#Allinnovation —How Freshman Members of Congress are Paving the Way for Bipartisanship in Tech Policy

Photo by Ralph Alswang

Technology and innovation are driving forces of our 21st-century economy. Recently, three members of the Freshman class in Congress sat down with Millennial Action Project (MAP) President Steven Olikara at Twitter DC to discuss just how important these forces are.

MAP and Twitter DC’s event, co-hosted with the Congressional Tech Staff Association (CTSA), examined the opportunity for bipartisan cooperation, millennial leadership, and innovative problem-solving in the 155th Congress. The panel featured Representatives Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Scott Taylor (R-VA), and MAP President Steven Olikara, and was moderated by Twitter’s Colin Crowell, VP of Public Policy & Philanthropy. The conversation that ensued delved deep into the role that young citizens and young legislators can play in shaping policies that are conducive to growth and prosperity.

Photo by Ralph Alswang

In his opening remarks, Senator Steve Daines (R-MO) outlined how his personal journey in the tech industry helped inform the way he has legislated in both the House and Senate. Senator Daines also discussed startup culture in his state, highlighting the role the state has played in growing innovation through outreach, offering millennials a “global, world-class career.”

On Broadband Access

Early in the panel, the conversation quickly turned towards the issue of broadband access across the country.

Photo by Ralph Alswang

Rep. Barragán, one of the Democratic co-presidents of the Freshman class, discussed ways in which her office is working with other new members of Congress to expand broadband access across the country in both rural and urban areas. As Rep. Barragán pointed out, that access is critical in driving both innovation and new business growth.

Broadband access is also revolutionizing the way the average person interacts with his or her environment. “Everyone,” asserted Congressman Scott Taylor, “has the power the strongest nation state did twenty years ago.” However, power becomes a double-edged sword when only some have access, and Rep. Taylor cautioned that it is imperative to ensure people aren’t left behind as technology continues to advance.

Photo by Ralph Alswang

On Civility and Bipartisanship in the Freshman Class

Of course, to achieve lasting reform in the area of technology policy, members from both sides of the aisle will need to work together. One promising step towards that goal is the recent civility pledge, signed by each member of the Freshman class.

Photo by Ralph Alswang

Rep. Taylor boldly claimed that the Freshman pledge will hold, playing a key role in bridging the partisan gap. “Our class is impressive — Democrats and Republicans,” claimed Representative Taylor. “I’m excited about it.” He added that millennials are better equipped to set aside partisanship to solve problems.

That attitude is already prevalent. Despite record levels of political polarization, Freshman members have been working diligently to find common ground with legislators on the other side of the aisle.

Rep. Barragán, for example, is already extending her hand across the aisle, building relationships with members with whom she may disagree. “My approach has always been that you build relationships and make friends with everybody, […] it’s going to be that much easier when you’re starting to work on issues to go to them and talk to them.”

Rep. Khanna also shared that he was “pleasantly surprised how civil the conversation has been in the House,” noting his collaboration with tech-savvy members of Congress such as Future Caucus Co-Chair Will Hurd.

Steven Olikara offered praise for the Freshman pledge for civility, noting that the incentives to advance in Congress often push members into a more partisan posture. “What’s happening now with this new generation, they’re turning this model on its head. They’re saying ‘We’re going to build these bipartisan relationships now, not because we’ll necessarily agree on everything, but to disagree better with each other.” Tech and innovation, he noted, are some of the few areas in which bipartisanship among policymakers remains steadfast.

On the Rise of Young Independents:

Photo by Ralph Alswang

“I think there is a sense among millennials,” Rep. Khanna suggested, “that there has been a failed leadership in Washington, and we need new leadership and new ideas. They view the parties as part of that failed leadership…Soon, if we don’t bring change, they’ll view us as part of that failed leadership.”

Congresswoman Barragán echoed the others’ observations, citing her young constituents and sharing their frustrations with both the system and the parties. She talked about the need for elected officials to grow their approach and rely on innovative communications technologies to better engage the younger demographics, including targeted social media outreach and texting campaigns, for instance.

On the Future of Youth-Led Legislating

Photo by Ralph Alswang

“One of the more amazing stories we’ve seen through our work,” said Steven Olikara, “is that millennials have been new adopters of technology and early adopters of new tech policy.”

Undoubtedly, the incoming Freshman class of legislators has infused new energy and an urgency to addressing divisive partisanship in the political process. In particular, young leaders continue to lead the way on tech policy and on encouraging innovation.