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If all goes as planned, Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s “Twitter town hall” on Dec. 9 will be backed by the largest response team for a microblog meeting that Hawaii has seen.
Nearly every municipal department will have a representative ready to answer tweeted questions at the city’s Department of Information Technology‘s conference room, according to mayoral spokesperson Jesse Broder Van Dyke.
Directors, deputy directors and public information officers will speak on behalf of departments dealing with parks and recreation, permits and planning, transportation, the environment and others. Tweets will be displayed on a projector for all city officials to see. “Our goal is just to be able to answer every question we can,” Broder Van Dyke said.
The mayor has long favored more traditional pavement-pounding methods on the campaign trail and in office. The virtual town hall gathering that is slated to begin at noon will be a first for him.
Residents can tweet Caldwell questions directly at @MayorKirkHNL and follow the conversation by searching the hashtag #AskKirk.
The Twitter session comes near the end of Caldwell’s traditional town hall tour that began in October and that will end on December 10 at Kaiser High School.
In past IRL town halls — that stands for: in real life — the mayor and his cabinet did presentations before taking questions. In this Twitter response session, they’ll be taking questions from the outset.
Caldwell will respond through his own account, however other agencies with Twitter may respond via their own microblogging handles, said municipal communications specialist Jay Parasco.
“Most of the questions we get at the city come from people who aren’t sure who or where to ask,” Parasco said. “People just often email the mayor. This is another forum to connect directly with the city.”
Caldwell is far from the first Hawaii politician to engage with voters through the microblogging site. For some time, state Sen. Jill Tokuda (@jilltokuda) has carried the social media flag at the Legislature. As chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, she took questions about early education in January.
These days, she’s taking the discussion directly to a smaller but more focused group, via Google Hangouts, a social media group video chat for people with Google accounts. Tokuda wanted to have a chat with school principals on the state’s different islands.
“Literally I asked them, ‘Will you hang out with me for lunch?’ Tokuda said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. “One of them was sitting in his car with his lunch, with his iPhone or iPad. You’re talking to people face to face, so there’s good interaction.”
She used Hangouts as recently as mid-November to talk to education “stakeholders” on Oahu and Maui.
Love Google+Hangouts! Had good discussion w/HAEYC on Oahu & Maui today about childcare licensing; early ed issues. pic.twitter.com/ItOdCJzEhr
— Jill N. Tokuda (@jilltokuda) November 15, 2013
Here is a Google Hangout, archived on YouTube, with Gov. Neil Abercrombie in attendance. They spoke with U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono’s staff about her PRE-K Act.
Tokuda said Twitter town halls don’t always start with a rush of questions, so she comes prepared with links, statistics and questions received in advance to fill any online dead air in the first few minutes. But the conversation usually becomes lively enough that she stays longer than planned at the end.
“I only get the news on Twitter,” said Tokuda, who is 37 years old. “The only news I get these days is whatever happens on Twitter.”
Of the looming town hall, she said, “I think the mayor will enjoy doing this.”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has nearly 10,000 followers on her @TulsiGabbard account, suggesting a far greater online reach than Caldwell or Tokuda. She regularly hosts #AskTulsi town halls because she believes they are important and fun.
“For me, it’s accessible,” Gabbard told Civil Beat by phone from the nation’s capital. “A lot of times, especially for folks in Hawaii, they feel a little distant or not connected to their elected representatives, especially those of us who work on the other side of the country. So many times, you hear people say, ‘I’m just one person. I’m not going to make a difference and don’t have the power to make a big impact.'”
Gabbard hosted a microblogging interchange session in October to address the government shutdown. She was questioned on her votes and stood her ground, as is clear from the following exchange.
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) October 11, 2013
During one of her talks, someone asked her a question about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she answered. The exchange is below.
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) October 31, 2013
She’s not sure if it was a coincidence, but the next morning, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office called her to talk about the trade agreement.
“You never know who’s watching or listening, and I think that’s a good thing,” she said.
Gabbard, 32, often tweets and posts Instagram photos on her own, rather than relying on staff to do it. And she is definitely hands on when it comes to her town halls, as she demonstrates below.
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) October 31, 2013
“I’m grateful that I’m a really fast typist,” the congresswoman said. “I learned to type when I was, maybe 8, 9 or 10 years old? The only video game thing we were allowed to play was a typing tutor.” She and her sister would compete and she was eventually able to type 140 words per minute, she added.
“The coolest tweet I saw in the beginning was from a 7th grader from Kauai, who sent out a tweet saying, ‘I’m in 7th grade, and I want to know what I can do to help during the government shutdown,'” Gabbard said. “To me, that symbolizes how this new medium brings a great opportunity to engage an entire generation. When you look at it from a millennial perspective, they’re the most disengaged and frustrated with government as a whole. It’s so critical that we engage them.”