Applause for Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s ascent from House Majority Whip to Majority Leader on Thursday echoed from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley, where leaders hope for a continued return on the investment they’ve made in cultivating his attention for more than a decade.
It may seem counter-intuitive that a Republican from Bakersfield – whose district is among the nation’s top agricultural centers and produces more oil than Oklahoma – would be tuned in to high-tech Silicon Valley, an undeniably Democratic stronghold more than 200 miles away.
Yet as McCarthy prepares to walk a fine line in trying to both lead and reunite the House GOP, he’s seen as an ally of the region’s most influential echelons. Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said he first met McCarthy – then a freshman Assemblyman – in 2003.
“From the moment we met he had a deep interest and curiosity about Silicon Valley,” Guardino said, and so he was invited to meet with local executives. “Almost since that time, three or four times a year, we host him here in the valley on policy because he recognizes … that Silicon Valley is integral to the state’s and nation’s success.”
Few lawmakers show that kind of enduring interest and staying power, he said, and few share another trait of McCarthy’s. “He actually listens much more than he speaks. And by listening and learning, he is then capable of leading, because he understands the challenges we face in competing globally and the impacts on policy.”
“In Silicon Valley, this is a huge compliment: He is immensely curious, and we need more curious people in Congress,” Guardino said, recalling McCarthy’s delight at having the chance to operate a robotic surgery system at Sunnyvale’s Intuitive Surgical. “He was just fascinated by it. He is fascinated by what we do here in Silicon Valley, and he wants to make sure it stays here and succeeds here.”
Intuitive Surgical President and CEO Gary Guthart said Friday that he recalls McCarthy’s “interest was really around the virtuous cycle that’s built in public-private partnerships,” given that Intuitive’s “roots were in R-and-D funding that came out of government programs.”
What started with government grants for research has led to a company that manufactures in the Bay Area with a mostly domestic supply chain, much of it from other California companies, he said. His conversation with McCarthy “was around how you keep the cycle going and not let it break down” over the decades it can take from government-funded research to marketable products.
“I was impressed with both his depth of interest and understanding, and with his willingness to come out and engage directly with us,” Guthart said.
Lots more, after the jump…
McCarthy knows “that immigration reform for high-skilled, high-tech, high-wage workers has always been important to Silicon Valley’s success,” Guardino said, though he also understands how reform affects other sectors. “That’s often a risky stance for Republican members, especially Republican members in leadership, to take … but we agree with it and we applaud him for it.”
Guardino also said McCarthy has been “solidly with us right from the beginning” on patent litigation reform. The House in December passed the Innovation Act – aimed at reining in “patent troll” companies that make no products but merely buy up patents and threaten other companies with lawsuits – on a 325-91 vote, with majorities of both parties supporting it. “Kevin’s the guy who had to work the votes in his conference, a job he does supremely well.”
And Guardino said when he met with McCarthy just a few weeks ago, McCarthy brought up the subject of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It’s not a sexy topic, he said, but “it’s part of the nitty-gritty important work of government.”
McCarthy, with fellow young guns Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor – the latter of whom he replaced Thursday as Majority Leader – used a September 2011 appearance at Facebook to deliver a scathing call for reduced regulation and tax cuts. Questioned by Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg just a day after she’d hosted a fundraiser for President Obama at her Atherton home, McCarthy said Republicans were focused “on what made America great … entrepreneurship and innovation.”
“Rep. McCarthy has his finger on the pulse of Silicon Valley,” Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of U.S. public policy, said this week. “He intuitively understands the industry’s culture of innovation, and knows what’s needed to protect it. He is also an early adopter of technology in both his professional and personal life, and there’s no better way to understand the Valley’s unique contributions to the economy.”
And the region has contributed to McCarthy as well. San Francisco and San Jose rank fifth and seventh, respectively, on the top 10 list of metro areas from which McCarthy has drawn contributions over the course of his House career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
That’s not to say the region is turning red, or that McCarthy will help it do so.
In 2012, 85 percent of presidential campaign contributions from employees of Silicon Valley’s top five companies by revenue (Apple, HP, Intel, Cisco Systems and Google) went to Obama while only 15 percent went to Romney – although Romney took 74 percent of contributions from people at the valley’s top five private-equity firms. The region’s four counties – Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara – gave 76 percent of its vote to Obama. And no Republicans represent the area in Sacramento or Washington.
Asked whether he thinks Silicon Valley will maintain its close ties with McCarthy now that he has taken a higher leadership post, Guardino replied, “Do you lose your friends when they have success in their jobs?”
“What’s nice about Kevin is that his roles may change, but the core of the man has never changed – he’s an incredibly ethical, honest leader,” Guardino said, noting that McCarthy has not yet finished his fourth term and is but 49 years old, yet has risen to the second-highest leadership post in an institution that often runs on seniority.
“If he were stock, he would be stock that people should’ve invested in years ago because that stock is going to continue to rise.”