Depending on your perspective on politics, the toll the pandemic has taken on our elected officials’ ability to communicate directly with the populace is either the silveriest of linings or another piercing loss in a year that already had way too many of them.
No more door-knocking, or constituent coffees, or public testimony at council meetings. (Unless, of course, you are a late-night protester, in which case you may well score some face time.)
To fill the glad-handing void, Oregon politicians are turning to—what else—social media, doubling down on their efforts to connect in a virtual world. Here are some state lawmakers to follow, depending on your platform of choice.
If You Love Substack, Try State Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland:
In the last year, amidst a news cycle that just wouldn’t quit, the humble e-mail newsletter gained new popularity and prominence for its unfiltered, long-form takes from trusted voices. Historian Heather Cox Richardson and political journalist Matt Taibbi, for example, both offer subscribers their takes on the issues of the day via the Substack platform, which manages their mailing lists and takes a cut of the profits.
Dembrow, a low-key, longtime state Senator and former community college professor whose district sprawls from Arleta to Parkrose, is giving them a run for their money, and it’s free.
Almost every day, in a leisurely email to constituents, he breaks down the day’s news in coronavirus and legislative updates, including judicious use of links and some light kibbitzing sprinkled throughout. (Most recently, readers learned that he’d acted on a hot tip from a constituent and snagged a vaccine appointment at a local Walgreens after getting shut out of the Oregon Convention Center lottery.)
If You’re a TikTok Stan, Check Out State Rep. Ricki Ruiz, D-Gresham
At just 26 years old, Ruiz is one of a small but mighty band of Zennials who have stormed Salem this session, and his social media accounts reflect his digital native-ness. He’s great on Twitter, but we’re really here for Ruiz’s not-at-all-stuffy TikTok account.
Don’t miss his helpful demonstration on how to eat lasagna the Mexican way — that is, deconstruct it by stripping off the layers, rolling them up like a taquito, dipping them into hot sauce and then eating them with your fingers. Go sit down, Garfield. Your time is officially up.
Find him on TikTok at @ricki4oregon
If You Never Met A YouTube Tutorial You Didn’t Like, Seek Out State Rep. Dacia Grayber, D-Tigard-SW Portland.
Dembrow comes to his audience with the authority of a state Capitol veteran; Grayber, a fire fighter/paramedic who was elected to her first term in 2020, brings the enthusiasm of a determined newbie. She’s got some moves, as evidenced by her one and only stab at a TikTok dance video, but she truly shines on You Tube, where she has been posting Schoolhouse Rock-style quickie explainers that aim to demystify the political process.
She calls the series “Sub 60 in Session,” and each video is a great primer for someone making their first foray into the Capitol, especially in this pandemic year when committee meetings and public testimony have gone virtual. Browse through her guides on how to contact your legislator, how to listen in on a committee hearing and how to track a bill—and don’t miss the regular cameos from her dog that cap off the occasional segment.
If The IG/Millennial Archetype Is Your Jam, Follow Rep. Khanh Pham, D-NE/SE Portland.
Not only is political newcomer Pham one of the first politicians we’ve seen attempt to Instagram Live from the floor of the Oregon House, she has a great eye for the kind of minimalist aesthetic that plays well in an Instagram slideshow.
Never before have we been so inclined to click through a slideshow that outlines the ins and outs of the February Revenue Forecast, say, or one that promotes an upcoming House Revenue Committee hearing centered on racism and tax policy. Turns out, presentation does matter.
If You Live on Twitter, Try Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie
Lots and lots of Oregon politicos are on Twitter, but many of them seem fairly robotic on the platform, inoffensive to the point of blandness. Power wins points for allowing her personality to shine through. She’s a pro at the vernacular (Impressive. Use. Of. Periods. To. Show. Exasperation.) and clearly fond of the eye-roll emoji; in between helpful posts on the latest doings at the Capitol, she’ll also share pics of her adorable infant. In summary: Come for the sharp political commentary, stay for the baby pics.
If You’re On Clubhouse—You’re Out Of Luck
We scanned the growing, members-only, audio-only app, but even Oregon political powerhouses like U.S. Sens Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley don’t appear to be in the ‘house. Send your favorite politico an invite?