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Political blog presence expands

ST. PAUL - Look around the Minnesota House chamber and you can see computers being used to play solitaire, write e-mails and, more and more frequently, surf the ever-increasing number of political blogs.

ST. PAUL - Look around the Minnesota House chamber and you can see computers being used to play solitaire, write e-mails and, more and more frequently, surf the ever-increasing number of political blogs.

It is not just lawmakers keeping an eye on the blogosphere. So do state workers, lobbyists, public relations executives, Capitol reporters and just plain political junkies.

Public relations professional Nate Dybvig may be a typical blog reader. He said he regularly reads them because "information is power up here." But he said he is skeptical of the quality of information.

"There are a lot more posts that are partially inaccurate than posts that are dead-on," Dybvig said.

Still, Dybvig said, he remains a blog reader because "even a blind chicken gets a kernel of corn every once in a while."

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Blogs - on-line journals, diaries or just opinions - come in several varieties, ranging from Capitol reporters who post news updates to political insiders to people just dishing their opinions on the news of the day.

Michael Brodkorb's Minnesota Democrats Exposed blog is a widely mentioned politically conservative blog, read by both sides of the political aisle. Brodkorb said about 40,000 people have left comments on his Web site since he started in 2004.

Brodkorb, a self-described partisan Republican, has worked on and off for the Minnesota Republican Party and on behalf of Republican candidates.

"Obviously it can get a little partisan," Brodkorb said. But "Republicans and Democrats actively read my site."

On the liberal side, one widely read local blog is MNPublius, which is run by three 20-something students. Like most partisan bloggers, they, too, have been involved with political campaigns and groups.

MNPublius blogger Zack Stephenson said he hopes the blog has some influence on the political process. He said every now and then legislators and reporters tell him they read the blog.

"It's amazing people care what I think," Stephenson said. "It's very flattering."

Lawmakers' interest in blogs is mixed. Many say their staffers take time to keep up with what the blogs are saying about their employers.

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Rep. Steve Drazkowski, relatively new to the Capitol, said he does not see political blogs influencing lawmakers' decisions in St. Paul. However, the Wabasha Republican lawmaker said some blogs are well read by legislators.

"They provide some context, maybe some in-depth discussion around the politics of the issues," Drazkowski said.

House Majority Leader Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, reads blogs, both liberal and conservative.

"It's good to find out the opinions of others," Sertich said. "Some are factual, but in general, there's less accountability for the facts. I regard blogs as opinion sites, a way of commenting on the world."

Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said he tracks four or five political blogs, "just to get a good idea of what the (political) activists on both sides are doing."

Dean, among the younger generation of state lawmakers, said blogs can be a resource for minute-by-minute political news, such as a blogger's frequent posts from political conventions. Dean also said he recently learned from a blog that fellow Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, will not seek re-election.

The growing presence of political blogs means there is a greater chance that "somebody's going to get something wrong and put it up," Dean said, but he said blogs tend to be self-policing in that readers often correct inaccuracies not long after an item is posted.

"It's good, it's grass roots," Dean said of political blogs' growing presence.

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A handful of legislators are stepping into the political blogosphere with their own blog sites, including Rep. Paul Gardner, DFL-Shoreview.

"It's a bit like C-SPAN, which can be really helpful, but can also put you to sleep if you read every word," he joked.

Aaron Brown, a liberal blogger on the Iron Range (MinnesotsaBrown.com), characterizes political blogging this way: "It's kind of like nuclear power. You can make electricity or bombs with it. It comes down to the standards of people who use it."

Don Davis and Marisa Helms work for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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