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The Oregonian: Portland State University launches political website
Author: Laura Barron-Lopez, The Oregonian
Posted: June 14, 2012

Read the original article in The Oregonian here. 

A new website launched by Portland State University's College of Urban and Public Affairs aims to bridge the gap between Oregon lawmakers and their constituents. 

"It will allow all walks of life to be represented," said Wendy Willis, project manager of the site, called Oregon's Kitchen Table

Already 400 Oregonians have signed up and the site has noteworthy supporters -- both Democrats and Republicans -- who have played key roles in Oregon politics. The site is paid for by multiple sources such as the Ford Family Foundation and the National Policy Consensus Center. 

The first online consultation went live last week. In a detailed, interactive fashion it asked members to weigh in on Gov. John Kitzhaber's budget plan. Organizers plan on having one to two consultations per month. 

"Any time you have more information about the larger public reaction and ideas about the government process, it helps reduce mystery and increases trust," said Dave Frohnmayer, a member of the site's advisory board who brings his experience as former president of the University of Oregon and the state's attorney general. "Instead of loud voices or talk radio, this has been designed with a lot of really scientific architecture. The more people participate, the deeper decision makers can probe into the cross sections of what Oregonians think." 

The plan is for the site to one day have enough members signed up to provide a true representative sample of Oregon. Till then, a hired company will create representative samples. The company will ask the same questions on the site. 

"It will allow us to see shortcomings and see what we need to do to get those who aren't participating represented," Willis said. 

Now that the first consultation is live, project managers will make a more concerted effort to notify the public. They hope that this site will allow all Oregonians, city and rural dwellers, to come to the table. 

"This is a world in which it's increasingly more challenging to hold public hearings on something and get the people to attend," said Phil Keisling, director of the Center of Public Service at PSU and member of the board. "And it's increasingly difficult to get basic communication between the government and their bosses, the citizens." 

Keisling, a former secretary of state, explained the need for engagement when citing that 40 percent of 1.2 million Oregon citizens between the age of 18 and 40 were not registered to vote as of the 2010 primary. 

Rather than a typical poll survey, the site provides facts surrounding Kitzhaber's budget plan and lays out a problem. To participate, you must sign up first, providing basic background information verifying that you are a resident of Oregon. Then the program asks you to allocate $100 among state programs such as "education," "healthy environment," or "economy and jobs." The point is to give lawmakers an idea of the public's priorities. 

The data collected will be sent to Kitzhaber's office and the state Department of Administrative Services. Ideally, Kitzhaber's office would respond to the information supplied by the consultation in a letter for the site. 

Although it seems like it's a site for political policy wonks, organizers say it attempts to reach all members of the public and be beneficial. 

"We want people to say that was fun and interesting so they get involved in similar projects in their community," Willis said. "We want to build civic appetite."