I was bored and browsing Twitter and came upon a stream from U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, apparently equally bored on a flight home to Hawaii from Washington.
“On airplane ask me anything!” he tweeted.
Bold, I thought. If I were to post such an invitation, I’d get a lot of, “Who the f$&k are you?”
But for a U.S. senator, there are multitudes living online for such moments, and he got steady questions both serious and light.
>> “What book(s) are you currently reading?” “Stolen Focus, The Persuaders, The Hurting Kind.”
>> “#Schatz2028?” “Yes I will be running for reelection for sure.”
>> “Any advice to young people who are feeling politically burnt out?” “If young people simply organize to take over the political system they can change it. Actually not complicated.”
>> “What’s your favorite niche pet policy issue?” “Zoning reform, Telehealth, pain research.”
>> “We need some good news to get us through the weekend-what’s ya got Brian?” “The economy is improving kind of a lot, and the inflation reduction act is working better than expected on the climate side.”
>> “Who do you have on your dream congressional basketball team?” “Mostly house members and (South Dakota Sen. John) Thune. (Montana Sen. Jon) Tester is good too. And I can shoot.”
>> “Go-to Starbucks order?” “Small coffee and I’m the guy that insists on saying ‘small’ like I’m making some sort of point.”
>> “What are you optimistic about?” “The economy. Democracy. The next generation. Our climate action.”
It goes on in a display of social media changing how savvy elected officials and voters interact.
In many ways, Schatz models his Senate career on his predecessor, Hawaii’s long-serving and powerful Sen. Daniel Inouye.
He sought assignments to the same committees from which Inouye drew power, Appropriations and Commerce, and chairs Indian Affairs to influence Native Hawaiian matters.
While many senators grandstand and run for president, Schatz dives into operations and policy details. He’s already influential a decade in, especially on climate issues, and likely becomes a true heavy hitter with longevity.
He’s Hawaii’s senior senator by virtue of being sworn in a few days before Sen. Mazie Hirono, and like Inouye, is becoming the rock of the state’s delegation — the one who makes sure Hawaii gets bounteous federal funds, the go-to lawmaker for getting something done in Washington.
But Inouye, like other senators of his time, stood on a pedestal and spoke in sonorous tones. If he ever had an email address, he seldom used it. Schatz realizes a pedestal only makes you an easier target these days, and you have to be personal and accessible to constituents.
Our digital world gets citizens closer to leaders but also causes much of the tacky theater and downright ugliness infecting politics. Schatz kept his Q&A civil.
A final question from his Twitter spree:
>> Who is your favorite punk band?” “Is Rage Against the Machine punk? But also I feel super corny listening to stuff like that now that I’m, like, in power.”
Inouye had him there; he was known to line up in the snow to hear his son Kenny slash guitar for Washington’s most popular punk band.
Reach David Shapiro at email@example.com.