Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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(Silicon) Valley Girls . . . and Boys

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If Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina emerge at the top of the California Republican ticket, you can expect more stories like this one in the San Jose Mercury News — about Silicon Valley’s formal arrival in state politics.

The piece mentions two SV candidate who don’t get much ink — Chris Kelly, a tech attorney and former Facebook executive now running in the Democrats’ AG primary, and clean-tech venture capitalist Josh Becker, who’s running in 21st Assembly District (the same seat Steve Poizner sought in 2004).

And it tries to answer: why the influx in entrepreneurial candidates from south of San Francisco?

Are they driven by their revulsion to the state’s reckless spending? Is is simply a case of wealthy people with the kind of money that makes a political campaign possible?

Here’s my theory: look at age and hyper-ambitious personalities.

Meg Whitman turns 54 in August. She’s five months older than Poizner, and two years younger than Carly Fiorina. Kelly and Becker are, respectively, only 39 and 41. Highly successful people such as these, once they’ve scaled the business heights, wonder: what to do with the next 30, 40 or 50 years of my life?

Enter, politics.

But why run for office? In part, there’s the attraction of conquering a separate mountain having nothing to do with the corporate world, yet requiring MBA -like skills of organization, branding and marketing.

Let’s also assume that ego and defiance: people say you’re nuts to do something, you want to prove them wrong. Just ask Governor Schwarzenegger, whose story is one of : 1) bodybuilding is a dead-end pursuit; 2) musclemen can’t be leading men; 3) action heroes can’t do comedy; 3) Hollywood icons aren’t synonymous with public statesmen.

But today’s Silicon Valley candidates could be a result as natural evolution.

Sixteen years ago, it was a big deal when Bill Clinton landed the endorsement of Apple’s then-CEO John Sculley, a Republican and something of a Silicon Valley philosopher king.

Six years later, Proposition 211 sparked a new level of political activism in Silicon Valley — Republicans and Democrats banding together to kill a measure that would have left tech firms vulnerable to securities class-action lawsuits.

That unity wouldn’t last long, as Republican and Democrat tech leaders championed their various horses and causes (Bush, Gore, clean technology, stem-cell research, etc.).

It would seem inevitable that, after two decades of the valley’s flirtation with the political process, young and restless tech execs would choose to enter the arena.

A note: we’ll see if the Silicon valley “phenomena” continues after this cycle, especially if Whitman doesn’t win the big prize.

Will another tech leader likewise try to parachute onto the top of the pyramid? Will we see more tech types build from the ground up — i.e., legislative and lower-profile statewide office?

Or, will tech executives shun the idea of public candidates (and the accompanying headaches from all the exposure) and, instead, limit themselves to initiatives, contributions and behind-the-scenes kingmaking?


Written by Bill Whalen

May 6, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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