The ties that bind software and social policy

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 109 views 

Governor Asa Hutchinson successfully pushed a computer coding program for public schools during the recently concluded Legislative Session. Hutchinson seeks to crank out 6,000 computer coders each year. The program is more detailed than we will explain here, but suffice it to say it has captured the attention of the tech world.

Hutchinson and Mike Preston, the new executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, recently traveled to the Silicon Valley area in California to meet with execs from about 10 companies. Charles Morgan, the former chairman and CEO of Arkansas-based Acxiom Corp., and Dave Wengel, founder and CEO of iDatafy, also were part of the Arkansas delegation. According to Talk Business & Politics, Morgan and Wengel were part of the delegation so they could explain to the Silicon Valley execs about how Arkansas is becoming more of a fertile environment for tech companies and upstarts.

We commend Gov. Hutchinson on this effort. He said he wanted to be a jobs governor, and so far he’s making impressive moves.

Impressing execs in Silicon Valley may be the easy job for the jobs Governor. The hard part is likely to be in keeping a lid on the vocal and fervent Christian activists who helped elect him. This group includes folks who helped overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance in Fayetteville. They successfully pushed for a religious freedom law that, when you get beyond the legalese, prevented Arkansas cities from approving an ordinance that sought any level of protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Arkansas’ religious freedom law was on its way to the Governor’s desk when the world came crashing down on Indiana for signing into law a similar bill. Hutchinson, who clearly saw Silicon Valley come out against the Indiana law, convinced legislators to water down the bill.

He may have to pour more cold water on his supporters who are hot to protect American family values as they see them. Now that he has the attention of Silicon Valley execs, those execs will be keen to learn more than just about the state’s computer coding program. Gov. Hutchinson is a smart man, so he doesn’t need us to tell him that same-sex marriage and LGBT protections are hot button issues for many Silicon Valley leaders.

The Governor surely knows that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter were among 379 technology, financial and other large companies to file an amicus brief in support of a case to be decided in June by the U.S. Supreme Court that could lead to broad legalization of same-sex marriage.

He probably knows what Forbes contributor Rakesh Sharma said in 2014 about such issues: “But, the most important reason for the tech sector’s embrace of gay rights is pure economics. The power of the pink dollar is already well-known. Within the tech economy, however, that dollar goes even further because gays are prominent customers and creators in the economy.”

He probably also understands what Telegraph columnist Sophie Curtis has said about the connection between social policy and Silicon Valley politics. She noted that “the tech industry, often stereotyped as attracting social misfits, in fact strives for an environment where talent is king, and narrow expectations of conformity are low. Companies have sought to reduce the barriers of discrimination.”

And like the rest of the world, Gov. Hutchinson recently watched 62% of the largely Catholic population in Ireland vote to legalize same-sex marriage. He likely knows that opinions in the U.S. are moving toward acceptance of views that some of his ardent religious supporters are working hard to push back against.

In 1996, 65% of Americans opposed such same sex marriage, with only 27% in support. That opposition has waned. The tide shifted in 2011 when 46% of Americans surveyed by Pew supported same-sex marriage and 45% opposed. In the 2014 survey, 54% of Americans surveyed said same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, and only 39% of Americans opposed same-sex unions. Among Millenials and Gen Xers (those who are often heavily recruited by tech companies), support for same-sex marriage is stronger than the combined survey results.

Gov. Hutchinson is to be commended for a computer coding push that will help Arkansas students and has captured the attention of Silicon Valley. But if he wants that attention to remain positive he’ll need to do more to convince legislators within his own party to go easy on their efforts to convert scripture into state law.