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A social media star is born

The Assembly chamber in the state Capitol, Sacramento. (Photo: Felix Lipov, Shutterstock)

It’s hard to be a Republican in the California Legislature.

Earlier this year when Sen. Janet Nguyen was removed from the Senate chamber, it was clear that Senate Republicans were upset for their colleague but also thrilled – thrilled – to be in the spotlight for a change.

Sacramento Report logoAdd to that being a first-term legislator, and representing a relatively rural area, and that’s a recipe for a pretty low profile.

Yet Republican Assemblyman Randy Voepel is getting noticed.

Part of that is thanks to his tie collection (a story for another day), but mostly it’s because of his social media presence.

Voepel2

Assemblyman Randy Voepel, R-Santee.

Following Gov. Jerry Brown’s State of the State address, Voepel posted a rebuttal using the online tool Genius. He’s advocated for bills by posting listicles on Medium that are heavy on cat GIFs. Mostly, though, he makes a mark using Twitter, where his messages combine policy updates with memes. So many memes.

A sampling of Voepel’s tweets can be seen here.

Mason Herron, Voepel’s chief of staff, is the social media guru behind the assemblyman’s online presence.  This week, he and I talked via email about his approach.

Most of the assemblyman’s tweets and other social media posts have a really hilarious element to them – a great GIF or meme to amplify the point, for example. Is there a strategy behind them beyond just being funny?
There’s a lot of content being pushed out constantly on Twitter, so it gets hard to stand out – especially as an elected official discussing legislative issues. He generally wants to approach most things in a different way, and is open to taking risks, and so it’s no surprise his Twitter account has taken that direction. For the most part the tweets stick to legislative issues, but in a manner that makes them stand out more than the general “My bill passed out of committee” tweets. The long-term goal is to have a large and engaged Twitter following so when there’s an issue of significant importance he wants to discuss, people will already be listening.

That being said, sometimes being funny is an end in itself.

The posts have gotten a lot of attention from reporters and other legislators. Do you think they’ve raised his profile beyond what a first-term lawmaker from Santee might otherwise have?
It seems that way, and a handful of people have made that observation. Gaining greater visibility within the Sacramento landscape has its merits, but only if it carries over to coverage of the issues the assemblyman is focused on. Republicans don’t get as much attention up here as Democrats, for obvious reasons, so the goal is to change that trend however you can. In my boss’ case, it means taking a more creative and outside-the-box approach to social media.

Not sure if you’ll appreciate this comparison, but the assemblyman’s social media footprint reminds me of Hillary Clinton’s – in that her posts with references to Beyonce and Buzzfeed didn’t necessarily represent her personality but did represent the audience she was trying to reach. Does Assemblyman Voepel know all the references you’re putting out there? Does he ever say something is too much? What’s the process like?
Sometimes there has to be some contextual discussion regarding tweets that include with DJ Khaled or the BBC interview, but he understands that ultimately you have to message to your audience correctly. And by doing that he’s been able to bring in far more Democrats and younger people than I think he would have otherwise, and they’ll occasionally chime in saying that while they don’t agree with his stands on issues, they still appreciate the way he communicates and will remain engaged.

So far there’s been willingness on his part to pursue and embrace pretty much anything, which is an invaluable mindset to have. Politics is an industry of risk aversion, so being able to break free of that can be empowering.  It’s a “no risk, no reward” approach.

What have been the reactions to Assemblyman Voepel’s tweets and other postings?
Surprise, mostly. But also overwhelmingly positive. There’s an appreciation that he’s doing something different in a positive manner. That, and pretty much everybody likes memes.

Ed’s Note: Sara Libby is the managing editor of Voice of San Diego, a nonprofit news organization, where this story was first published. She can be reached at sara.libby@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526. Sign up for VOSD’s newsletters here.

 


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