As blogs continue to evolve and become a part of the political landscape, local elected officials will have to figure out a way to survive when their every motion comes under immediate scrutiny. The Santa Ana City Council found out the hard way this week that trying to stifle a political blog can have very negative repercussions.
I started a political blog, aptly named “Orange Juice!,” in Orange County, California, way back in 2003. I was the first person in the county to put my thoughts about politics on a blog. A year or so later I took a hiatus, as I worked to complete an MBA.
When I returned to blogging at the end of 2005, I found a new landscape that included dozens of blogs throughout the State of California. I was a conservative Republican back then and I invited a liberal Democrat friend of mine, Claudio Gallegos, to join me as a co-blogger. The bipartisan formula worked fantastically as our readership immediately doubled.
I then began to add other bloggers to our team. In February of this year, six of my bloggers, including myself, were appointed to various City of Santa Ana Commissions. It was unprecedented.
The Santa Ana City Council knew that we were bloggers. They knew that we were often critical of the City Council and the Mayor, Miguel Pulido. However, we helped to elect two newcomers to the City Council, Michele Martinez and Sal Tinajero, and they ended up appointing us to commissions that included: Planning; Housing and Redevelopment; the Environmental & Transportation Advisory Committee; and the anti-gang group called the Early Prevention and Intervention Commission.
Two weeks ago, I was called by Martinez, who had appointed me to the Housing & Redevelopment Commission. She told me that the City Council had asked her to tell me to either stop blogging, or quit my commission, or face being thrown off the commission.
The request had nothing to do with my work as a Commissioner. It had everything to do with silencing a critic of the City Council.
I spoke the following week to Jennifer Delson, our local reporter for the L.A. Times, Orange County edition. She ended up writing a story that was published today. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and ended up being discussed on radio talk shows throughout the country.
So how should local elected officials deal with political blogs in their cities? The obvious lesson learned this week is that trying to muscle or otherwise silence bloggers is a very bad idea. Political blogs are here to stay. Thanks to the Brown Act we are able to cover what goes on in our areas by reading publicly distributed government meeting agendas. Then we write about the issues that are of import to us, and that we feel will have an impact on our fellow residents. We fill the gap created by the mainstream media, which has lost millions of dollars in advertising revenue with the emergence of the Internet. They cannot cover our towns the way we do.
The Orange Juice! was named the “Best Local Blog” this year by the OC Weekly, our alternative newsweekly. We have appreciative readers in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. too. Now, thanks to the Santa Ana City Council, we have even more readers, as the AP story about their ham-fisted censorship attempts brought us readers from all over the country.
Our detractors like to say that we don’t accomplish anything in our city. But the truth is that we have been setting the agenda all year. In fact we were able to defeat a city proposal at tonight’s Santa Ana City Council meeting, as they were planning to vote to spend $82,000 to publish the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce’s newsletter, CityLine.
After we criticized the proposal on our blog, because the CityLine includes endorsements of Chamber-preferred Council candidates, the director of the Chamber called Mayor Pulido and withdrew his request.
If a political blog crops up in your town, don’t overreact to it. If you do, you just might end up helping them to build an even bigger audience!
About the Writer: Art Pedroza served as the inaugural Hispanic Outreach Director for the Republican Party of Orange County in 1996. He was later appointed to the California Republican Party’s Central Committee, and elected to the Republican Party of Orange County’s Central Committee. He is now an independent, and he serves as the Editor of the Orange Juice!, Orange County’s first political blog, since 2003.
Pedroza is a safety director for a $70 million contractor. He is also an adjunct instructor at Cerritos College, and he teaches OSHA construction safety courses and First Aid & CPR in his spare time.