For a long time, the process of deciding winners and losers in state government has been a largely controlled process, where well-heeled special interests, powerful politicians and mainstream news media picked who would wield power and those who wouldn't. But in 2008, that grip was challenged by bloggers, who used their electronic talents, some creativity, perspectives outside of the Columbia insider realm, and more than a little gutsiness, to shake things up in Columbia.
Will Folks showed plenty of guts when he took on GOP State Senator Randy Scott, publicizing his DUI arrest, including jailhouse records which were ordered muzzled by a judge. Those content of those tapes, which crossed over into mainstream media, did much to create unflattering public impressions of the Senator, which did much to undo any potential political gain from his acquittal.
We did our share to contribute to the process. Our coverage of several judicial races helped push one candidate considered a longshot to an easy victory and shined the spotlight on two other candidates, who later withdrew. We helped push Representative Shannon Erickson's Lauren Gentry Act through the State Senate, where it flew through in just three weeks, and then with the help of other blogs, brought out her Democratic opponent's arrest record.
Bloggers from across the political spectrum shined the spotlight on the power play between House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Midlands State Represenatives Nathan Ballentine and Nikki Haley, and then rallied in support of Haley's legislation requiring recorded voting on legislation.
Increasingly, political bloggers are building trans-partisan alliances based upon specific issues, as well as other factors such as personalities and non-political interests. As the influence of bloggers rises, it will be interesting to see how these new approaches influence the overall political picture.
Newspapers regularly picked up our discussions (and amazing they even started giving us credit) in their own news coverage. Ian Leslie at the Beaufort Gazette (who has since moved on) and Jason Spencer at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal stand out as those who have given us the most respect, but there are a lot of other outlets who have been doing a good job as well.
We're not just influencing what goes on in the insular world of state politics. Many bloggers, including Folks, Ross Shealy, and ourselves, regularly speak to interested groups and lecture at schools and colleges around the state. In doing so, we're shaping how politics works on the inside as well as how people view it from the outside.
Probably the single biggest sign of the rising influence and credibility of bloggers is the Monday editorial content of The State, which has a section which quotes bloggers on current state issues.
In the year 2008, bloggers have come a long way in contributing and influencing the political process in South Carolina. In doing so, they've clearly earned the Righteous Dudes of the Year title.