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A new frontier for Florida's governor: Twitter town hall

Gov. Rick Scott responds to questions during a Twitter town hall meeting as his wife, Ann, looks over his shoulder Thursday at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee.

COLIN HACKLEY | Special to the Times

Gov. Rick Scott responds to questions during a Twitter town hall meeting as his wife, Ann, looks over his shoulder Thursday at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee.

TALLAHASSEE — For 38 minutes Thursday night, @FLGovScott sat in front of the laptop at his desk in the Governor's Mansion library, suit jacket on the back of his seat, and fired away answers in fewer than 140 characters.

"first, create jobs, get people moving here, reduce property tax rates," Rick Scott wrote to @JerseyCurl1, who asked how he planned to help increase home values.

"we need to make sure kids have technology, but not waste dollars," he wrote to @TeresaHQ, who wanted to know if a school district giving students iPads would be "waste in the education budget."

@jhoysradt reminded Scott of a debate during the campaign in which he said he wished he had more children and asked if Scott would make that "wish come true" this term. "unlikely," Scott, 58, wrote back.

Scott had entered a realm few Florida governors before him could have imagined: Twitter.

Tapping into the growing phenomenon of social media, Scott became Florida's first governor to hold a town hall meeting through the micro-blogging website, answering about 20 questions among hundreds asked.

It was just the latest sign of the role social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are playing for public officials.

While much of the mainstream press ignored his underdog campaign for U.S. Senate, @marcorubio built a small base of followers through Twitter. White House @PressSec Robert Gibbs regularly takes questions from the public on Twitter. Newark, N.J., Mayor @CoryBooker used Twitter to help direct the city's snow plows during a recent storm.

Scott's town hall seemed to emphasize the "social" aspect.

As if to highlight the casual affair, Scott's wife, Ann, sat by his side much of the time. "I've never watched Rick tweet," she said. (Florida's first lady is not on Twitter, but suggested she might join and hold her own town hall soon.)

Scott joked with reporters about questions that used slang.

"Playa hatin'?" Scott said, referring to one urging him not to "be playa' hatin." "I don't even know what that is."

Scott quipped about an imposter Twitter handle, @FlGov RickScott, that was answering questions at the same time. But his communications director, @BrianJBurgess, urged him to ignore it.

He steered clear of a question about whether he would put more money into reducing public school class sizes. He didn't offer an answer as to why he planned to cut the "Jeb Bush-created" Office of Drug Control nor whether he'd push for jobs in the renewable energy industry.

Instead, Scott focused on questions that easily fit into the message of his campaign and, now, his official office: jobs, jobs, jobs.

"my focus is making this the no. 1 state for private sector jobs," Scott wrote to @sandtrooper320, who asked why he wanted to cut the state work force 5 percent despite his promise to create jobs.

Scott marveled at the number of questions, saying after a few minutes, "Man, the tweets are coming so darn fast."

Scott is one of at least 30 governors who operate a Twitter account. But few governors actually send tweets themselves, relying instead on staff.

Scott had never tweeted until Thursday night. He had four staffers from his press office on hand to help navigate the site. He was an e-mail junkie as a hospital executive sending up to 300 a day, he said. But Scott doesn't e-mail now because he doesn't want to create a trail of public records.

"It was interesting," Scott said of the town hall, adding he would be open to another Twitter event. "I'll probably get faster."

The event boosted his following. At the start of the day Thursday, Scott had about 3,500 followers. By the end of the night, he had more than 7,000. But that's still far behind some of his colleagues, like the 54,000 following Louisiana Gov. @BobbyJindal.

Scott's campaign was well known for its reliance on more traditional media. He spent an astounding $60 million on television ads alone.

That spending, however, overshadowed an equally robust and aggressive social media campaign. Scott's staff quickly posted videos on YouTube after campaign events. Regular postings on Facebook have helped Scott accumulate more than 58,000 fans.

"You want the campaign in the supporter's pocket," Republican operative @PhilVangelakos said. "So if they're sitting at a bus stop, they can reach in their pocket and have access."

Fewer than 8 percent of Americans use Twitter, according a Pew Internet & American Life Project study published in December. But Twitter users can rapidly spread a message unfiltered by traditional media.

"Twitter has become an incredibly effective tool," said @Eric_Jotkoff, communications director for the Florida Democratic Party. "It has become almost necessary in the modern political communications."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Follow Michael C. Bender on Twitter @MichaelCBender or reach him at mbender@sptimes.com.

The conversation...

@flgovscott How many CEOs have you spoken with already? Got any hot leads? #flgov
@FatherGator (Mike Poller of Miami)

@FatherGator calling daily, a lot #flgov

@FLGovScott How do you reconcile putting job creation first against your plan to eliminate 5% of state employee positions? #flgov
@sandtrooper320

@sandtrooper320 my focus is making this the no. 1 state for private sector jobs

@FLGovScott What is your plan for the increase in property home values/insurance rates despite lowered home values? #flgov
@JerseyCurl1 (Marilyn Dockendorf, Clearwater)

@JerseyCurl1 first, create jobs, get people moving here, reduce property tax rates #flgov

A new frontier for Florida's governor: Twitter town hall 01/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 21, 2011 1:12am]
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