While Silicon Valley might be reeling from the results of the national election, a local movement to elect Ro Khanna to the House of Representatives was a win for the tech industry.
Khanna, a 40-year-old lawyer, isn’t a tech employee at any of the major companies his district includes, such as Apple, eBay, and Tesla. However, he’s been the favourite of the tech industry since he tried to first overtake incumbent Mike Honda in the 2014 election.
His backers include a long list of Silicon Valley who’s who, including Yahoo CEO Marissa Maye, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, venture capitalists like Marc Andreessen and Keith Rabois and many more.
“Everyone who is seen as a person of the future has endorsed our campaign,” Khanna said in 2014 to the New
York Times while going door-to-door in Sunnyvale. The same holds true for his 2016 campaign where a long list of tech leaders rounds out the bottom of his endorsements page.
Despite having the support of the CEO of Google and much of the venture capital industry, this year Khanna kept his ties to tech relatively muted. Instead Khanna focused his campaign on going after Honda, who is the subject of an ethics probe, and portrayed the 75-year-old representative as out-of-touch and tired — a strategy startups mimic in their own marketing efforts.
In interviews, he’s tried to portray himself as thoughtful about what the future of jobs will be as automation increases and threatens many US industries. However he some of his campaign ideas are distinctly Silicon Valley in flavour, including praising universal basic income and a technical education for everyone.
While Khanna’s hard-fought win over Honda could be a sign that the tech industry could mobilize as a tech voting bloc, just having its support isn’t a clear path to office. As Slate’s Will Oremus sums it up:
“It might seem to portend a new era in which the likes of Andreessen, Sandberg, and Rabois form a sort of bipartisan king-making committee for tech-friendly candidates. But the particulars of this race argue for a less sweeping interpretation. If Khanna prevails, it will prove that one can win in Silicon Valley as a ‘tech candidate,’ but only if a lot else goes right. In this case, it will have taken Khanna three tries over the course of 12 years, a wide fundraising advantage, some local ring-kissing, and a weakening incumbent under the cloud of an ethics probe.”
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