Site Search

                               Steve Urquhart Interview
moderated by Paul DiPerna
Steve Urquhart:

       In part, Politicopia is a reaction to the unhealthy amount of power
 held by special interests, bu...
entry is pretty good too)
    Which of these adopter categories best describes today's
    In general, what ...
Paul DiPerna:

                     Do you have any special plans or projects for the coming summer,
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5

Steve Urquhart Interview by Paul DiPerna | Blau Exchange


Published on

June 12, 2007

Published in: Education
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total Views
On Slideshare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Steve Urquhart Interview by Paul DiPerna | Blau Exchange

  1. 1. Site Search Steve Urquhart Interview moderated by Paul DiPerna Paul DiPerna: Representative Urquhart... Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. home Your website Politicopia, a wiki-based website, fosters discussions introduction of Utah state politics and issues of the day.  Political analysts have  themes credited Politicopia, and more broadly your leadership, for ushering in interviews index the nation's first statewide universal school voucher law. On May 18, you attended the Personal Democracy Forum (PdF) conference in New subscribe to email updates York City.   This year the theme at PdF is  "The Flattening of Politics". How is Politicopia flattening Utah state RSS for interviews politics? Steve Urquhart: I'm happy to hog all the credit for passage Paul's bio and projects of the voucher legislation, but of course there Paul's email were many, many people and organizations Urquhart's Bio that put in great efforts.  Politicopia (and  many other blogs) were helpful in passing the legislation.  The Internet  comments policy is a tremendous communications tool, and passing the legislation privacy policy required a great deal of communicating. A turning point occurred when the Chair of the State School Board broadcast an email that vouchers would financially harm public education.  I posted his email on Politicopia, along with my rebuttal. I pointed out that he seemed to be incorrect, and I invited him to refute my numbers and assumptions on Politicopia.  He didn't; he couldn't.   Instead, he sent me a private email, saying he looked forward to working with me, etc.  He had been called out on his misstatements.   He and other board members no longer spread financial myths about the legislation.  With that issue out of the way, we were able to focus on more pressing concerns. Also, it was helpful for House members to follow the commentary on the Internet.  One post on my blog, for example, had 50 comments.  Two House members told me that the dialogue on  Politicopia (and Internet dialogue elsewhere) convinced them that voting for the legislation would be the proper course.  Since it passed by one vote, that is significant. For too long, information has been closely held by political insiders like education unions in the case of vouchers.  As Politicopia and other online efforts develop broader media, other arguments and perspectives will emerge.  Ideally, political dialogue will become more  informed, and results will become more in line with what the people want, instead of what the insiders want. Paul DiPerna: How did you come up with the idea for Politicopia? Steve Urquhart:
  2. 2. Steve Urquhart: In part, Politicopia is a reaction to the unhealthy amount of power held by special interests, bureaucrats, and the media.  The site attempts to address the obstacles that keep people from participating politically.  It provides unmediated information and opportunity to weigh in. Paul DiPerna: What did you hope to learn at last month's PdF Conference? Are there any particular people, projects, or ideas that piqued your interest? Steve Urquhart: PdF offered me insights from people who've moved good ideas to successful implementation.  I want help in making unmediated  information and networked participation a reality in the political arena. I was particularly excited to meet Tom Friedman and spending more time with Micah Sifry. Paul DiPerna: I understand you've served in the Utah House of Representatives for about 6 years now..  I'm sure you've come across some very  colorful people and circumstances. What is one of your favorite stories of things that you've observed while serving as a legislator? Steve Urquhart: Since we're talking about technology, I'll give you my favorite legislators-know-best story.  When I entered the Legislature, it was near impossible for an average mortal to determine on the Legislative website how a legislator had voted on an issue.  When I asked  leadership about that, I was told that people would misinterpret the information. Apparently, we were protecting them from themselves. Paul DiPerna: How do you think public officials and political institutions will use the Web, say five years from now in 2012? Do you see any big transformations on the horizon for America's traditional political institutions like the political parties, elections, legislatures, local boards and councils (like school boards), and special interest groups? Steve Urquhart: As it has done with so many other enterprises, the Internet will transform politics.  