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Across the Aisle | Rocking a Bipartisan Beat

One of Nevada’s youngest legislators, Democrat Selena Torres, teams up with colleagues, including the most conservative Republicans, to reach young constituents through TikTok videos.

By Stewart Schley  |  April 19, 2022
Richard McArthur Nevada
Selena Torres Nevada

When Nevada Assemblyman Richard McArthur was a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Sacramento, Calif., the musical motif of the moment was doo-wop on AM radio, not hip-hop on streaming video.

But that didn’t stop the 78-year-old ex-FBI agent from busting out the moves the other day to a saucy dance hit for the video platform TikTok.

In the video, McArthur, in a blue suit and natty lavender tie, steps and struts alongside Assemblywoman Selena Torres, 27, to a backbeat supplied by a TikTok creator known as Esco Up. The 14-second clip is a testament to possibilities: two lawmakers—divided by generation, by ideology, by ethnicity, by political party—moving in tandem to a viral remix of the 2004 Natasha Bedingfield song “Unwritten.”

Through mid-March, and much to McArthur’s astonishment, the video had earned nearly 25,000 likes. “I still don’t know that he knows what TikTok is yet,” Torres says of her colleague. “But he couldn’t believe how many views we got.”

Aside from dance floor acumen, the odd-bedfellows pairing tells a story about communicating to a generation of constituents—and sending a message about political bipartisanship. Not for nothing, the video featuring McArthur sports two equally weighted images: the familiar GOP elephant, and a red, white and blue donkey signifying Torres’ Democratic affiliation.

There’s a reason for that. Establishing a reputation as a fair-minded, hip-with-the-times storyteller has helped Torres build relationships with legislators who don’t always see eye to eye with her on policy. Since inviting him to the social media stage, Torres, who describes herself as “very progressive,” has developed a close friendship with McArthur, whose campaign website boasts of an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and who once earned a “most conservative voter” seal of approval from the American Conservative Union.

The two talk frequently over the phone and in person, and Torres also has become friendly with McArthur’s wife. Their bond has translated to action on the floor, as Torres won “yes” votes in the last legislative session from McArthur on legislation addressing cultural competency for mental health professionals and sexual violence prevention at education institutions.

“We’ve had very different life journeys,” Torres says. “But using social media to engage and have a conversation about politics, we have been able to recognize the humanity in one another.”

Medium of the Moment

The across-the-aisle camaraderie is rooted in a medium of the moment. As an English teacher at a Las Vegas high school, Torres has an everyday lens on the media habits of young people. She thinks TikTok, known more for silly bits of lip-syncing and joke-making, is in some ways an ideal medium for getting messages about politics and policymaking to a hard-to-reach audience.

Torres says she knew she was breaking through when students she met on college campuses would say they recognized her from TikTok. “It’s been really an exceptional tool for me to help provide a younger audience with information about the legislative process,” she says.

To that point, her series of politically themed TikTok videos covers subjects ranging from quick-hit explanations of terminology—in one “Word Wednesday” video, Torres explains what “public defender” means—to tutorials on how bills become laws. There’s also some outright silliness, like the videos spoofing the TV series “The Bachelorette,” with Torres (brandishing the show’s signature red rose) pursuing not romantic love, but across-the-aisle relationships that can translate to effective policymaking.

“All too often, politics has become, you know, black and white, who’s right and who’s wrong,” Torres says. “But I think that when we collaborate, we can show the power of civic engagement.”

Part of the strategy revolves around applying a modernized version of what was once the law of the land in the U.S. The equal-time provision of the Communications Act of 1934 required media outlets to devote roughly the same amount of programming time to all qualified political candidates. It has since been so watered down as to become all but meaningless, but Torres remains true to the intention, insisting on showcasing personas and voices from both parties. Recent participants in Torres’ growing body of TikTok videos include McArthur, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) and Assemblyman Greg Hafen (R), who joins Torres in a lively twirl-around dance to celebrate the passage of pandemic relief legislation at the end of 2021.

Torres’ videos reflect a faith that party affiliations and warring ideologies are trumped by a more essential value. “Behind that political facade and costume,” she says, “there’s a humanness to us and a humanness to our beliefs. And I truly believe that the best policy is made when we can sit across the aisle and have a conversation, and sometimes a difficult conversation where we disagree.”

Stewart Schley is a Denver-based freelancer.

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