Congressman Chris Cannon Representative Chris Cannon, a Republican from Utah's 3rd Congressional District, is an unlikely Internet maverick, but he shattered such notions yesterday morning in Salt Lake City at the first ever ForumNext.

In conjunction with Politic2.0, a new Utah based web 2.0 startup, Cannon participated in a rather unique quasi-virtual town hall with several bloggers (only about half who focus on politics) and journalists.  Bloggers submitted questions in a digg-like system so that others could vote and comment on them; the most popular questions — covering a wide range of topics — were asked.

The bloggers attending the event in person were able to clarify their questions and ask follow-ups as Cannon responded.  He definitely was on his toes, and that may explain why he jokingly quipped before questioning commenced, "If we have embarrassing questions, we'll have technical problems, right?"

However, despite a few glitches, things went rather smoothly, even for Cannon.

After events like ForumNext, Politic2.0 provides the politician or candidate with statistical data of which questions concerned the participants — aka "constituents" — the most, but the company has higher aims than cashing in on this service. 

"We want to facilitate citizens communicating with politicians," Politic2.0 co-founder Daniel Holsinger explained during the event while adding, "and politicians communicating with citizens."

Holsinger and Phil Burns, who run Utah based web start-ups (WikiReview and TagJungle respectively), both feel that most politicians are detached from the people, and they decided to start Politic2.0 using the web 2.0 synergies from both companies for, as Burns told me, "Bringing politics back to the people."

Holsinger explained during ForumNext that he hopes that such events will make politicians accessible to the public so that they are blogged and discussed as well as empowering normal folk to have a substantial say in what their politicians are doing. 

So, how did Congressman Cannon get involved?  Burns explained to me that Politic2.0 reached out to all the major federal politicians in Utah, and after pitching the company's services to Cannon's campaign manager, the Congressman heard about it.  He contacted them to let them know he was interested in doing the event.  Thus, Cannon was Politic2.0's willing guinea pig.

Cannon indicated during ForumNext that he feels more transparency and openness is required of politicians.  He even cited forum participant Pete Ashdown who as a Democrat unsuccessfully tried to oust Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah during the 2006 election.

"He's my model," explained Cannon during some questioning concerning his commitment to transparency. 

Ashdown's trademark was that he employed a campaign wiki where he invited normal folk to discuss with him issues and to help him draft his campaign platform.  Further, he also used a calendar that detailed all of his campaign activities and who he met with.  These tools impressed The Bivings Group; in fact, Todd even said that he feels that Ashdown was the most web 2.0 Democrat in the 2006 election.

Cannon seems committed to openness since he told KCPW's Lara Jones on Midday Metro shortly after ForumNext, "I hope that this is the future of politics in America.  Where we actually put politicians on-line instead of letting them frame issues for us."

During ForumNext, Cannon explained that he is also redesigning his official and campaign websites to include features that will reflect this commitment.

If greater openness and transparency are the future of politics, Phil Burns and Dan Holsinger hope that Politic2.0 will help bring this to pass.  They plan on perfecting their services in Utah before rolling out them to the rest of the country in coming months.

Hopefully, Utah's senators and other representatives will follow Cannon's lead in helping Politic2.0 help bring politics back to the people.

Update: The Voice of Utah blog has some feedback from bloggers that participated in ForumNext.