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Maria Cantwell

A few months ago, I wrote a story about the role that RealNetworks has played in creating a wave of startup activity in Seattle’s tech community, breeding entrepreneurs such as Sujal Patel of Isilon (in the news today); Paul Thelen of Big Fish Games and Andrew Wright of Smilebox.

But it’s not just entrepreneurs coming out of Real. For whatever reason, the pioneering Seattle tech company — started by politically active ex-Microsoft executive Rob Glaser as Progressive Networks in 1994 — has also produced its fair share of state and federal candidates.

The best known is U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, the former RealNetworks vice president from 1995 to 2000 who is facing off against challenger Michael Baumgartner on November 6th.

But there are others with ties to RealNetworks who are on the ballot this year as well. They include Maureen Judge, who is running for state senate in the 41st Legislative District, and Denny Heck, an original RealNetworks investor, who is running for office in the 10th Congressional District.

I was struck by the politically-active nature of ex-RealNetworks staffers, so I asked founder and interim CEO Rob Glaser for his take on why that’s the case.  He noted that RealNetworks has always strived to be a socially responsible and civic-minded company, pointing out that it donates five percent of profits to charity.

Rob Glaser

“The connection between that philosophy and the three people you cite is clear but indirect,” said Glaser. “Maria (Cantwell) and Denny (Heck) are both people I met through my civic involvement. They were in electoral politics before I met them, so it’s not surprising they went back in. I didn’t know Maureen before she worked at Real, but she worked on some of our civic projects so her move to electoral politics doesn’t surprise me.”

Glaser said that the company probably does overindex for people who have an interest in civic and public policy matters. But, he added, that it is not a filter by any means, noting that they hire world-class talent no matter what race, creed or political persuasion.

Technology professionals are increasingly finding their way into politics, and of course it’s not just folks from RealNetworks. The jury is out whether the electorate as a whole views technology experience as a blessing or a curse.

Nonetheless, politicians from both parties in Washington state are touting their tech credentials. I counted no fewer than a half a dozen candidates on this year’s ballot — from Lieutenant Governor candidate Bill Finkbeiner to State Representative Reuven Carlyle — who have connections to the tech industry.

Suzan DelBene

There’s certainly been a lot of wealth created in the Seattle tech community in the past two decades. And, as we all know, money certainly is playing an increasingly important role in our political system.

In one closely-watched race, in fact, the candidate’s tech success is playing a central role in the campaign.

Suzan DelBene, a former Microsoft executive and technology entrepreneur, has been hammered by opponent John Koster in the race for U.S. Congress District 1 for misrepresenting herself as being in tune with the middle class. DelBene has sunk $2.8 million of her own money into the race, one of the most hotly contested in the state this year.

Will the tech experience be a burden or a blessing this election cycle?

Come November 6th, we’ll likely have an answer to that question.

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