HP lobbyist helped Capitol Hill define IT policies

Tisdale had been a lobbyist in Sacramento before coming to Washington. He was a skilled
trade association hand, having worked for the Chamber of Commerce, the American
Electronics Association and the Scientific Apparatus Makers Association before starting up
Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Washington government relations office.


Although HP now has $40 billion in annual sales, it was a much smaller company 14 years
ago. The high-technology industry itself mattered a lot less to lawmakers then. Now lots
of companies are opening Washington offices, often staffed by top former government
executives.


In the last year, for example, Yahoo Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., and Cisco Systems
Inc. of San Jose, Calif., have opened offices here. Both offices are headed by former
senior congressional staff members.


But when Tisdale started HP’s Washington office, it was rare for an IT company to
have a Washington presence for government affairs. Most companies at that time maintained
only sales offices for the burgeoning federal market. Under Tisdale’s stewardship,
HP, a generally low-key company to begin with, has quietly become a model of how to
conduct effective government business relations.


Tisdale lived by the rule that the whale with the biggest plume gets the harpoon. His
spout was seldom visible above the surface, but he was always at work building coalitions,
pulling and tugging at the governmental apparatus and coming up with surprising public
policy victories.


In tax, export and encryption policy and in many other areas, Tisdale achieved
important victories for HP and, by extension, other similarly situated companies.


Often, newly hired directors or vice presidents of government relations would beat a
trail to Tisdale’s door looking for advice on how to build a winning operation.
Tisdale always made time for these people. He had a special place in his heart for
loosened-tie types who liked to sit in a saloon at the end of the day, even if he himself
imbibed only soft drinks. He enjoyed a good bar stool and the convivial banter that’s
exchanged in a local hangout.


Eben Tisdale also was a great reader—not of the policy tomes of Washington, but
fun novels by authors such as Dick Francis or Ross McDonald.


“Character counts” was the mantra Bob Dole’s presidential campaign tried
to get across in 1996. Tisdale had character and was a character, and this combination is
rare. As a memorial to Tisdale, his friends are holding a fund-raising dinner on March 15,
1999, to raise money for an internship program in his name. E-mail me for details.


Tisdale would have delighted in analyzing last month’s election, so let’s
switch over to that. I’ll zero in on the results, particularly those concerning
elected officials known for their interest in technology.


Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.), one of Congress’ leading year 2000 activists, fought
off the best-funded and toughest opponent of her congressional career. She garnered 60
percent of the vote, a resounding total, though down from her usual 65 percent or 70
percent.


Across the river, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), a frequent flyer in high-technology circles,
ended up with more than 80 percent of the vote in his district. Look for Davis to attempt
to succeed Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore in 2000 now that former Gov. George Allen is gunning
for Chuck Robb’s seat in the Senate. Davis also could run in 2002 for GOP Sen. John
Warner’s seat. Rumor is that Warner will retire then.


On the Democratic side, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, chairman of the Democratic
Senatorial Campaign Committee, has again improved his standing with his colleagues through
adept shaking of the money tree. Kerrey has also repaired his ties to Silicon Valley,
where his past stand on encryption export policy had raised eyebrows. Kerrey remains one
of the most charismatic figures in American politics.


Finally, Gray Davis, the new Democratic governor of California, ran a flawless primary
campaign in which he defeated two candidates who spent $39 million and $16 million,
respectively.


Gray ran an even more perfect general election campaign to defeat former Rep.


Dan Lungren, a fine Republican. Davis will be picked to be the Democratic Vice
Presidential candidate in 2000. You read it here first.  


Stephen M. Ryan is a partner in the Washington law firm of Brand, Lowell &
Ryan. He has long experience in federal information technology issues. E-mail him at smr@blrlaw.com.

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