High-Tech Leaders Eye Slimmer Lt. Governor Field
High-Tech Leaders Eye Slimmer Lt. Governor Field
By Neil Munro
The Democratic and Republican candidates for the influential post of lieutenant governor are knocking on doors throughout Northern Virginia in search of financial contributions from information technology executives disappointed by the unexpected withdrawal from the race of high-tech entrepreneur Coleman Andrews.
Both Democratic candidate L.F. - for Lewis Franklin - Payne and Republican candidate John Hager say they will help Northern Virginia's high-tech businesses by providing a pro-business swing vote in the state Senate, which is now divided 20-20 between Republicans and Democrats.
Democratic candidate L.F. Payne
Republican candidate John Hager
Before he exited the June 10 Republican primary election, citing a sick child, Andrews had raised $487,913 in Fairfax County, including much of the $169,985 that he raised statewide from the high-tech executives and companies. Andrews is chairman of WorldCorp., Herndon, Va., which owns Intelidata, a manufacturer of telecommunications gear, also based in Herndon, Va.
By contrast, Hager and Payne are civil engineers with deep roots in southern Virginia's tobacco country.
Of the $674,565 raised by Payne up to June 30, only $34,300 was donated by businesses in Fairfax County and $19,040 by the statewide high-technology sector. Payne's contributions include $5,000 from Mario Morino, founder of the Reston, Va.-based Potomac KnowledgeWay Project, which is trying to promote the development of a high-tech economy in the Washington area.
Of the $878,489 raised by Hager, only $14,895 was donated by businesses from Fairfax County and $18,345 by the statewide high-tech sector.
High-tech has provided less than 3 percent of either candidates' funding. Other industries, including retail, finance, legal and manufacturing, provided much larger shares of the candidates' funding. Both candidates have already spent heavily, leaving Payne with $550,000 on hand and Hager with $300,000.
Payne has worked in the real estate industry, and has headed the Wintergreen development project south of Charlottesville, Va., for decades and represented a southern Virginia district in the U.S. House of Representatives for nine years until his retirement in 1996. Hager retired from his post as vice president in the tobacco-based consortium, American Tobacco Co., to run for office.
In their recent visits to Northern Virginia, Payne and Hager are trying to raise more funding from the high-tech industry, as well as from donors in the real estate, legal, retail, health care and financial sectors. Outside the state capital of Richmond, Fairfax County is the most lucrative source of campaign funds for both candidates, according to the campaign-funding data.
For September, Payne is scheduling a fund-raising event that could raise $150,000 from Northern Virginia businesses and high-tech companies. "I need to raise another million and a quarter," he said.
Local high-tech executives are leaning toward Payne, according to Doug Poretz, president of the Poretz Group, an investor relations firm based in Falls Church, Va. "They are inclined to go to Payne, not only to back a winner but also to avoid a candidate on the wrong side of the issues." Executives are concerned about such issues as increased government support for job training and transportation, he said.
However, the high-tech community "may be hanging back to see who is likely to win," said Larry Sabato, professor of government at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va. Industry executives considering a contribution may save their donation until October, because "they want to do it ahead of the [Nov. 4] election, but not so far ahead of the election that they back a loser," he said.
In their stump speeches and fund-raising pitches, both candidates emphasize the increased role given to the usually unimportant post of lieutenant governor by the 1996 election, which split Virginia's 40-person Senate evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
"This position really is the swing vote," said Payne. It is the swing vote that is needed to prevent the Democrat-controlled legislature from undermining the achievements of retiring Republican Gov. George Allen, argued Hager. "Who do you trust to defend the gains of the Allen administration?" he said.
The election "is critical because the Senate will be crucial to the next governor's plans, whoever that governor is," said Sabato.
To win friends and donations in the northern part of the state, both candidates are reaching beyond their political bases in southern Virginia and are emphasizing their support for job-training programs and transportation investments desired by the high-tech industry. Both are also tying themselves to their parties' candidates for governor, Democrat Don Beyer and Republican James Gilmore. Beyer is the current lieutenant governor; Gilmore recently left the post of attorney general to campaign for the state's No. 1 job.
Gilmore is calling for cuts in automobile property taxes and increases in education funding, while Beyer offers a package of greater state spending on education and roads, plus a smaller cut in automobile property taxes. Beyer had raised $842,943 from Fairfax County and $305,789 from the statewide high-tech industry, while Gilmore had raised $339,436, from Fairfax County, and $256,583 from the high-tech industry.
"We are very much dependent on the guy at the top of the ticket," said Payne. "To some extent, you'll see my fate tied to his fate. "But if the Beyer-Gilmore race "is tighter than [a] 53 to 47 [percent voter split], our fates are more or less up to ourselves," he said.
In his pitch to the high-tech industry, Hager is proposing a new job-training law intended to give employers assurances that funds invested in employee training could be recovered if the employees quit before a set period. "There should be a mechanism whereby ... the [employees] have a commitment or obligation to work out their scholarship" or else repay some or all of the training costs, he said.
To win public support for greater investment in education and transportation, Payne said he hoped to create a prestigious commission of top government, industry and community leaders that would create a development plan for the state by mid-1998. "We have a big job to do - explaining ... why it makes sense to spend the public's money," he said. Any attempt now to promote a tax increase "gets people like me into big trouble," he warned.
For the moment, Payne is "the front runner," said Sabato. However, there is plenty of opportunity for Payne to lose, he warned, adding that "August's wisdom is November's embarrassment."
Payne and Hager are in a statistical dead heat, according to a July 30 poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research of Columbia, Md. According to the poll, 36 percent of respondents said they would vote for Payne, while 34 percent said they would vote for Hager. But the poll has a 3 percent margin of error, and 30 percent of voters said they were undecided.
The poll reflects the voters' lack of attention and Hager's success in building his name recognition, said Del Ali, a vice president at Mason-Dixon. The undecided voters won't make up their minds until after Labor Day, leaving the candidates only several weeks to win a majority of the votes on Election Day.
But the low voter interest also is caused by the humming economy and the two unexciting candidates, said Sabato. Payne and Hager are "two exceptionally understated individuals. No one could accuse either of inflaming the passions of the people," he said.