The silicon gap

It isn't just soccer moms who the Republicans are having trouble with  the new high-tech CEOs are also drifting away from the Grand Old Party.


Fred Branfman
October 29, 1996 1:21AM (UTC)

you have to talk to folks like Vern Swart, who heads his own small high-tech manufacturing company, to sense the profound shift taking place in the traditional loyalties of high-tech executives. I met Swart at the Santa Clara (Calif.) Marriott, in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, awaiting the start of a panel on "Cyberpolitics," sponsored by the establishment Commonwealth Club, whose sessions are broadcast around the country. Speakers included Larry Ellison of Oracle, John Doerr of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO John Young. They were all Clinton supporters, and they were here to explain Silicon Valley's view of the key political issues of 1996.

"Why, Clinton's a socialist!" Swart whispered angrily, insisting
Clinton was only pretending to be a moderate to win the election. I asked him about the high-tech industry leaders supporting President Clinton. "It's chic to be a Democrat," he responded. "People who think like me are keeping a low profile." His tone was aggrieved, as if he were the member of a minority group complaining about discrimination.

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He was exaggerating, of course. On the whole, Silicon Valley remains firmly
pro-Republican. 198 executives, including Sun Microsystem's Scott McNealy,
Gil Amelio of Apple, Jerry Sanders of Advanced Micro Systems, and T.J. Rogers
of Cypress Semiconductor, recently held a fund-raiser for Bob Dole.
Only ten of the 30 Silicon Valley executives who endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992
are doing so again this year, although he has picked up a number of new
endorsements.

But support for Clinton is significant. Seventy-five California high-tech executives, including Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Ed McCracken of Silicon Graphics,
and Carol Bartz of Autodesk, along with Young and Doerr, have publicly endorsed him for re-election. And The Center for Responsive Politics reports that computer and
software executives nationally have contributed $112,500 to Clinton's
re-election this time around, compared to only $93,050 to Dole (according to figures
released by the Federal Election Commission on Sept. 5).

I thought back to 1980, when I first began visiting Silicon Valley on behalf
of California Gov. Jerry Brown's administration. At that time, virtually all CEOs were
Republicans. Lynn Schenk, then Secretary of Business and Administration,
strongly opposed the Governor spending time courting Silicon Valley CEOs.
"They're all Republicans, Jerry," she stated time and again. "They'll never
support a Democrat." Had the Commonwealth Club sponsored a "Cyberpolitics" event in 1980 it would have been monopolized by Republican-oriented CEOs. Today, the Commonwealth Club is headed by Gloria Duffy, a former Clinton Defense Department Official, and none of the panelists spoke up for Bob Dole.

The panelists' real priority, they explained, was California's Proposition 211, the trial lawyer-drafted initiative that makes it easier to sue companies. They were genuinely convinced that its passage a distinct possibility according to voter surveys would be disastrous for their business. As they talked,
however, it was clear that they had been bitten by a political bug going far
beyond Prop 211.

"In a way, Prop. 211 is a blessing," Doerr stated. "We have ignored
politics too long." He explained that the main complaint he gets from other
CEOs is that Prop 211 upon which both sides have spent tens of millions of dollars should never have gotten this far. He said that
sentiment is growing for ongoing, proactive political involvement around three
core issues: "economic growth, education and legal reform."

To ensure a high-tech voice in national politics, Doerr and Young, along with Intuit's Tom Prouix and Cisco Systems' John Chambers, have founded the California Technology Alliance. And while the alliance will aim to be bipartisan, it could bring high-tech business and the Democratic party closer together.

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The likelihood evokes mixed feelings in John Young, whose company was co-founded by one of the stalwarts of the Republican Party, David Packard. "It's hard for me to swallow the rest of Clinton's agenda," Young said, visibly pained. He explained he had made the shift not only because Clinton was taking the right stands on research, education and issues like Prop. 211 (which Clinton opposes after originally supporting it),
but because President Bush had been ignoring domestic issues and the Republican party had veered too far to the right.

Doerr said that one explicit goal of his high-tech business coalition is to make both the Republican and Democratic parties more "moderate." That could be a welcome development if it helps produce consensus, reduces the time and energy wasted in Washington on partisan infighting, and produces more economic growth and education. It could also dictate the direction a revitalized Democratic party might take, if only because of the enormous economic influence (and fund raising abilities) these new, politically concerned corporate titans are sure to wield in the next century.



Quote of the day

Making book

"We have not given serious consideration to any agreement. But the ordeal Richard
has been through certainly is something that could be presented in a very appealing
manner, from the standpoint of literature."

Wayne Grant, one of Richard Jewell's four attorneys. (From a
Cable News Network report Monday on security guard Richard Jewell, who has been formally cleared of suspicion in the Atlanta Olympic Games bombing.)


Fred Branfman

Fred Branfman can be reached at Fredbranfman@aol.com. His Web site is www.trulyalive.org.

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