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Congress' Last Web-Site Holdout Finally Giving In

Internet: When Colorado Republican puts up his page, it will mark a 100% online milestone for U.S. lawmakers.

January 22, 2001|JUBE SHIVER Jr. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Internet, which has become a fixture in the homes and offices of tens of millions of Americans, may finally be coming to Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.).

Hefley, once called one of the 10 most "obscure" members of Congress by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, is the last Web site holdout on Capitol Hill.

But the 65-year-old, eight-term congressman has notified the House Information Resources Office that he plans to join the rest of his Capitol Hill colleagues and put up his own Web page sometime this winter.

"It has taken me awhile because I prefer having a more personal relationship with my constituents," Hefley said, adding that he's been contemplating a Web page for "about a year."

Hefley's foray into cyberspace marks a watershed for Luddites as well as boosters of the Web, who say the government should do more to make information more readily available via the Internet.

"It is a significant milestone in the sense that 100% of members of Congress will be making information available on the Internet," said Jonna Seiger, founder of Mindshare.net, an Internet political consulting firm. "I think members of Congress have an obligation to be . . . proactive in communicating with their constituents--that's why we give them franking privileges. Having a Web presence is a necessary part of governing in the 21st century."

Only five years ago, fewer than 180 of the 435 members of the House and fewer than 32 of the 100 members of the Senate had established official home pages on the World Wide Web. The numbers triggered complaints from open-government groups that members of the House and Senate were moving too slowly to fulfill pledges to make the inner workings of Congress more accessible to citizens.

But in the last year, lawmakers' embrace of cyberspace has become universal, with the exception of Hefley. Newly elected members of Congress are racing to put up their new Web pages, staffers say, and Hefley will soon end his holdout.

"I'm glad to see it," said Jeff Crank, a former Hefley staffer who is now a vice president at the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. "I'm a [hard-core] techie, but Joel resisted" embracing the Web. Crank said Hefley was concerned that a move to cyberspace would require too many precious staff resources.

"We discussed it," Crank said, "but he's a conservative guy who prides himself on his office budget, and I think his concern was, 'I'd have to hire another staff person just to handle all of this.' " Crank said Hefley was so averse to new technology that he didn't even own a cell phone until recently.

Hefley's embrace of the Internet will be less enthusiastic than that of some of his colleagues who festoon their Web pages with biographies, mug shots, press releases, position papers and even favorite recipes.

Most members of the California delegation have Web sites that resemble the typical home page of Congress members. Their sites include links to recent press releases, links to constituent services, information about touring Washington, D.C., and lots of pictures of themselves.

A fair number, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), don't publish their e-mail addresses on their Web sites. But photos of lawmakers and other self-promotional indulgences abound. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) even has a photo of himself hanging 10 on a surfboard.

Hefley doesn't plan to be nearly so fancy. He won't have an e-mail address. And he says he doesn't plan to have any animated graphics files, scrolling text or fancy Java code that some members use to make their Web pages seem more lively and interactive.

"He just wants to have a basic page that constituents can [read to] learn about him," said press secretary Sarah E. Shelden.

Anything Hefley posts is likely to be a compelling read for many visitors because the lawmaker is one of Congress' least-known members.

First elected in 1986, Hefley is rarely quoted in the press or even photographed. He has maintained a low profile, eschewing deal making. Instead, he has carved out a reputation as a hard-core Republican conservative who supports increased military spending to benefit districts such as his own 5th Congressional District, which encompasses Colorado Springs and is dominated by several military bases and thousands of military retirees.

Outside of the military, however, Hefley urges fiscal restraint. He issues a Porker of the Week award for wasteful government spending. And he has sought to kill government projects ranging from the Denver International Airport to a federal Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations--even though former Colorado Springs Mayor Bob Isaac was among the 26 members of the panel.

Though Hefley's conservatism is consistent with his military-dominated congressional district, his aversion to technology seems odd for a politician who represents an area that is knee-deep in high tech.

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