While the race for California’s 52nd Congressional District is gaining national notoriety for the heated contest between incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D) and Carl DeMaio (R), the two candidates took time out last week to discuss emerging technology and open government issues. Open San Diego, a group committed to furthering the technology environment in San Diego through collaboration, hosted a “Meet the Candidate” series. The two candidates came on separate nights, Peters on Wednesday, October 15, and DeMaio on the following Thursday.
The “Meet the Candidate” series is a friendly gathering that brings elected officials and candidates together with San Diegans to discuss the role of technology in government. According to Open San Diego, “It is a chance for these candidates to learn more about how technology can improve government and for us to learn about their stances on critical issues.”
Ben Katz, political director for Open San Diego, interviewed Peters and DeMaio on their respective nights, asking them the same questions so as to provide a comparative insight into their stances on technology and open government issues.
As divergent as Peters’ and DeMaio’s political ideologies may be, they appeared to share some common ground on issues of technology. Both admitted they are not experts in the field and could use support and direction from the IT community.Open Data Policy, Peters said, “They probably don’t understand it very well. Some of us are over 30.”
Along similar lines, DeMaio expressed his willingness to work with people in the technology sector.
“As you see things in the federal government, either on a technology basis or open government basis that you think that I can be helpful in being a champion on — don’t assume I know about it,” said DeMaio. “Probably I don’t. So bring it to my attention. Let me know. Tweet at me, email me, and I’d be happy to take the idea under consideration.”
Open government became a main topic of discussion both nights, and both Peters and DeMaio expressed concern for government secrecy.
When asked about NSA surveillance on Wednesday, Peters grappled for a way to both confront the reality of threats and the concerns about privacy and constitutionality. Katz asked Peters where the appropriate line is drawn on the issue of surveillance.
“We’re still looking for it….and I don’t think we’re going to get the answer,” Peters responded.
Peters acknowledged that former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden did reveal important things about the NSA, but he does not ascribe any heroism to Snowden because of the nature of government secrets he revealed.
“We have to give some latitude for law enforcement to prevent some of these attacks,” he said.
DeMaio came across as slightly more eager to denounce government surveillance. When asked about mass surveillance DeMaio quickly jumped in, “[I’m] opposed to it. You have a constitutional right to due process.”
He stated the government should be required to obtain a search warrant before looking at someone’s emails.
Closed door deals have a long history in United States’ politics and are usually referenced to disparage policy outcomes. When asked if some level of secrecy in politics is required to produce substantive results, both Peters and DeMaio agreed when it comes to matters of government –the process should ultimately be transparent to the public.
“Secrecy should be rare…we shouldn’t be fearful of people developing personal relationships and trust…but in terms of doing the business of the government, that should be public.”
Peters stressed the importance of getting to know fellow members of Congress, and of getting to know where they come from.
The next night, DeMaio agreed with Peters and said the real issue to moving forward with legislative action are the current rules in Congress. He would lower the threshold to floor consideration.
Traditionally, Republican speakers have followed the Hastert Rule, which requires a majority of the majority party to support a bill in order for it to receive a floor vote — even if the majority of Congress would pass it. DeMaio would lower the threshold for floor consideration to 25 percent support with 15 minutes of time on the floor before a vote. He claimed that the House would pass more bills if they were allowed to vote on them.
“One criticism I have of the speaker is he doesn’t work us very hard,” he remarked.
In a typical month Peters spends 3 weeks in D.C. and 1 week in San Diego, but comes home almost every weekend, he explained, because Congress gets lots of three and four-day weekends.
It became obvious through talking with both Peters and DeMaio that each agree the government needs to do much better with effectively utilizing technology. Peters postured the lack of a sharing mentality in Washington handicaps the government from embracing technological advances — “it won’t come naturally to bureaucracy.”
DeMaio added to this sentiment by saying, “Because we don’t have Darwin helping us out in government, constantly pushing us to compete and be more efficient, good management is hard in government.”
Only briefly did both candidates acknowledge the hotly contested race for Congress.
Photo Credit: Open San Diego