, Frank Antenori, and Herman Cain in 2012. Another Ustream guest: Joe Higgins, the right-wing talk show host, local business owner and champion of "Tucson Hates Business" thinking. The fifth hour of the broadcast had Jon Justice as a host.
Those folks have all the right in the world to speak on behalf of their preferred candidate, but if Buehler-Garcia (who isn't facing a primary) thinks the way to win over Tucson voters is to align himself with those closer to the polar right than the center, this election won't be as close as his last attempt to unseat Uhlich. Maybe the strategy is to appeal to the Tea Party types to get money together, then move to the middle, but people have a memory for this sort of thing.
Republican candidates running for city office have tried open disdain for the city they choose to live in before (hey, Tyler Vogt!), but I didn't have Ben Buehler-Garcia pegged as that kind of guy, although the whole Tweet-a-thon is making me rethink that assessment. I've never been a big fan of Karin Uhlich politically. I can't really put my finger on what's she actually done for the city (for serving two terms solidly in the majority, I find the "progress report" on her campaign website underwhelming) and frankly, I feel like on occasion, there might actually be something to the whole "Tucson is bad for business" thing. In general, I tend to think the successes that have happened in Tucson have happened despite the city government, not because of it. I'd be fine with a more centrist council. It really wouldn't have taken much for Buehler-Garcia to win my vote, although even typing that might mean that I'll be removed from my job tomorrow (joking...I THINK).
But now, between more or less ducking softballish questions on Twitter and aligning himself with the far right political types who can't acknowledge that anything good could possibly happen in the city they live in (or in Justice's case, the city he lives near) as long as Democrats are involved, I'm out. Sure, it's great to try new things and social media is certainly a way to connect with voters, but if the message isn't tuned and well thought out beyond a list of dull talking points (we really screwed up that Grand Canyon University thing ... other than the fact that they haven't ruled out coming here later and nearly anyone would agree the Mesa site they chose had far more to offer than anything Tucson could have given them, but nevermind, let's just keep repeating likely made-up numbers about the jobs lost), the best you can hope is for it to have been a waste of time.