Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Casey vs Santorum: Bill Scranton Supporters Reject Santorum - Money Men Want a Winner not an Ideologue

Casey vs Santorum: Bill Scranton Supporters Reject Santorum - Money Men Want a Winner not an Ideologue: "Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Bill Scranton Supporters Reject Santorum - Money Men Want a Winner not an Ideologue
Republican tech executives keep politics local: "Republican tech executives keep politics local
Saturday, July 23, 2005

By Corilyn Shropshire, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The politics matched the attire on this balmy summer evening, as a crisply suited, closely cropped crowd mingled at Downtown's Euro Cafe.

Conservative in mind and appearance, they munched on cheese and cold cuts Wednesday evening while awaiting the arrival of former Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Scranton, who would welcome FreeMarkets Inc. founder and local tech celebrity Glen Meakem as fundraising chair for his gubernatorial campaign.

This bunch of about 50 was eager to talk about Scranton, why he was the better man to run against Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell next year than his perceived closest Republican rival, former Pittsburgh Steeler turned broadcaster Lynn Swann, and why local politics are critical to a business-friendly economy.

What they didn't want to talk about was Sen. Rick Santorum. In fact, the mention of Santorum elicited a game of verbal dodgeball. Asked about the third-highest ranking Republican senator in the country who appears to be in line to confront a strong challenge next year from state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., some local tech executives simply changed the subject or refused to talk on the record.

Santorum's widely publicized social agenda, it seems, is a bit too polarizing for some members of his party. Particularly those in the tech community, who maintain that local politics, not the culture wars, have galvanized them to do more than write checks in support of Republican candidates and causes.

"State and local policies make the difference," said Ed Engler, the chief executive officer of Downtown-based technology firm Summa Technologies, who was among those who collected signatures for the row office reform referendum.

"I care much more about how businesses in town are going to be affected."

Conventional wisdom says that techies aren't the most political bunch. Notoriously nerdy, they are known for preferring chatter about gigabytes and the latest computer code than waxing political.

But beyond clamped lips on the subject of Santorum, some local tech execs are getting their hands dirty, circulating petitions for row office reform or volunteering on the Republican political campaigns.

"A lot of what drives us is frustration," said Pittsburgh attorney Bob Ridge, who helped organize the Scranton/Meakem coming-out party and includes technology firms among his clients. "Your livelihood depends on a vibrant economy, you'll either move or take action to change the status."

Meakem is the second high-profile tech executive to recently jump into the political fray on the Republican side of the fence in a town where Democrats still dominate. Last month, Ariba Inc. President David McCormick, who formerly worked for Meakem, was nominated by President Bush to serve as an undersecretary at the Department of Commerce.

McCormick is unavailable for comment on political matters while his nomination is mulled by a Senate committee, and Meakem, like his tech GOP brethren, didn't have much to say about the upcoming Santorum race.

For him, too, all politics are local. "The big eye-opener for me, was the Pittsburgh fiscal crisis," he said, completely deflecting any questions about Santorum, whose views on gay marriage, stay-at-home parents and abortion fall on the conservative side of the ledger. "A lot of policies start in Harrisburg and we need reform."

Mark Evans, the chief executive officer of North Side-based financial services software firm Confluence and chair of the tech-advocacy nonprofit Pittsburgh Technology Council, is a Republican who says he doesn't care which side of the fence a candidate falls as long as he or she addresses business and technology issues. "The social issues "neb themselves out," he said.

Business is what brought them to the table, politically active tech executives say -- the social agenda is an afterthought. "First and foremost, we care about creating a fertile soil for our business," said Mark Desantis, a former staffer of the late Sen. John Heinz, who is now a tech consultant and fixture in local GOP politics.

Desantis also heads Citizens for Democratic Reform, the group pushing to reduce the number of elected row offices. He is a conservative who, after deciding he had enough of working on the national level, decided that local politics hit both his home and pocketbook. Now he spends 80 percent of his time working on his consulting practice, the other 20 percent doing political work.

Amicus Corp. CEO Ric Castro can't spend that much time being political -- he's too busy building his South Side-based software firm. But that doesn't mean he hasn't scraped out time to work on the issues he cares about -- mainly business and not the cultural issues that have kept Santorum in the news lately.

That many people were unable or unwilling to talk about Santorum's re-election campaign or possible presidential bid didn't surprise John Dick, a former staffer for the senator who now leads his own tech-focused lobbying group.

"I believe that most people choose their partisan affiliation due to their social leanings," he said, but taxes and other business-minded issues are what draws the ire and passion of people in Pittsburgh. "Most people in the technology community vote based on how they perceive the candidate will affect their daily lives.""

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