Elections could upend IT leadership on Capitol Hill

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Several House Republicans who have been frontline players in the oversight of federal workforce and technology management issues are at risk of losing reelection on Nov. 8. One common factor characterizes their jeopardy: GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is deeply unpopular in many parts of the nation, especially in House districts with a large number of Latino voters.

The following list of endangered lawmakers and other candidates who are connected to the technology industry is not a definitive assessment of their campaign prospects, nor is it intended to be complete. But these contests highlight the unpredictable direction of the 2016 campaign.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas)

Hurd, a freshman Texas Republican with lengthy federal service as an undercover CIA officer in South Asia, has taken an interest in federal technology as chairman of the IT Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. His huge district along the Mexican border, which is 71 percent Hispanic, is the only competitive House district in Texas and has switched party control in the past two elections.

Hurd has been an active freshman lawmaker on both the oversight and Homeland Security committees. He has sponsored bills to eliminate duplication of IT resources at DHS and to require the use of the Einstein cybersecurity system across government. He is also a lead sponsor of the Modernizing Government Technology Act, which would authorize governmentwide and agency funds for moving obsolete federal systems to modern managed services.

Hurd has sought to distance himself from Trump and has said, "I'm going to reserve my endorsement." But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran an ad featuring some of Trump’s controversial comments and criticizing Hurd for refusing to disavow him. Noting that Hurd had supported cuts in funding for veterans, the ad concludes, "Trump and Hurd are just not for us."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)

Issa, who stepped down last year as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee because of term limits, has not been seriously challenged in his upscale suburban San Diego district -- which is 26 percent Hispanic -- since he was first elected in 2000. He conducted many high-profile investigations of the Obama administration and was the lead sponsor of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act. That law provided the first major update of CIO and technology acquisition authorities since the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. He also sponsored updates of the Freedom of Information Act and the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act.

A recent campaign ad by Democratic challenger Doug Applegate illustrates why Issa is at risk. The ad starts with video excerpts of lewd comments Trump made in 2005 that were taped by the "Access Hollywood" entertainment program. Then it shows photos of Issa embracing Trump during an event in San Diego earlier this year and includes Issa's statement that Trump is "the obvious choice for president." A retired Marine colonel, Applegate is a political novice.

In a recent campaign appearance for Applegate, President Barack Obama noted that Issa has sent a campaign brochure with a favorable reference to the president. "That is the definition of chutzpah," Obama told the crowd.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.)

Like Issa, Mica has been a longtime member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He currently chairs its Transportation and Public Assets Subcommittee and has been a persistent critic of federal workforce practices, often through publicity-seeking probes. His suburban Orlando district has a 19 percent Hispanic population, and Mica is facing his first serious Democratic challenger since he was elected in 1992. This is the first campaign for his opponent, Stephanie Murphy, a former Pentagon analyst. As an infant, she escaped Vietnam's communist regime with her family.

Murphy has attacked "Trump's hateful and divisive rhetoric" and has challenged Mica on his support for the candidate. "Voters choose political leaders they believe will do the best for them but also represent the best in them," Murphy said in a Reuters report.

Mica responded by saying, "I'm pretty much a party loyalist," but he has tried to avoid discussing the presidential campaign, according to the news story.

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.)

Coffman, a former Marine infantry officer who served tours of duty during both Iraq wars, has strongly criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care programs. He chairs the Veterans' Affairs Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and has been mentioned as a possible successor to committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who is retiring. In his suburban Denver district, which is 20 percent Hispanic, Coffman has learned to speak Spanish to communicate with his constituents.

He has taken the offensive with an ad that explicitly states his opposition to Trump. But that might not be enough to save Coffman in his competitive district, where Trump is very unpopular. On behalf of challenger Morgan Carroll, the Colorado Democratic Party has run an ad that highlights similar remarks made by Trump and Coffman and includes an earlier, more supportive statement by Coffman.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.)

LoBiondo has held his southern New Jersey seat for 21 years and now faces an upstart candidate with startup credentials. David Cole was a technology adviser to Obama during his first term. Subsequently, Cole was general manager and software engineer at Mapbox, a Washington-based startup that provides online maps, He is challenging LoBiondo in a district that includes Atlantic City, where Trump's three casinos made him an influential businessman, although they all lost money and have shut down.

In a video on his campaign website, Cole criticized LoBiondo for taking 12 contributions from Trump, which Cole said was the most donations for any member of Congress. Cole's campaign has received little national attention, and he has an uphill challenge. But Obama narrowly won the district in both of his campaigns. If Trump tanks at the polls on Nov. 8, this is the type of district that could produce a surprising result.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.)

In another contest of interest to many in the technology community, Honda is facing a rematch with fellow Democrat Ro Khanna. Honda won their 2014 runoff, 52 percent to 48 percent. (In California elections, the top two candidates in the primary compete in the general election, regardless of party.) Honda is the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee's Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee, among others.

Khanna, an intellectual property lawyer with strong support from the Indian community, has won endorsements from local technology leaders in the San Jose district and has raised more money than Honda. Khanna has styled himself as an outsider and has criticized his opponent for not being aggressive enough in supporting local businesses. Both candidates support Hillary Clinton for president.

About the Author

Richard E. Cohen, an FCW contributing writer, has covered Capitol Hill for more than three decades and is the author of several books on Congress.


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