Races Lack Tech Issues

ELECTION 1994: The industry is almost ignored by Netplex candidates

The region's high-tech industry provides many jobs and much money for the local economy, but generates relatively little interest from local politicians running for Congress, say industry officials.

"There is a growing recognition that [the Washington, D.C., area] is the country's second largest technology center," said Mark Warner, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. "But politicians are lagging behind the private sector.... I am still surprised that no politician has jumped on technology to make it the hallmark of his or her campaign."

After being canvassed for their views, local politicians responded with general statements endorsing the high-technology industry and by urging greater government support.

"They've all made perfunctory comments on the need to promote technology," said Warner, despite the number of technology jobs in the area. According to a study prepared by the Vienna, Va.-based Northern Virginia Technology Council, the high-tech industry has created 28 percent of local jobs.

"We are the Silicon Valley of the 21st Century," said Kyle McSlarrow, Republican nominee for Virginia's Eighth District House seat, now held by Rep. James Moran.

"We have more potential than any region in the country," argued Moran, who recently redirected $12 million of federal money to George Mason University for construction of a supercomputer center: "It will be the strongest computer in the world... the finest computer the world is capable of manufacturing."

The candidate who seems to have successfully drawn support from the local high-tech community is Tom Davis, the Republican nominee in the race for Virginia's 11th District House seat against incumbent Rep. Leslie Byrne, a Democrat who voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement. Davis is currently chairman of the Fairfax Board of County Supervisors in Northern Virginia.

Another candidate favored by industry because of her long association with technology issues is Rep. Connie Morella, the incumbent Republican in Maryland's Eighth district. Morella is the leading Republican in the House's Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on investigations and oversight, and is likely to win against her Democrat challenger, Steven Van Grack.

In the three-cornered fight for Sen. Chuck Robb's Senate seat, independent candidate Marshall Coleman has drawn some support from top-level industry mavens. However, Coleman lags far behind populist Republican nominee Oliver North and Democrat incumbent Robb.

Maryland's Michele Dyson is the only candidate who makes a living in the high-technology business. She runs Computer Information Specialists Inc., a systems-integration firm based in Silver Spring, Md.

"Investment must occur in research and development, capitalization and technology [and] expand our markets through free trade," according to a statement released by Dyson's campaign office.

However, Dyson is the Republican candidate and faces an uphill battle in her heavily Democratic district against incumbent Rep. Albert Wynn.

Other candidates have some high-technology experience; Davis served as general counsel for PRC, a technology-services company in McLean, Va., while McSlarrow worked on environmental issues for the U.S. Army.

However, at least one candidate has run afoul of technology. Prospective senator Oliver North tried but failed to delete computer records that indicated his role in smuggling arms to anticommunist guerrillas in Nicaragua. The backup computer records he did not delete were used as evidence during his criminal trials, which ended with his acquittal.

One group that has come out in support of Moran and Davis is the Professional Services Council, based in Vienna, Va. Both candidates are being backed by the council because of their involvement in high-technology issues, said council President Bert Concklin.

In contrast, the Northern Virginia Technology Council has focused its lobbying efforts on Virginia's state government in Richmond, said Tom Hicks, co-chair of Northern Virginia Technology Council's governmental affairs committee.

Rather than supporting particular candidates, the council has tried to convince state government officials of the need to improve regulatory conditions facing Virginia's high-tech businesses, he said.

The impact of the technology industry is sharply curtailed by its independence from partisan politics, say observers.

Unlike real estate, which heavily depends upon constructions permits granted by local governments, the technology business is focused on national and international markets, according to Warner.

"There's no natural tie to a particular region," he said.

Another deterrent is the prospect of backing a loser, said observers. "Trade associations have to be very careful, because you have to work with whomever is in," said Ron Polanski, counsel for the Information Technology Association of America.

Also, technology-related issues do not split along party lines, and generally win support from Congress, said Hicks.

"We don't have to seek support of one candidate against the other. Our sense is that they all want to support technology at the moment," said Hicks, who works for Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm.

"There has not been a particular groundswell of [industry] support for any particular candidate," said Hicks.

Companies choose to back candidates according to very practical issues, said Concklin. Company officials consider how will the candidate help the company with a regulatory problem, and whether the candidate is determined to increase or decrease regulation, said Concklin, adding "ultimately, it is a very pragmatic" selection.

Under existing campaign finance laws, company-created political action committees can contribute up to $5,000 to a candidate in a single election, while a married couple can donate up to $2,000 per election to a candidate. These contributions are recorded by the government's Federal Election Committee and are due Oct. 15.

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