Oregon legislative prank becomes Internet sensation

SALEM — Who says government has to be boring?

A dozen state lawmakers in Oregon are convinced it doesn't need to be. They slipped the lyrics to Rick Astley's 1987 hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" into their speeches on the House floor last year — right under the noses of colleagues, journalists, lobbyists, staff and the public.

The video was released on April Fool's Day and went viral this week, attracting more than 780,000 views and comments from fans cheering the politicians eager to have a little fun while doing the people's business.

The mastermind is Rep. Jefferson Smith, a 37-year old Portland Democrat who says he wants to drive people to politics instead of driving them away with partisan "venom."

"It's a friendly, positive, bipartisan thing," Smith said. "And I think at a time when there is so much vinegar spilled and spats in national politics, it strikes a little bit of a chord."

The video sprang from an Internet prank that's been around for years. A blogger, emailer or instant messenger can "Rick-roll" an unsuspecting reader by sending a link to Astley's music video disguised as a link to something else. Smith and his crew, in a way, Rick-rolled the Legislature.

"You just never knew when someone was going to bring it up," said Democratic Rep. Lew Frederick. "When they did, there was always sort of a mild chuckle among the folks who knew what was going on."

Frederick's line from the Astley song was, "A full commitment's what I'm thinking of."

Delivery runs the gamut.

Some lawmakers sneaked the Astley lyrics into fiery speeches. Others read them monotone from papers.

Republican Vicki Berger's performance is haunting and hilarious. Berger said she had never heard of being Rick-rolled. She dropped the "ooh" into a floor speech at the request of some young staffers who said they were making a video.

She's trying to be amused.

"We do really work hard," Berger said. "But that doesn't mean you can't have a little fun and say 'ooh' on the floor."

Smith said the idea was planted in conversations with his wife and the strategy was hashed out with a small group of lawmakers during a month-long special session in February 2010. Smith enlisted volunteers with video editing expertise to comb through footage of the session and splice it together.

While the prank was orchestrated in the 2010 Legislature when Democrats had a solid grasp on the House, the chamber is now evenly divided between the two parties. They've worked out a fragile power-sharing agreement to govern their work.

Republican Rep. Vic Gilliam, who also participated in the prank, hopes release of the video will show lawmakers in the current Legislature that both parties are able to get along.

"It was silly, but it was a great thing to sit back and laugh at ourselves and let other people laugh as well," Gilliam said.

Smith and colleagues insist a sequel is not in the works. They're focused on taking care of serious business in the Legislature for now.

"It hasn't gotten quite the views of a laughing baby or a silly pet," Smith said. "But for local politics, it's been pretty good."

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