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.
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