In San Jose, Support for Tech Industry Is Way to Victory
Voters likely to stick with incumbent Lofgren, a top voice on IT policy
Edited by Elana Varon
In Silicon Valley, where technology dominates the economy and politics, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren has a huge advantage in money and voter support. Historically Democratic candidates are popular in her San Jose district, and Lofgren has cemented her chances by helping advance the agenda of the high-tech industry, says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at the University of Southern California.
“She’s a Democratic incumbent in a district where there are contributors who can easily write checks for thousands of dollars,” Jeffe adds. “It’s to me a slam dunk.”
Lofgren, first elected in 1994, faces token opposition from two challengers with IT in their backgrounds. The Republican is Douglas McNea, who she trounced in 2002 with 67 percent of the vote. McNea, a nuclear scientist and Microsoft-certified systems engineer, is running again because he believes Lofgren isn’t looking out for technology workers. Libertarian Markus Welch, an IT manager, is running for the first time and has not campaigned widely.
Lofgren has won high marks from the tech industry, whose side she has taken in favor of importing workers, exporting IT products and opposing elimination of stock options.
As of March 31, Lofgren had raised more than $276,000 for the 2004 campaign, according to OpenSecrets.org, thousands more than McNea. Welch did not report his campaign contributions. People in the IT industry are collectively Lofgren’s biggest donors, giving her more than $31,000 for this year’s race. Among her top sources are the National Venture Capital Association, providing $8,500, and Siebel Systems, donating $5,000. Lofgren won an award from the Business Software Alliance in 1999 for her success at lifting export restrictions on American encryption products. The group later opposed her bill spelling out the types of copies consumers could make of copyrighted digital content, and the measure went nowhere. It turns out that tech companies value Lofgren’s accessibility as much as her positions.
Lofgren has taken some unconventional stands. She was one of only five House members to oppose the Can-Spam Act (an antispam bill) last year, saying it wouldn’t be effective. Lofgren says she would consider legislation encouraging corporate CEOs to pay more attention to cybersecurity, a position few legislators discuss openly.
Recently, Lofgren has reversed one controversial position: her push in 2000 to increase the number of foreign tech workers allowed into the United States on H-1B visas. Lofgren says she opposes another increase “given the number of engineers who are unemployed.”
Republican McNea observes that Santa Clara County has lost about 200,000 jobs since the dotcom bust and Lofgren hasn’t done enough to fix the problem. He would reform visa programs, but doesn’t offer specifics other than to say, as does Lofgren, that the number of visas shouldn’t be increased again.
McNea, who works for a nuclear power consultancy, calls for the adoption of new nuclear power technologies. Energy issues should be important to technology companies that are big users, he says.