Web site sparks 'virtual debate'

Published: Monday, April 19 2004 7:11 a.m. MDT

LINDON — People who are into Utah political discussion now have a centralized online option.

UtahPolitics.org is a free, nonpartisan site focused on political happenings around the state and has started a "virtual debate" among gubernatorial candidates.

Candidates are answering a variety of questions, including many submitted by site visitors, and their replies are posted at the site, with an opportunity for rebuttal.

The first question posed in the virtual debate was about plans to address the top challenges to educational success in Utah. As of the middle of last week, seven gubernatorial candidates had posted responses to the question.

Phillip J. Windley, former chief information officer for the state, founded and operates the site, which is designed to be an electronic forum for sharing political opinions and beliefs.

"As I looked around the Utah political landscape, I didn't see a place where Utah politics could be easily reported and discussed by regular folks," Windley said. "To that end, I came up with the idea for UtahPolitics.org.

Windley said the site is open to all points of view and disagreement is welcome, although being disagreeable is discouraged. Participation is free and can be anonymous. Windley is hoping readers send in stories and comment on others' stories.

"Politics has traditionally been hierarchical," he said. "That is what political parties are all about: organizing people hierarchically. The Internet is not about hierarchies, but connections. We're seeing the Internet affect politics in significant ways this year in the presidential race. UtahPolitics.org is an opportunity for Utah citizens to connect with each other through the power of the Internet and find a collective voice."

People can view the site via the Internet or opt to get recent headlines through a free e-mail newsletter service. Yahoo members can easily set up their "My Yahoo" main page to automatically display recent UtahPolitics.org additions.

In addition to commentary and news items, the site contains links to state government, congressmen, voter registration information and Utah press, among others.

Windley, an information technology writer, speaker and consultant, said the "broadcast" democracy "has worked well for politicians who really only want two kinds of actions from citizens: check-writing and voting."

"The Internet gives power back to people at the grass-roots level — if they'll take it. UtahPolitics.org is a simple experiment for what I hope will be a new era of connected democracy," Windley said.

In addition to publishing UtahPolitics.org, Windley is writing a book on digital identity and authors a Web log on enterprise computing at www.windley.com.

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