Chip Shots by Chip Griffin

A Tech Geek’s Guide to Politics

Ballot ImageBrad Feld writes about the current debacle in Colorado where Amazon has shut down all of its affiliates in that state as a result of a new law passed by their legislature and signed by the governor to expand sales tax obligations. Eric Norlin, organizer of the Defrag and Glue conferences, notes in the comments that Amazon has even said its employees can’t attend or speak at those events since they take place in Colorado (apparently done on the advice of their lawyers).

Here in New Hampshire, the state enacted a new Limited Liability Company Tax last year that dramatically changes the tax implications for many technology companies. The LLC Tax has stirred up quite a bit of controversy and the legislature is now considering whether to scrap the new rules.

These are but two examples of the implications that government can have on technology entrepreneurs. But there are potential impacts at all levels — from the White House on down to the local councils and school boards — that must be watched.

So what do tech geeks do about it?

As a tech geek who started out in politics nearly two decades ago, I currently help devise digital communications strategies for companies trying to navigate the legislative and regulatory processes at the local, state, and federal levels.

You may not need our firm’s assistance in your issue, but here are some things that all tech geeks can do to help ensure that our voices are heard in the political debate.

Tune In, Not Out, of Political News

A lot of ink (regular and digital) gets spilled on significant partisan bickering, but there’s much more that tech geeks need to pay attention to beyond the sensational headlines. Sure health care reform matters and we ought to care about how the issue turns out, but ultimately there are a lot of smaller, local issues (like the ones noted above) that can have a major impact on our companies. These are the ones we need to try to pay attention to by reading media and blogs that cover those areas.

Participate in Politics

The best way to have the interests of tech geeks heard in the political process is to directly participate. Having a seat at the table is much more powerful than simply making phone calls or writing emails. There are plenty of part-time political opportunities in every local community that we all ought to consider taking part in, as our professional and personal lives permit.

Speak With Your Pocketbook/Wallet

Many tech geeks find politics distasteful enough without contemplating helping to raise funds for candidates. Disliking the process may feel good, but it gets you nowhere. The technology community needs to throw its support behind candidates who will do the right thing — and that means making dollar contributions that will help get those individuals into office and keep them there.

Accept Our Diversity of Views

There’s little doubt that we don’t all agree on every issue. I know that even on my own team at work we don’t all support the same candidates. Yes, tech geeks are a community, but we’re not one that marches in lock step on every issue. There are plenty of great technology voices in office that represent a range of places on the political spectrum — and that’s a good thing. It would not suit us well if we became aligned with just one party.

Let Your Voice Be Heard

It’s important not to be bashful about speaking up and speaking out. Brad recognized in his post that he should have made a public stink about the Colorado tax issue sooner. Like many, he trusted the politicians to do the right thing on their own. That rarely happens. We all need to be prepared to use all of our communications tools to get our messages out including things like:

  • email
  • blog posts
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • online petitions


Ultimately, the most powerful tool we have at our disposal is our own vote on Election Day. The frustration many in the tech geek community feel over politics should not lead to withdrawal but rather more active participation. We need to focus on getting out the technology vote even though we don’t agree on every issue. The more we take an active role in our government, the more likely we are to see better policies enacted.

What Threats and Opportunities Lie Ahead for Tech Geeks?

The two examples I outlined at the start of this post are but the tip of the iceburg. You can take just about any legislative or regulatory body and likely find an issue that matters to tech geeks like us. Heed this call to action and get engaged.

How else should we as tech geeks help let our voices be heard? Share your ideas in the comments.

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One Comment

  1. Chip,

    As Katie Payne would say, “we are in violent agreement.”

    And I have not been as active in politics as I should – shame on me because I used to do online public affairs for a living.

    My two cents to the taxation insanity is that I was blessed this past year with starting my own LLC, having success beyond my wildest dreams – and discovering some unpleasant taxation facts.

    I was ok with having to pay both sides of social security. But a “small business tax?” Mired in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, it is as insane as it gets to tax the economic engine that will drive our way out of the recession. Eighty percent of all new jobs are created by small businesses.

    Insanity. And you reminded me that I have to get off my ass, use my background and at least make my voice heard.


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