June 2012 Bar Bulletin
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June 2012 Bar Bulletin

Connecting with Voters in a Digital Age

By Jamila A. Johnson


Seattle University School of Law graduate Fe Lopez stands on a stage in a bar on lower Queen Anne on a warm May evening. The room is packed with young professionals - mainly newer lawyers. The appetizer trays are packed with elaborate sliders and pita bread along the wall beside her.

It is Lopez's honor to introduce Washington Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez to the crowd and it is one that she takes pleasure in. This is obvious from her enthusiasm and energy on the wooden stage. In the midst of singing his praises, she definitively uttered a statement that could quite possibly sum up Justice Gonzalez.

"Just reading his Facebook page makes me tired," she says.

Most of the people in the room know what Lopez means. Many are Facebook friends with Justice Gonzalez. In fact, most learned about that evening's campaign event at The Great Nabob from a Facebook invitation that generated 116 affirmative RSVPs and 30 tentative ones from young lawyers, labor leaders and professionals in the nonprofit world.

If Justice Gonzalez is talking to high school students in Mount Vernon about the importance of being civically active, it is on Facebook. If he attends a reception for the Supreme Court, it is on Facebook. When he attends an Access to Justice Board meeting, it feels as if his Facebook friends go, too. Justice Gonzalez - like many candidates for political and judicial office this year - has fully committed himself to using social media in his campaign.

How Justice Gonzalez came to so heavily emphasize social media in his campaign started with a group of volunteers from his 2011 appointment effort. Two law students laid it out for him. "If we can't find you in two clicks, we're not going to pay attention," they told him. It may be a generational cliche, but sometimes cliches are true.

Justice Gonzalez knew then that he needed to learn how to use social media to connect to younger voters. Through trial and error he has become quite adept at navigating the medium, while ensuring that ex parte communications with attorneys do not occur. While he has not yet begun purchasing advertisements on social media sites, he is very open to the idea. More and more candidates are using this mechanism to connect to voters.

Dean Nielsen is a principal of Cerillion N4 - a political consulting and government affairs company in Seattle. His political career began in 1992 on the campaign trail with President Bill Clinton. In the 20 years since, he has worked on every campaign level in 25 states and Eastern Europe. He has tracked the influence that social media and electronic communications have had on the political process, and has been a pioneer in the process. He began thinking about the ways to use the Internet in his campaigns in 2001.

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