Thank heavens.  People will have better access to information and greater ability to organize.  Rather than send a letter and hope an elected official responds, people will be able to mobilize and, with that informed organization, they'll be able to force their officials to pay attention or else. Also, elected officials will be able to take more risks. Currently, it's too easy for intermediaries to snuff out innovative ideas in the cradle.   When people and their officials are closer and the middlemen aren't so free to distort the message politicians can try things without immediately being painted strange.  I think most politicians don't yet appreciate the liberation the Internet could bring them. Paul DiPerna: One of my favorite social science books is Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers, which offered a theory on how society adopts new ideas and technologies. According to this theory, a person can be described as an innovator, early adopter, early majority, late majority, or laggard, in terms of how and when he/she accepts a new idea.  (the Wikipedia entry is pretty good too)
  3. 3. entry is pretty good too) Which of these adopter categories best describes today's legislators? In general, what are politicians' attitudes toward leveraging the Web for political influence? Steve Urquhart: Legislators are cyclically early majority and laggards.  When it  comes to elections, we're more willing to be out on the forefront to be available to the people and to show that we get it.  Once we're elected, we're more laggards. Unfortunately, it's a bit like, "It's been nice talking with you.  Now,  "Legislators are leave me alone to do my work; cyclically we'll talk again next election cycle." 'early majority' Paul DiPerna: and 'laggards'." How did you get interested in launching your own websites on the Web? Were there any specific circumstances or people that influenced you? Steve Urquhart: Everything I've done online is in response to things that haven't been working in some other way.  When I expressed discouragement  about low attendance at town meeings to my brother-in-law, a new media guy, he offered to help.  He helped with my first static website,  my blog, and now Politicopia.  When he first talked about blogs, I got  goosebumps, thinking about the possibilities for democracy.  Now,  while I still think blogs are great, I'm looking for something with Politicopia that is more interactive and fosters more of a bottom up approach. Paul DiPerna: Can you briefly describe the Parent Choice in Education Act, and how it recently became law?  This was quite a political feat -- the first statewide universal school voucher law ever passed in the United States. Steve Urquhart: The voucher bill helps parents who opt out of the public education system pay for a portion of private school tuition.  The poorer  someone is, the more money they receive in assistance.  The  program is set up so that the amount of assistance is less than the amount the state would have paid to send the child to the public schools.  So, everyone comes out ahead financially.  Change is tough  for organizations.  And this change is tough for the education establishment to accept just like it was tough for the establishment to accept an increased focus on the core curriculum and vouchers for special needs children. Paul DiPerna: My understanding is that Utah's state school boards association and the state teachers union are currently mounting a referendum challenge to the Parent Choice in Education Act. Where do things stand as of today? Steve Urquhart: The voters will decide in November whether the voucher program should go into effect.  As I've detailed at, the issue is somewhat muddied by constitutional questions surrounding two voucher bills that were passed.  It is difficult to fight special interests  that can pin notes on children's shirts, but Utahns are a pretty smart bunch.  If we are able to get out the actual facts about the law, we will win.
  4. 4. Paul DiPerna: Do you have any special plans or projects for the coming summer, professionally and/or personally? Steve Urquhart: This summer I'm going to work on my tan. That felt good to say, but actually I'm going to work too much, sleep too little, and try to have a bit of fun with the family.  With any spare  time, I'm going to work on Politicopia and try to make it a great tool for political dialogue. It concerns me greatly that America is losing the ability to collaborate on difficult political issues.  When we talk, we dispel  rumors and focus on facts.  Great things happen.  I believe that one of  those great things is passage of the voucher bill.  After years of  digging into the issue, a majority of policymakers understood it and passed it.  Children and families will benefit for generations, as a result of that dialogue. June 12, 2007 home | interviews index | Join the email list | RSS for interviews | Paul's email Blau Exchange, est. 2006 | Blau Exchange, All Rights Reserved 2006-2008 site design by gralmy