In title, Assemblyman Ken Cooley is a freshman lawmaker, one of a new crop of legislators in the historic class of 2012.
In fact, he’s no stranger to the Capitol: Cooley, a Democrat, served nearly eight years as the late Assemblyman Lou “The Enforcer” Papan’s senior aide (Papan ran the Rules Committee with an iron hand), got his law degree at McGeorge nearly three decades ago, was a legal consultant to Assembly Finance and Insurance and, among other things, served as mayor of Rancho Cordova.
But as he took office to represent the 8th Assembly District, the buzz in the Capitol wasn’t about Cooley’s political resume. It was about his deft handling of social media: He actually likes Facebook.
“I don’t do every little thing. I post things that interest me,” says Cooley. “Recently when I was out walking, I put a few things up on the way. That’s the extent of it, it’s things that catch my eye. I think it’s like a keyhole in your life.”
Posting on Facebook can be dicey, especially for a public official, but Cooley seems to make it work, in large part because of the mix of political and personal items he shares.
His track record in Rancho Cordova — he was credited with helping the city become one of Fortune 500’s most promising job markets in the country — helped make his run for the Assembly possible.
“I had the opportunity to run concurrently for my city council seat and the Assembly,” says Cooley. “I opted not to do that. I felt like I shouldn’t try to protect my elected status, because that meant if I was successful in the Assembly, then my city council would have to appoint someone to fill my seat. I didn’t want things to happen that way. So I told my wife, ‘Either I’m going to run for Assembly or I will no longer be an elected official.’”
In the Assembly, Cooley is a new kid on the block and faces a new schedule — early morning orientations, reviewing legislative protocol and getting to know fellow lawmakers and staff members. Given that his career began inside the building, Cooley seems to take the whole process in stride.
“Even though I’m coming in as a freshman, I have 15 years of very senior experience,“ he said. “Ultimately though, we’re all colleagues and it’s important that you show respect for the process. It’s good to have experience, but there are 37 new members in this Assembly and we’re doing this together.”
But it his extensive use of Facebook that makes him unusual — he does his own postings, he’s got a good nose for detail and he’s ready to share both his personal and political experiences.
“I have Capitol connections, I have community connections, church and family connections, people I went to school with, so there isn’t some really big plan,” says Cooley. “I like posting things that I find interesting. It’s just me.“
Cooley started his Facebook page in 2009 not as part of a grandiose political strategy, but as a way to share events and activities that he was actually attending. Now that he’s representing the 8th AD, his followers can get a fun peak inside of a governor’s address, a group of volunteers for community activism, or what’s good for dinner at a downtown Sacramento restaurant.
To follow Cooley on Facebook is to know him. He also posts new information almost every day. Whether it’s a leisurely walk with his family along the American River, an important Assembly discussion, or even offering condolences to the family of a fallen civil servant, Cooley says there are no preconceived notions about what he’ll post. He’s simply sharing his actual experience and he calls it his “Keyhole Theory.”
“I think of it as a way to open a window of what I’m doing. It’s all about things that I think people might share an interest in. It sort of connects people, but also shows who I am,” says Cooley. “If I’m going to be out, I sort of want to be visible. I’m not afraid of visibility.”
Many political folks — elected officials as well as professional communicators, campaign consultants and crisis management teams — routinely have used social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to build visibility, capture votes and get traction.
But Cooley said that wasn’t his intent, and that he didn’t even create a new campaign Facebook page while jockeying for his Assembly seat last year.
“It didn’t even occur to me to make a separate page while I was campaigning,” he noted.
Instead, Cooley used his personal Facebook account to connect with people and to help bridge the gap between political traditions and new technology.
“As in previous campaigns, people who know me know that I walk (precincts). I’ll always do that. But this time I was able to show what it was like along the way.”