Editors note: With the election approaching, we asked some folks we admire: What does this election mean to Silicon Valley? Between now and the election on Nov. 6, we’ll be running the responses we received. Today, Congressman Michael Honda weighs on.
By Rep. Michael Honda
The differences between the two presidential candidates — and how they’d impact Silicon Valley in the next four years — couldn’t be starker. One candidate wants to stick with an energy plan dependent heavily on fossil fuels, an old and dirty industry that will only take us backward instead of forward in terms of healthier air, cleaner water and more a renewable and sustainable energy mix. This is not conjecture. Mitt Romney has explicitly committed to doing so.
The other candidate — and this is where Silicon Valley’s innovation and entrepreneurship comes in — is keen on clean energy and has vowed to make it America’s bread and butter, which is exactly what it should be given America’s ample wind and solar generative capacities. Already investing heavily in renewables, President Barack Obama “gets” what the future of energy should be and wants America to be globally competitive in solar, wind, biomass, among others. There is money to be made here and unless we keep pace, we will be outcompeted by international innovators, from the European Union to Asia.
This is an incredible opportunity to transform Silicon Valley, my district and the epicenter of high tech in America, and make it this country’s foremost green tech valley. Beyond what the federal government can and must do to stimulate research and development, incentivize wind and solar through tax credits, and ensure that renewable energy can compete against fossil fuels that have been subsidized for a century, we must train America’s future workforce for greener, high tech pastures. That means America must invest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to stay competitive in the 21st century.
President Obama is working hard to make this happen, which is why, this summer, he announced plans to develop a STEM Teaching Corps comprised of 10,000 new teachers. He is a leader who sees what the future holds and is positioning America appropriately.
As an educator for over 30 years, I know what’s needed on the front lines of science and tech curriculum and that we have done too little as a nation over the past several decades to stay competitive in science and math (among other subjects). We cannot continue to rank near the bottom in science and math in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s Programme on International Student Assessment, which evaluates student performance in 34 of the world’s richest countries. Continuing to do so will spell doom for our economic competitiveness and our capacity to keep a well-trained workforce on our shores.
The marketplace of ideas and innovation will be dominated by countries who are aggressively investing in the STEM workforce of tomorrow. Obama and I, both, want America to do more, but we have been blocked by Republicans in Congress who want to cut education funding on these fronts. In fact, for Romney to bring on my colleague on the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, as his vice-presidential nominee, shows how uncommitted he is on educating America’s workforce. Ryan’s budget, for example, pledges to cut education by 45 percent. Under a Romney-Ryan plan, that means that the workforce of tomorrow must make do with nearly half the federal funding that we currently devote to education. Those low OECD PISA scores on science and math, then, will only get worse if we continue to whittle away monies for STEM.
Ensuring a robust STEM plan for America, however, will require more than what the federal funds can provide. We need the private sector’s help too. This is where the private sector of Silicon Valley comes in. My STEM Network Act, for example, builds upon Silicon Valley’s reputation for collaboration by providing much needed resources for public-private partnerships and state and local collaborations, in order to provide these opportunities: delivering the most effective curriculum tools for learning STEM; helping train even higher qualified STEM teachers; exposing students to what science, technology, engineering, and math careers are really like; and making the STEM education experience a high quality use of the only currency students have, their time.
For our nation to remain a leader in scientific advancement, training a dynamic competitive workforce, and bolster America’s position as a global leader in technological innovation, this is what must be done and what one candidate — Barack Obama — clearly understands. Silicon Valley, the choice is clear in terms of candidates who will keep us at the forefront of all things tech. A greener, more sustainable valley is possible, but only with the right man in office.