WASHINGTON – The Web is ensnaring the Maryland congressional delegation.
In the last year, three Maryland House members and both senators set up sites on the Internet’s World Wide Web.
In the normally conformist world of the nation’s capital, the Web provides an outlet for the creative juices of congressmen and staffs and a way to interact by computer with constituents.
“It’s part of our plan to make our member a little more accessible,” said Karl Aumann, chief administrator for Republican Rep. Robert Ehrlich of Timonium, who created his site last April.
Marylanders’ Web sites include a virtual tour of Baltimore, information on obtaining American flags and tickets for White House tours, and an electronic order form for telegrams from the president.
Recent counts by various sources indicated 115 House members and 59 senators with Web “home pages.” While there are more House Republicans than Democrats on the Web – 64 to 51 – Senate Democrats making use of the new technology slightly outnumber Republicans.
“It’s the last majority we have left,” said Chris Casey, a self-described “Internet evangelist” who helps Senate Democrats get on the Internet.
Casey, who wrote a recently published book called, “The Hill on the Net: Congress Enters the Information Age,” said the Democrats may have been motivated by their setbacks in the November 1994 elections.
The content and presentation of Web sites varies with each congressman. Most include biographical information, press releases and a smiling photo – some a few years old.
Many sites contain information about the legislator’s district or state. Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, the first Marylander to establish a site, invites users on a virtual tour of his home town. The “tour” contains information and pictures of popular tourist spots, such as Harborplace, Camden Yards and the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.
Ehrlich’s Web site provides a tourist-friendly map of Washington and information on various businesses within his district, tax rates and local colleges and universities. It also has electronic order forms to request help from the congressman and to order telegrams from the president to mark special occasions.
Some sites link browsers to other Internet locations. From Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes’ Web site for example, one can call up weather forecasts for Maryland and its regions.
The sites also tell users how to contact congressmen, locations and times of planned appearances and information on how to obtain frequently requested items, such as flags.
Other Maryland members with Web sites are Democratic Rep. Albert Wynn of Largo and Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Baltimore.
Staffers for Maryland members not on the Internet indicated their absence will not last.
“We’re going to join the 21st century” after the office obtains a new computer system in about six months, said Mary Anne Leary, spokeswoman for Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda.
Despite the proliferation of Web sites, constituents still favor other methods of communication when it comes to contacting their congressmen, staffers said.
“We’re more likely to just get a message on the E-mail” – electronic mail – or by telephone or letters, Aumann said. -30-