Heard on the Hill

‘Very Competitive’ House GOP Conference Takes the Digital Challenge

Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers started competition to push colleagues into the 21st century

From left, California Rep. Mimi Walters, More magazine Editor-in-Chief Lesley Jane Seymour, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Tennessee Rep. Diane Black, North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx take a selfie in McMorris Rodgers’ conference office. (Courtesy McMorris Rodgers’ office)

It’s not often House Republicans get a chance to compete against one another, but Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is giving them the opportunity. 

“Clearly, this is a conference full of a lot of Type A, very competitive individuals and so they embrace the challenge and it creates a lot of energy,” the House GOP conference chairwoman said.

The challenge she’s speaking of is the eighth annual Digital Challenge, which originated out of a memo she sent to then-Minority Leader John A. Boehner to have the party focus on technology and innovation. It’s now held every fall and has become her legacy item. 

“I think policymakers should be innovators,” McMorris Rodgers said.

[Office Space: Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ Washington Tech Hub]

This year, the congresswoman is challenging all offices to drive traffic to a website promoting the GOP’s vision for a tax overhaul — fairandsimple.gop — because “this is a once in a generation opportunity for tax reform,” she said. 

“They can reach out to people, tell them about our hopes and dreams as it relates to tax reform and then to engage them moving beyond that,” McMorris Rodgers added.

Each member of the House GOP conference has until Oct. 2 to drive traffic. The top three winners will be determined by who brings the most visits to the landing page.

McMorris Rodgers said she’s encouraging her Republican colleagues to have “real-time conversations with people that you represent using these tools.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., wanted to bring her conference into the 21st century eight years ago. (Courtesy McMorris Rodgers' office)
McMorris Rodgers started the Digital Challenge because she wanted her party to focus on innovation and technology. (Courtesy McMorris Rodgers’ office)

Her office has provided training sessions with representatives from Google Analytics to show other offices how to track user actions and how tracked links are vital to their efforts.

The response from the conference has been “very positive,” McMorris Rodgers said. “The members are anxious to dive into this debate on tax reform. Clearly, the members want to have this debate.”

And, there are prizes.

“The first year I had kind of an off-the-wall idea to present steak knives as the third prize,” she said. “In my mind, it was kind of the dud prize. Now, this has continued and it’s almost like the members want to come in third so they can [win] steak knives.”

Other prizes have included a GoPro camera, an in-office teleprompter set, and an Amazon gift card.

“It’s fun, they pay attention and I think the members take pleasure in winning the Digital Challenge,” McMorris Rodgers said.

[Capitol Hill Not Quite Silicon Valley, But It’s Trying]

The Washington Republican first presented the idea of the challenge to Boehner because she thought the party needed to broaden its tools.

“It was really to bring the Republicans into the 21st century in our communications, and it was clear that more and more people were getting their information from these social media sites,” she said. “[It spoke to] the importance of us as policy members, representatives, engaging with the people that we represent using Facebook and Twitter and posting on YouTube.”

Throughout the year, she hosts GOP Labs, training sessions for members and congressional staffers on upping their social media game “so the members are equipped, so the teams are equipped,” she said.

She brings representatives from tech companies into her innovative conference office.

“It looks more like a startup,” she said. “I want to create a culture of innovation, and so we have whiteboards and blackboards and colored walls, creating a culture of innovation, and part of it is in communications, but it’s also policymaking.”

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