Reprinted from Stateline.org.
A semi-official Web site launched this year by the Senate Republican majority gave pols and citizens alike a computer screen-size soapbox to rant, rave and wrangle over the session's hottest topic: how to spend a record $1 billion surplus.
Joining the nation's growing proliferation of political Web logs, or blogs, the Utah site was the first of its kind to strike up a digital dialogue that included entries not just from state Senate Republicans but also from minority Democrats and lawmakers in the opposite chamber. Unfolding comment by comment, the unofficial daily log often paralleled official debate taking place under the dome -- with the added bonus of anonymity.
"This bill makes about as much sense as a screen door in a submarine," wrote a frequent blog commenter identified only as "western liberal warrior" last month in response to a senator's blog entry in favor of a flat income tax. Tax reform was the biggest sticking point of Utah's 2006 legislative session, which ended March 1, and House and Senate leaders still are wrangling over whether to hold a special legislative session in June to cut taxes by an additional $70 million.
With only $150 in start-up costs, the blog billed as the "unofficial voice of the Senate majority" registered about 90,000 hits -- or visits -- in February when the Legislature was in session and more than 400,000 hits since it was launched in September, said Senate aide Ric Cantrell, who maintains the site.
Dan Harrie, political editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah's largest newspaper, said much of the blog reads like a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, which controls the Senate 21-8, the House 56-19 and also the governor's office.
But Cantrell insists the blog is changing the traditional media's role by giving senators a venue to go around the Statehouse press corps and dish up their own version of events for daily readers.
"This has been hailed in Utah as the year that new media broke the tradition of old media getting the story out," Cantrell said.
Just last week, the Senate blog went after the Deseret Morning News, one of Utah's largest newspapers, for a story about tax reform. Cantrell, the Senate aide, posted an entry directing readers instead to a competing newspaper article by the Salt Lake Tribune that "got it right."
"It is not right, effective, efficient, reasonable, legal, healthy, safe or fair for the beautiful state of Utah to be forced into becoming a litter box for toxic nuclear waste that originates far beyond our borders," Utah Senate Majority Leader Peter Knudson recently wrote to protest a proposed nuclear waste repository in Skull Valley, Utah.
The blog hummed during Utah's 45-day 2006 legislative session. It posted news and audio clips of legislative action and allowed all registered readers to post public or anonymous comments in a "feedback" section in response to blog entries or news developments.
Cantrell said that occasionally heated debates between readers added the spice of talk radio to the blog, including several comments that had to be deleted for profanity.
Spun out by home-based scribes posting diary entries or political diatribes for a worldwide audience, blogs first appeared about a decade ago but gained prominence during the 2004 presidential elections, according to the