The Legend of Silent Frank:The One-Way Street of Facebook

Getting answers from our representatives can be downright tricky.  With the rise of social media, I applaud our public officials who use Facebook and Twitter to communicate with constituents.  This fabulous opportunity, however, is often wasted when the public official and/or his or her staff uses the social media to blow more smoke over the already cloudy business of government.  Granted, the use of social media opens the public official up to an audience unlike previous officials had to handle.  The sheer volume of people who would like to get a point of view across or a question answered must present a significant challenge to the official and his or her staff.  But if social media is going to be used to trumpet what the official sees as his or her accomplishments, then it should also be used to clarify positions, accept the heat for mistakes, and provide precise information when requested.

But sadly, the State Representative from the 107th District, Frank Foster, is pretty good at using social media for the easy part, ie, trumpeting what he sees as his accomplishments, but is very bad at the more useful, albeit more difficult, side of the process.

There are two examples from the last couple of months that help make my point.  First, in a post from late January, Mr. Foster let us know that he was finishing his committee work for the day.  Because he sits on the Health Policy Committee, I was very interested in what he thought about HB 4187, which mandated transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking legal abortions.  As you can see from the exchange below, I originally cited the incorrect bill, but once I clarified it, I get an answer that I initially felt was encouraging.  Mr. Foster declares on February 7 that he opposes invasive procedures based on some language surrounding “best available technologies” that was part of the original bill.  I complimented him for taking this stand, but moments later I realized that part of Mr. Foster’s response included this ditty: “While I appreciate the intent of Rep. Johnson’s legislation….”

I felt compelled to write back and ask him to clarify these seemingly contradictory stands.  The intent of HB 4187 was to force women to undergo invasive procedures before they would be able to have a legal abortion.  Yet Mr. Foster pretty clearly states he is against such procedures based on some cloudy reference to the language of the bill, but also clearly states he appreciates the intention of the bill which is to force invasive procedures on women.  I asked for clarification, but I received no reply.

In April, during the discussion of another matter which I will discuss presently, Mr. Foster claimed he would “find it hard to imagine I would ever state that I support “invasive procedures” on women in any circumstance.”  And he asked me to provide documentation that proved he ever said anything to the contrary.  I produced the citation and asked again for him to clarify how he could support the intent of a bill while opposing the mechanics of the same bill.   But I received no reply.

For the record, I could see how a justification could be made by someone for supporting an idea, but not the means of accomplishing it.  For instance, I could support stopping North Korea from attacking South Korea, but be opposed to a land invasion by US troops.  I could offer alternatives to achieving the goal of preventing war, but all this would be consistent with my original intent, which would be to preserve South Korea.  My arguments against a land invasion could be elaborately described, but at no point would anyone listening to me lose sight of my intent to curb North Korea’s aggression.

So it seems to me that Mr. Foster has put himself in a very difficult position.  Arguing about the language of a bill that promotes invasive procedures while supporting the intent of such a bill seems to come down to which procedures would be ok for Mr. Foster and his cohorts to force on women.  I have asked for clarification but I received no reply.

The second example of Mr. Foster’s inability or unwillingness to clarify a statement sprang from his seemingly innocuous post on April 2 regarding visits to constituents’ homes.  Here again, Mr. Foster is praising himself for doing the work of a Representative and I have no real problem with him doing so.  Social media are excellent ways to connect with constituents and no one is going to begrudge a politician an opportunity to toot his own horn.   Except me, I guess.

When I read the original post, I rolled my eyes and thought to myself that Mr. Foster was back in the district gearing up for what I hope is a difficult race for reelection in 2014 and decided to drop in on some donors.  Instead of simply performing this difficult but necessary function that any politician must do and keeping it to himself, he decided to turn it into an opportunity to tell us all what a wonderful job he is doing in keeping in touch with voters.  So I was skeptical.  You don’t title your blog “The Grumblings” if you aren’t skeptical from time to time.

You can read the exchange between Mr. Foster and me below.  Notice how each specific question is answered with some more smoke.  I suppose he had to be careful to avoid saying something like “I did not visit donors,” because if it came out that he did do that, he’d come under even more fire.  Equally, he couldn’t afford to now say, “You’re right, I only visited donors,” because that would make his attempt to show how concerned he was as our Representative look a little silly.

I’m pretty familiar with how the political parties collect and produce data for their candidates.  Giant databases of party identification, voter and consumer habits,  donor history, etc. are produced and maintained by both parties so that candidates can maximize their resources and visit, call, or mail to only people who are either likely to vote for the candidate, or who might be swayed to vote for the candidate.  Think back at the last election.  If you are a person who votes Democrat almost all the time and exhibits the consumer behaviors normally associated with being a Democrat, I’m willing to bet you received no robo calls from Mitt Romney.  Romney’s people were smart enough to know not to spend money on people who aren’t going to vote for him.

For Mr. Foster to claim he doesn’t have such lists is disingenuous at best.  His party handlers would not allow him to waste time wandering into neighborhoods to talk to people who don’t vote, or worse yet, who vote solid Democratic.  So I pressed for clarification, but I received no reply.

