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Beyer, Gilmore Chase Infotech Dollars, Votes

By Neil Munro

Staff Writer

V irginia gubernatorial candidates Donald Beyer and James Gilmore are invading each other's home turf in a rush to raise money and support needed to win November's election.

As they crisscross the state for support, the two elected officials are hitting the local fund-raising circuit to convince infotech industry executives to open their wallets.

Fast-growing technology businesses and entrepreneurs in Northern Virginia offer a pot of money that Beyer estimates at $2 million. Both candidates have already spent $1 million of the $2 million that each has raised so far.

"There is a great deal of financial support available from the technology entrepreneurs. It is money that was not there four and eight years ago," said Beyer, the lieutenant governor, who has an automobile business in Northern Virginia.

On March 12, Gilmore, the state's attorney general, held a fund raiser in Vienna, Va., where 45 executives, lawyers and supporters from Northern Virginia's infotech industry turned out to hear a short speech by the Republican lawyer.

Beyer, 46, was launching his bid for the governorship that same day with a campaign trip that took him from the Hampton Roads area to rural counties in central and southern Virginia.

Both Beyer and Gilmore are likely to be nominated soon as their parties' candidate for governor. With both candidates reaching for the middle ground while trying to embrace their party's faithful supporters, the outcome "is pretty much a tossup," said Del Ali, senior vice president at Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc., Columbia, Md.

Beyer raised $500,000 at a Jan. 7 event at the Tysons Corner Ritz-Carlton hotel, "the lion's share" of which came from technology companies, he said. Another fund-raising event will be hosted in June by George Newstrom, corporate vice president, group executive of Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s federal sector, said Beyer.

On April 3, the 48-year-old Gilmore plans a statewide tour with former Republican Vice President Dan Quayle. Gilmore's campaign has also scheduled several fund-raising efforts for April 3, intended to raise $1 million. They include a reception and lunch at the Ritz-Carlton in Arlington, Va.

Gilmore's campaign has also scheduled a May 8 event at the Alexandria, Va., home of John Gioia, president of Gioia Enterprises International Inc., which does program management work for large companies such as AT&T.

In November, votes from ordinary citizens will decide the election. But for now, both candidates are preaching a pro-technology message in Northern Virginia to attract both money and votes.

Both candidates support additional grants for students attending college, a measure welcomed by industry executives who have long complained about the lack of skilled workers in Northern Virginia.

Improving education "is the most important thing we can do for technology," said Beyer in an interview this week.

Both Gilmore and Beyer criticize the Business Professional Operating License tax. The tax, imposed by cities and counties, is bitterly opposed by industry because it taxes their overall revenues, not their profits.

"The BPOL has to be recognized as a tremendous burden," Gilmore said.

Beyer said he helped exempt systems integrators, as well as research and development revenue, from the BPOL tax.

Gilmore has come out swinging against additional taxes, while Beyer has emphasized the importance of continued investment in the state.

In recent days, Beyer has suggested that he would use growing state revenues to build new roads and school buildings at a cost of $2 billion to $8 billion. But "I don't think we need tax increases in Virginia while I am governor," Beyer said March 17.

Beyer's proposal prompted Gilmore to slam Beyer as a "tax and spend liberal."

That charge "will be rejected as tired politics as usual. I am a businessman. For 23 years I've been balancing budgets and making payroll," said Beyer.

"I don't like taxes at all. [Businesses] are here because of a low-tax environment, and they will go away if there is a high-tax environment," said Gilmore.

Beyer's long courtship with the technology industry appears to be paying off.

"Beyer looks in pretty good shape ... [partly because] he has got the business community behind him, which is a huge plus," said Ali.

In 1991, Beyer helped establish the Northern Virginia Technology Council, which "has given me very good relations with many of the technology leaders in Northern Virginia," Beyer said.

"Most [infotech executives] in Northern Virginia support Don Beyer. I've supported him in the past," said Craig Blakely, a Washington-based partner with the firm Gordon & Glickson, who organized Gilmore's March 12 fund raiser. But Blakely said he switched his support because "Gilmore is a straight shooter and pro-business."

"I see Don Beyer as very well-connected with the industry in Northern Virginia," said Don Boone, AT&T's government affairs manager, based in Oakton, Va. "It could be because of his [business] connections that people are willing to accept his positions on funding. Maybe they feel they can work with him," Boone said.

Despite Beyer's support in the business community, Gilmore should be able to raise as much money as Beyer, said Ali.

In his stump speeches, Gilmore says he has worked with infotech industry officials on several pro-business lawsuits and legislation. Also, he established a panel in May 1996 of infotech advisers, dubbed the Attorney General's Technology Council.

"I decided to create this council not to compete with any of the other fine technology councils across the state, but to inform me about all aspects of the many issues facing the IT community," according to the text of Gilmore's opening speech.

"Mr. Gilmore is starting to understand the capability of the information technology industry ... [but] Don Beyer has a substantial edge in understanding what it can do for the future" of Virginia, said EDS's Newstrom, a longtime friend of Beyer.

Gilmore can also use pro-Republican voters in Southern Virginia to counter Beyer's support in Northern Virginia, said Ali.

However, Beyer helped establish the Virginia Economic Bridge Initiative in 1990, which is intended to bring more jobs and technology to the southern part of the state.

The initiative "has been very important. It is a piece of a larger puzzle," Beyer said.

The initiative has distributed a $17,000 grant to a school, and $45,000 in start-up funds to three businesses in southern Virginia, according to Flo Graham, who runs the operation from Radford University, Radford, Va.

"The best way to spread [jobs and technology throughout the state] is to make sure we have a good pro-business community," said Gilmore.

Despite the focus on the infotech community, both candidates need to win support from women voters across the state who are more willing to switch parties than other groups, such as tobacco farmers or gun owners, said Ali. That puts the spotlight on each candidate's approach to education and the funding needed to pay for it, Ali said.


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