A who’s who of the technology industry gathered for the Consumer Technology Association’s annual Digital Patriots Dinner in a stunning setting at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington last night.
The event, which donates all proceeds to the CTA Foundation to advance the use of technology for senior citizens and the physically disabled, honored four members of Congress “who champion innovation to drive economic growth and better our world,” in the words of CTA president/CEO Gary Shapiro.
The honorees, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Will Hurd (R-TX), all touched on the role of technology as a means to make society better, solve everyday problems and improve the economy for all Americas. All, in their own way, also made a plea and a pledge for increased bipartisanship in an era of clashing political ideologies between parties.
Hurd, a former CIA officer who founded a cybersecurity IT business, got the evening started with a pitch for CTA’s efforts, asking everyone to take a selfie with their phones and tweet it with the hashtag #CTATechWeek. “We will singlehandedly get Tech Week to trend,” he said with a smile.
Hurd acknowledged his unlikely presence in Congress. “When I first decided to run, nobody thought a black Republican could win a Hispanic district in Texas,” but he acknowledged that it gave him inspiration to look across the aisle and consider any possibilities in getting the right legislation passed.
What sealed the deal for him was an unexpected “bipartisan road trip” in which he and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) drove 36 hours from Texas to Washington when an East Coast storm canceled all flights. The two decided to live broadcast the entire trek on the Internet.
“Bipartisanship is not a dirty word,” Hurd said. “If we are going to do our jobs, if we are going to educate our kids for jobs that don’t exist yet, if we’re going to make sure we are going to lessen the regulatory strain on small businesses, we have to do it in a bipartisan way, and thankfully we have an organization like CTA to help us with that and have an event like CES that reminds us that the future is now.”
Before he left the stage, Hurd tripled down on his CTA promotional efforts and asked everyone in the room to go to hashtag #CTATechWeek and retweet three tweets about the event from people they didn’t know.
Next up, Swalwell was described by Shapiro as “one of the youngest and tech-savvy representatives in Congress.” He sits on the House Committee on Science, Technology and Space and is founder and co-chair of the House’s Sharing Economy Caucus.
On the Hill he is colloquially known as “The Snapchat King” for his affinity for the social-media site.
“My main passion is to make sure that the sharing economy reaches everyone, everywhere,” Swalwell said. “When you walk around CES, especially through Eureka Park, you can’t help but acknowledge that the American spirit, that start-up spirit, is alive and well. But one thing I did notice as I looked at peoples’ convention badges, which tells you where they are from, is that there are clusters of opportunity in this country, from Seattle to San Francisco, L.A. to Boston, Austin to northern Virginia, and Manhattan.”
He continued: “But there are still a lot of places that this new knowledge economy has not yet reached. And I know that every one of you in this room shares a common goal in making sure that the knowledge economy becomes accessible to everyone. That is certainly something that Republicans and Democrats can work on together. When I visited the CTA Townhouse, on the wall are the words “Innovate or die.” And that’s what we need to do for the American worker. “
DelBene, who has been a tech entrepreneur and a long-time Microsoft employee, is the co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Internet of Things Caucus and co-chair of the Women’s High Tech Coalition.
She offered up a plea for modernization of privacy laws. “When current law offers more protection for a letter in a filing cabinet than an email on a server, it’s clear that our policies are woefully outdated. I sponsored the Electronics Communications Privacy Act, which has passed the House. It’s now up to the Senate to grant the privacy protection to the American people that many mistakenly think they already have.”
Her other major cause is STEM education. “All students need access to computer science learning opportunities, which is absolutely critical to prepare them for the jobs, and careers, of tomorrow,” she said. “As a former technology entrepreneur, I know first-hand that our economic future lies in making smart investments in developing a future-ready workforce, which starts by giving our kids a great education. There is no better investment in our future and that’s why I sponsored the Computer Science For All Act, to increase computer education for K-12 school students throughout the country.”
Last up was McMorris Rodgers, who is the founder of the New Media Challenge — a competition that got 100 percent of Republican legislators to adopt at least one form of social media to communicate with constituents. She is also a champion of helping companies overcome regulatory obstacles.
“We have to carefully consider the way we implement regulations on our entrepreneurs and make sure we are not hampering the advancement of innovation,” she said. “Those on both sides of the aisle have a compelling interest in the future of our tech economy.”