Tech execs take charge of public policy

Top IT people on the political stage

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This political primary season, some high profile former titans of high tech are vying to join the ranks of senators, governors, state attorneys general and other elected officials. If they succeed, observers expect the IT-execs-turned-pols to have a good deal to say about the increasing number of societal issues that involve technology, from information privacy and electronic health records to universal broadband and the threat of cyberwar.

In California alone, which holds its primary on June 8, ex-HP CEO Carly Fiorina is running for US Senate, former Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly is making a play for the state attorney general's office and in the Republican gubernatorial primary, ex-eBay CEO Meg Whitman is facing off against high tech entrepreneur Steve Poizner, who founded two mobile applications companies.

There's nothing new about tech-savvy people seeking to join the political fray, of course. Democrat Jack Markell, a former telecommunications executive, became governor of Delaware in 2008. Senator Maria Cantwell left her position as vice president of marketing at RealNetworks and joined Congress in 2001. And then, of course, there was H. Ross Perot, founder of systems integrator Electronic Data Systems, who twice ran for president of the United States, in 1992 and 1996.

What has changed since Perot's bids, though, is the critical role that technology plays in both the economy and in people's everyday lives. This evolution has brought tech-related issues to the attention of officials at all levels of government. As a result, it's now very desirable for politicians to list "knowledge of IT" on their résumés.

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