Plate tectonics and Alaska politics May 20, 2012Posted by Wanetta Ayers in People.
Tags: Alaska, Facebook, Flickr, Murkowski, politics, Senate, social media, Twitter, YouTube
Alaska is a seismically active region. More earthquakes happen in Alaska than anywhere else on the North American continent (USGS 2012). According to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, dozens of earthquakes occur every week. Most go unnoticed – a little temblor in a remote, uninhabited area here, a respectable jolt over there, but every once in a while the earth moves and we all get a wakeup call.
Seismically active Senate race
The political landscape in Alaska can be just as unstable as the tectonic plates beneath our feet. Such was the case in August 2010, when U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski lost her re-election bid in the primary to a political unknown. That was earth shattering, but what happened next was true game-changing political theatre. In spite of daunting odds, a last name that can trip up a spelling bee champ, and the ire of the national Republican leadership, Murkowski mounted a write-in campaign at the urging of her long-time supporters and concerned Alaskans. And then . . . she won.
Murkowski is known as a hard-working, intelligent, and collaborative politician. She is the standard bearer of a political dynasty. But her campaign style is not indicative of her otherwise considerable work ethic. In 2010, as other politicians were taking lessons from the 2008 election cycle by embracing the tenets of personal branding and deploying social media strategies, Murkowski was still on the social media sidelines (Hawkinson 2010).
After losing the primary, Murkowski was catapulted from heir apparent to underdog overnight. One could argue that a grassroots write-in campaign is the ultimate exercise in social politics. Despite the push of ardent supporters to run, the write-in campaign faced time, funding, and credibility challenges.
Alaskans rallied to Murkowski’s cause. Social media channels were full of chatter about the race, the write-in effort, and handicapping Lisa’s odds. Supporters contributed jingles and video on YouTube to reinforce the campaign message – write in the name, fill in the oval. Voters needed to take both steps in order for their vote to count. After months of controversy, legal challenges, and bare knuckle politics, it worked – from incumbent senior senator, to unlikely candidate, to senator again in less than seventy days – an unexpected and odds- breaking path to re-election.
Supporters contributed jingles and video
Official campaign YouTube channel
Lessons learned in the aftermath
Flush with the success of a historic campaign, Murkowski is back at work in the U.S. Senate. Stripped of her seniority and once again Alaska’s junior senator, it appears that Murkowski learned some hard lessons. She has never been a political show boater, but ‘hard at work in Washington,’ does not necessarily build a personal brand and political capital in Alaska. Social media engagement is a means to showcase all that hard work without becoming a political stereotype.
After serving decades in Washington, D.C., the Anchorage Daily News once famously asked the question, “How Alaskan is the Alaska Congressional delegation?” Family history, personal narrative, and personality are lost on a changing electorate. In 2010, more than half of registered voters in Alaska were under 45 years of age (U.S. Census Bureau 2010). By 2016, when Murkowski’s senate seat will once again be contested, the distance between Murkowski’s past and the awareness of voters may be incalculable. Every election, every vote counts. If you don’t want to start from scratch, you have to stay engaged.
Murkowski’s official senate web site does show signs of change with regard to social media. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube links, and an RSS feed are discretely featured in the lower left corner of the page. But, there are distinct differences between Murkowski the erstwhile candidate and Murkowski the senator. If authenticity is achieved when there is no discrepancy between how you present yourself to others, how other people perceive you, and who you really are, no wonder it is a challenge to be an elected official. Leaping from the halls of Congress to a raucous political battle may have some similarities, but it really calls for a different mind and skill set. Social media engagement between elections may help narrow the space between the two disparate roles.
Murkowski’s social media channels
I like my politicians smart. I want them committed to the work of leading and governing. And, I want them to be engaged with Alaskans. A closely contested race is a good thing. It is a reminder of the power of the people. It is a reminder that politicians are handed a public trust that can just as easily be rescinded. It is not easy being a public servant, but I am grateful to those willing to take the risk and equally willing to take the heat.
We had a doozy last week – a 4.6 shaker ten miles southwest of Anchorage – loud and rolling with a sharp bump at the end. Facebook lit up. Another little wake up call. It’s an election year, our redistricting plan is still wobbling through the courts, and the political landscape remains as unformed as our tentative hold on the ever-shifting Last Frontier. How do you see social media changing the landscape for elected leaders? How are races shaping up in your neck of the woods?
Hawkinson, E (2010). Social media use in politics. Hilleby. Retrieved from http://www.hillenby.com/social_media_election/
Luu, K. (April 5, 2012). 8 Social Media Laws for Politicians. Money and Risk. Retrived from http://www.moneyandrisk.com/stories/opinions/8-social-media-laws-for-politicians/.
U.S Census Bureau (2012). Voters and registration. U.S. Department of Commerce. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/socdemo/voting/