is not what it appears to be

Under the leadership of Secretary of State Michele Reagan, a new website was hailed by Senator Bob Worsley as way for voters to connect with lawmakers. At the time, Worsley sold it as a way to rate and comment on pending legislation.

Those who understood and utilized the electronic system called ALIS questioned the need for a new system. They questioned the need for – and propriety of – a privately run popularity contest.

Worsley, who made his millions selling things to people they didn’t need, was behind the fundraising effort to bring the site to Arizona voters. He claimed that he wanted the system for voters because his staff was busy fielding calls from constituents in support of – or in opposition to – different bills. He claimed it was too difficult to gauge public sentiment that way.

After it was up and running, Worsley claimed that he was already using data from the site to make decisions. The data gathered from users of the site developed by Mind Mixer, an Omaha, Neb.-based firm, includes users age, gender and legislative district.

Many are asking why does it matter if a voter is young or old or female or male? How does that help a representative?

The information is useful only in that it helps them sell their bad ideas. The demographics, used by any good marketer, will shape the narrative a lawmaker puts forth to sell voters on everything from higher taxes to loss of personal freedoms.

Lo and behold, Karl Gentles, President of Arizona Voices – the group behind the site, is also the owner of Karl Gentles Public Relations (KGPR). According to KGPR’s website, they provide “strategic communications to corporate and nonprofit organizations, banking and financial institutions, healthcare, and others…. To produce deliberate outcomes, we draw upon our extensive experience in marketing, public affairs, brand strategy, event development, advertising, and execution and other marketing and public relations disciplines.”

Randy Goode, who serves as KGPR’s “Chief Storyteller, Brand Strategist, and Creative Director, says on the website, “I believe it is the message that drives the process.”

When you know the demographics you can craft the story to sell nearly everything.

Last week, Arizona Voices sent out an email to those already signed up asking them to “Share this email and link on your social media pages and encourage your friends and followers to do the same.” Few government agencies – other than the desperate – would engage in this type of promotion.

To be clear, despite the .gov domain name, AZVoices.Gov is not a government entity. It is controlled by the Arizona Voices Institute, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and “non-partisan organization dedicated to increasing public participation in the legislative process. AZVoices.Gov was created by the Institute as a way to directly empower and collectively encourage citizens to propose solutions for the challenges faced by Arizona,” according to the website.

According to the General Services Administration, “in order to maintain domain name integrity, eligibility for .gov domains is limited to qualified government organizations and programs. Having a managed domain name such as .gov assures your customers that they are accessing an official US Government Site.” It is unclear how a private, non-profit organization qualified for a .gov domain.

As noted previously, there was – and is – a system in place to share your input with your representatives. The data is not used for any other purpose than to inform legislators and build an official legislative record. Use it.

The Arizona Voices Institute Board of Directors:

Chairman – Steven A. Betts, President, Chanen Development Company
Treasurer – Ed Fox, Arizona Public Service (retired)
Secretary – Wes Gullett, Partner, First Strategic Communications
Director – Margery Brown, SVP, Greater Phoenix Economic Council
Director – Lattie Coor, Chairman & CEO, Center for the Future of Arizona
Director – Pearl Chang Esau, President & CEO, Expect More Arizona
Director – Phil Francis, Executive Chairman, PetSmart (retired)
Director – Beau Lane, CEO, LaneTerralever
Director – Arthur B. Othon, President & CEO, El Bravo Sky Harbor, LLC
Director – Eve Ross, Public Policy and Strategic Initiatives, W.L Gore and Associates
Director – Rick Shangraw, President, ASU Foundation for a New American University
Director – Carolyn Warner, Founder & Chairman, Corporate Education Consulting