My friend Alec Ross is running to be Governor of Maryland. I support him and hope you’ll join me, just go to his website to learn more. I’ve known Alec since early in Obama’s presidency. He was working for Secretary Clinton on an initiative on “21st Century Statecraft.” This project focused on ensuring America was sending more than just “guns and butter” abroad (ie military intervention or economic aid). The currency of the modern world was ideas; how could the US add that export to its foreign policy toolset? One effort under that umbrella was their Tech Delegation trips, which sent groups of technology executives to foreign countries for week-long working sessions. In April 2009 I was invited to visit Iraq as part of the first delegation. It was an amazing experience for me and I’ve been close with Alec since that point. Thought the best way to share my enthusiasm would be a Five Question interview. Here you go:
Hunter Walk: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” — was it the 2016 Presidential election outcome which started you towards running for Governor of Maryland or had you been considering it prior?
Alec Ross: I had no plans to run for office any time soon. It was Trump’s election that drew me in. I grew up in coal country, the white hot center of Trump support and I spend a lot of time with millennials who “care” but don’t vote. I decided to run because I think America needs a new wave of leaders with new ideas.
HW: Technology startups tend to work from outside the system before, ironically, if they’re successfully then becoming the establishment they were trying to disrupt. Why do you personally believe that government is still the best system to catalyze change, versus working from the private sector?
AR: I think the private sector can be a powerful driver of change, but the power of government to impact peoples’ lives for the better or the worse remains unrivaled. The budget for the State of Maryland is $41 billion, with a $17 billion operating budget. Those resources impact peoples’ health, education and transportation in a way that exceeds what the private sector does in these fields.
HW: Did you give your family a “go or no go” vote before declaring your candidacy? How did your kids react?
AR: My wife is a 6th grade math teacher in Baltimore’s public schools so she sees jarring examples of inequality and lack of opportunity everyday. She was excited for me to run because she knew I would be a champion for our public schools.
The kids’ only sort of get it. They’re 14, 12 and 10 years old. They’ve seen the spotlight of public attention before because of my time in the Obama Administration, but it’s a little different with their Daddy being the one out there under his own banner. I think they’re excited about it if a little weirded out at times.
HW: Silicon Valley isn’t demographically or economically representative of the “average American.” Do you Mark Zuckerberg’s “50 State Listening Tour” is an example of the tech industry breaking out of the echo chamber? How can the average startup employee get a sense of what America is going through right now.
AR: I’m usually a defender of Silicon Valley but I have to agree that it is isolated from what most of America is going through. The economic recovery was really a recovery along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Much of middle America is still stagnating. I think it’s all for the good that Mark went out on a listening tour and I would only encourage others to do the same. And here’s the thing — I think it will actually help make people better investors and businesspeople. Reconnecting with middle America can’t help but open your eyes to problems that need solving, and entrepreneurs are inherently problem-solvers.
HW: No Fake News! Which journalists and pundits are worth reading, watching, listening to?
AR: I’m really cranky about most journalism these days. Most of the reporting of the U.S. presidential election made me want to puke. The media needs to take responsibility for the monster they helped create in Donald Trump and some of what they over-reported and some of what they under-reported still makes me red-faced angry.
Okay — now that I’ve gotten that off my chest — here are some folks worth following IMHO:
David Ignatius from The Washington Post
Jon Lovett from Pod Save America
Gideon Rachman and Edward Luce from the Financial Times
Matthew Bishop and everybody else at the Economist
Julia Ioffe and James Fallows from The Atlantic
Susan Glasser from Politico