Are tech titans heading into Northwest politics?

The Silicon warriors are surging in California, but there are only a few stirrings in Washington state. So far.
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Credit: Iowa State University

The Silicon warriors are surging in California, but there are only a few stirrings in Washington state. So far.

California is often thought to be a forerunner of political trends in other states. Does the fact that two Silicon Valley tech chiefs, both women, emerged strongly from the primaries suggest that could happen here in the Silicon Forest?

The California winners, both Republicans, are Carly Fiorina, who won a tough contest to challenge Sen. Barbara Boxer, and Meg Whitman, who coasted to victory and will take on former Gov. Jerry Brown for the Sacramento gubernatorial seat. Fiorina made her (controversial) mark at Hewlett Packard, while Whitman was head of eBay. Both will throw some more of their large fortunes into the contest, and both will claim their fearless business moxie is what the very sick economy of the Golden State badly needs.

The Washington counterparts haven't really shown up yet. Alex Alben ran for the 8th Congressional district, without success, and there are a smattering of techies in the legislature, including Rep. Reuven Carlyle of Seattle and Rep. Ross Hunter of Bellevue (who failed to parley his appeal and step up to King County Executive). Tina Podlodowski came out of Microsoft to win a seat on the Seattle City Council but didn't much care for the job. Darcy Burner, with modest Microsoft experience, tried twice to knock off Rep. Dave Reichert. The one notable example is Sen. Maria Cantwell, who had a relatively short stint — though enough to give her a bankroll for her election — at Real Networks.

This state doesn't much value business experience in its politicians. Just think of how Cantwell drubbed Mike McGavick, the Safeco CEO; or how well Joe Mallahan's experience at Verizon T-Mobile went over in his stumbling mayor's race. Microsoft has gotten more active in state politics lately, but that didn't stop local politicians such as Mayor Mike McGinn and Sen. Ed Murray from telling the company to butt out on the SR 520 floating bridge issues.

Tech experience is a different sort than most businesses, since these companies tend to be "disruptive," irreverent, fast-paced, and impatient with government ways. Those are qualities that voters might turn to if the economy stays bumping along the bottom or government proves incapable of changing itself.

Like who? The big name is John Stanton, a moderate Eastside Republican who has made a fortune in the wireless industry and has a strong civic streak. But Stanton seems to prefer wielding influence as a civic leader or behind-the-curtain influential. Figures like Stanton crave a big canvas, since they come out of globally oriented companies, so local politics can seem rather tame (or intractable) to them.

Not that there won't be some borrowings from the tech world-view. Rep. Jay Inslee, a likely candidate for governor, will play on the green-tech theme, and Sen. Lisa Brown, another gubernatorial aspirant, has been cultivating connections with the tech world, stressing her economics-professor side. Attorney General Rob McKenna, the likely GOP nominee, has a strong dash of libertarian, small-government thinking that will attract the tech sector voters. Denny Heck, running for the 3rd Congressional seat, is involved in tech ventures and exudes the confident brashness of a new economy guy. So far, just a few tech accents — not the real thing.


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