California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom explains how technology can make government better.
Fortune: You call Citizenville, your new book, an attempt to “radically rethink the relationship between citizens and government.”
Newsom: My sense of government today is that we’re treated as subjects, not citizens — that things are done to us, not with us. That’s the framework and relationship that I think has to radically change.
And you think that digital technology in particular can be used to foster a two-way conversation.
Technology, more than anything else, democratizes voices. It allows people to share. The opportunity now to meet people where they are and to engage in a platform of real, active citizen engagement, as opposed to the inert citizenship that we have, is what I’m promoting.
You see rating site Yelp as a role model for government.
I love competition. I’m in the restaurant business, and when Yelp (YELP) came along, it was disruptive. As a consequence, we had to get better. We can begin to rate our DMV services compared with your DMV services in your neighborhood, or rate the interaction at the parks department.
You advocate games and contests as a way of getting people involved. Citizenville, in fact, is a play on Zynga’s FarmVille. Aren’t you concerned that this is faddish?
Any way you can meet people where they are and educate and entertain is, I think, a healthy thing. I’ve been just mesmerized by how many people are playing games, and not just young folks. This is one tool in the policy tool kit that I think government should use.
Your proposals to use technology to reduce government bloat sound startlingly Republican, especially for the politician most famous for advancing the cause of gay marriage.
Newt Gingrich has actually reached out directly, and we’ve had some interesting e-mail exchanges on this. As a Democrat, I’m so used to the idea that more is always better — that if you have a problem we just need more government and more money. Now I’m convinced that better is better, and we need to find a different relationship.
You’ve written a book where you went out and interviewed interesting people. You also had a talk show on Current TV until that network was bought by Al Jazeera. Are you looking to continue your journalism career?
I’m available, and I’m cheap because I’m in government, so you can’t pay me. I’m a good deal.
This story is from the April 8, 2013 issue of Fortune.