Tuesday was a tough day for a handful of U.S. candidates with technology backgrounds, with two former tech CEOs and the current chairman of a House of Representatives subcommittee focused on Internet policy beaten during the election.
Representative Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat and chairman of House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on communications, technology, and the Internet, was among the wave of Democrats losing during Tuesday’s elections. Boucher, who served for 28 years in the House, was defeated by Republican Morgan Griffith, the majority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, in a campaign largely focused on coal mining regulations and the economy.
California bucked the national trend toward electing Republicans, however, with incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer defeating Republican Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. And former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, also a Republican, lost the governor’s race to Democrat Jerry Brown, California’s current attorney general. Brown also served as California’s governor from 1975 to 1983.
Tech issues were not a major part of the debate in the California senate and governor’s races, although Fiorina and Whitman both stressed their executive experience during the campaign.
Democratic lawmakers representing Silicon Valley in California were reelected. Easily winning their races were Democratic Representatives Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, and Mike Honda.
Democrats didn’t fare so well in other parts of the country. As of Wednesday morning, Republicans had gained about 60 seats in the House, taking majority control from Democrats. One victim was Boucher, one of the most tech-focused members of Congress.
In recent years, Boucher has pushed unsuccessfully for net neutrality legislation prohibiting broadband providers from selectively blocking Web traffic.
Democratic defeats in the House mean net neutrality legislation is even more unlikely to pass, several tech policy experts said, even though Democrats were not able to pass a bill with majorities in both chambers of Congress, at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and a president in the White House during the past two years.
Boucher was focused on several other tech issues, as well. In May, he and Republican Representative Cliff Stearns released a privacy draft that would require companies that collect personal information from customers to disclose how they collect and share that information.
Boucher has long pushed for reform of the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, which largely subsidizes traditional telephone and mobile service in rural areas. In recent years, he called for USF to be redirected to broadband service, and the FCC’s national broadband plan, released in March, advocated a similar approach.
Boucher also worked to limit digital copyright restrictions. During three recent sessions of Congress, he introduced bills that would have allowed customers to circumvent digital copy restrictions in limited cases, allowing exemptions to the anticircumvention restrictions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed by Congress in 1998.
He also was a major supporter of legislation that prohibited states and local governments from levying taxes targeted at the Internet, including Internet access taxes.
Boucher’s defeat is a loss for tech policy issues in Congress, said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights group. Boucher, “widely recognized as one of the most tech-savvy and intelligent members of Congress, has long been an advocate for consumers on a wide variety of communications and intellectual property issues,” she wrote in a blog post.
Boucher’s Internet subcommittee will have several new faces when newly elected lawmakers are seated in 2011. Twelve members of the panel, about a third of the subcommittee, have been defeated, have retired or have left the House to run for other offices, noted Politico, a Washington, D.C., newspaper.
For many tech issues, a change in party control will not mean major changes, several tech policy experts said before the election. Many tech issues, including most of the issues Boucher focused on, have enjoyed bipartisan support, although Congress has focused on the economy, health care and other priorities during the past two years.
The Internet’s “fortunes do not rise and fall along party lines,” said digital rights group the Center for Democracy and Technology, in a statement released Wednesday. “All Americans have a stake in ensuring that the Internet remain open, innovative and free. The Internet is now central to American life. Its place in the democratic process is now secure, its value as an engine of innovation and commerce is more critical than ever, and its potential to transform health-care and other critical services remains limitless.”
Individuals and political action committees in the computer and Internet industry contributed about US$17.2 million to U.S. political candidates and parties during the 2010 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org. About 64 percent of that money went to Democrats.
Some tech leaders celebrated Republican gains, however. “I’ll certainly sleep better at night,” Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, said before the election. “I think the last two years have been the toughest and most uncertain for the business community at large.”
With Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, “there’s been a general slamming of the business community by every part of government,” he said.
Businesses have been concerned about possible taxes and the federal government’s budget deficit, Shapiro said. CEA members expect more Republican support for free trade agreements and expansion of high-skill worker immigration with the gains, he said.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant’s e-mail address is email@example.com.