If our representatives are going to use social media to build a positive image, then we have the responsibility to make sure they can substantiate that image.  In these cases, I believe Mr. Foster has plenty of explaining to do regarding his support of the intent to force invasive procedures on women.  His already dismal record on the treatment of women cannot be rehabilitated until he comes clean on what he meant when he said he appreciates the spirit of such procedures.

As for his visits to constituents, his silence on the issue certainly means he cannot support his claim that he didn’t target donors for these visits.  He has put himself in a no-win situation, and silence is apparently his only weapon.

I jokingly referred to Mr. Foster as “Silent Frank” at a meeting a couple of months ago, but the joke is no longer funny.  I hope all of us can keep the pressure on our elected officials, be they Democrat or Republican, so that social media are a legitimate two-way connection with our elected officials, and not simply one more vehicle for shameless self-promotion.

(The following excerpts have come directly from Frank Foster’s Facebook page.  Only comments from other people have been removed from the threads to preserve the integrity of my exchange with the Representative.)



First thread:

January 29, 2013

Frank Foster First day of committees for the 2013-2014 session. Finishing up a few meetings before heading to Health Policy at 10:30am, then getting some reading done before a presumably short session today at 1:30pm and more meeting in the afternoon.

February 7, 2013

Mark Pontoni I typed the wrong bill number in. I apologize. I meant 4187.

February 7, 2013

Frank Foster Mark, thanks for clarifying. While I appreciate the intent of Rep. Johnson’s legislation, concerns have arisen surrounding the language for “best technology available” and what might be defined within that. I do not support mandating any invasive test such as a transvaginal ultrasound, so would have to stand opposed to the legislation in its current form.

February 7, 2013

Mark Pontoni Thank you. Your position is sound so in addition to opposing it I hope you will urge your colleagues to do the same.

February 14, 2013

Mark Pontoni Mr. Foster, I re-read your answer and I’m a little confused. Exactly how do you “appreciate the intent of Rep. Johnson’s legislation.”?

Second thread:

April 2

Frank Foster Nothing beats going door to door to talk directly to the residents of my district. Lots of important issues to discuss.

April 2

Mark Pontoni Be interesting to know which doors Mr Foster is visiting. I presume donors since I doubt very much he’d take a chance on randomly knocking on one of the thousands of doors belonging to those of us he has let down.

April 3

Frank Foster Mark Pontoni, thanks for posting. I enjoy knocking every door in my district and talking to residents about their questions and concerns. I think it is a great way to meet new people and truly understand who I am representing when I vote on their behalf

April 4

Mark Pontoni Mr Foster, thank you for the response but like nearly all the responses from your staff, they are long on courtesy and short on substance. Each time I ask for a clarification on a position, the dialogue stops. So I will try again. The spirit of your post suggests you drive into the district somewhere and started knocking on random doors as a means of getting in touch with your constituents. Admirable? Yes. The truth? I’m still waiting. Surely you and/or your staff knows if the doors on which you knocked were the doors of donors or truly random doors. Remember you started this post as a means of telling us what a good job you’re doing as a representative. You should be willing, therefore, to support your claim.

Also if you’re inclined to elaborate on this then perhaps you are willing to scan over your page and address other issues where people with whom you disagree are asking for clarification. Specifically I would like to know what you meant by suggesting you agreed with the spirit of invasive procedures on women seeking to exercise their federally protected reproductive rights.

Thank you.

April 4

Frank Foster Mark, I am happy to elaborate. I am comfortable saying that if I have not walked every single street in my district, than I have knocked almost all of them. In my first campaign alone, I knocked on over 20,000 doors over the course of the election; while I’ve stopped keeping track, that number has only increased over time. The lists I use do not in any way indicate whether they have donated or not, and I knock doors of Republicans, Democrats, and independents. I also carry with me literature that describes some of the priorities of my office and what we are working on, as well as contact information for my office and other state departments people may find useful.

As for your second question, seeing as it obviously isn’t a part of this thread, would you be able to provide the exact language, or least the specific issue that was being discussed? I find it hard to imagine I would ever state that I support “invasive procedures” on women in any circumstance.

April 4

Mark Pontoni Mr. Foster, in a post on February 7th you said you agreed with the intent of radical Rep Johnson’s HB 4187 which called for a state mandated intrusive procedure for all women thinking of exercising their constitutional right to a first trimester abortion. You said you had concerns about the language regarding the technology to be used but there’s no mistaking your stated support of a humiliating and intrusive procedure for women. When I asked you to clarify you were silent.

As to the original post regarding your door to door work, you still haven’t answered my question. I have no doubt you visited lots if doors during your campaigns. You started this thread insinuating you were visiting random doors in the 107th. Nothing in your subsequent posts clarify if your visits THIS week were to donors. No one believes that in this age of information technology that you are simply pulling your car up to a neighborhood and randomly talking to people. So in THIS trip for which you are seeking credit for doing a good job, who did you visit and what did you learn?


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