By Margie Wylie
Staff Writer, CNET NEWS.COM
WASHINGTON--Today in Washington it's as trendy for politicians to advocate
technology as it is to pitch family values. And Rep. Rick White (R-Washington) can
deliver digerati speeches with the best of them--he just happens to know
A founding member of the Internet Caucus,
White is the perfect congressional poster boy for the Net. He holds
online chats with Netizens, sponsored a tax-free Net bill, and is dragging
his colleagues "kicking and screaming" into cyberspace.
White, 44, could be mistaken for one of the vibrant software CEOs with
whom he so often rubs elbows. He is energetic and animated, using his
hands to explain complicated concepts. He's probably on the verge of
hauling a white board into the House so he can draw a diagram of how the
Net works once and for all, holding a Q&A session at the end.
But White is still a politician at heart, a fact made clear by one
serious blemish on his cyberpolitic track record. Last year he voted in
favor of an online censorship vehicle known as the Communications Decency
"Kids" and "porn" in the same sentence was all a fearful Congress needed
to hear to rally behind the CDA's regulation. Once it became law, adults
charged with the felony could get up to two years in jail for transmitting
indecent material to minors over the Net.
The controversial CDA is before the Supreme
Court now. As for White, he has yet to get backed into another corner
as he was on the CDA--a provision buried in the Republicans' celebrated
Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Despite his vote, White agrees (diplomatically) that the CDA was a mistake,
passed by a Congress that didn't know the difference between America
Online and the Web or TV and the
That's where White wants to make a difference. As one of the four
creators of the Internet Caucus, founded just after the CDA was passed,
he and his Net-savvy cohorts want Congress to understand a lot more
before making more policy decisions that affect the Net.
In just one year, the Internet Caucus has gained 100 members, all of whom
make a pledge to create a Web site within three months of joining, maintain
an email account, and most important, to keep an open mind about Net
issues. The caucus itself conducts workshops where panels made up with
civil liberties groups, computer experts, and lobbyists tackle issues like
free speech on the Net and encryption.
Those issues can no longer be ignored inside the Beltway. In the last
few months alone, Congress has had to consider bills that would protect
consumers' online privacy, require Internet service providers to offer
filtering software, and shield the digital medium from taxes.
Latching on to the Net has been a brilliant strategy for White, who was
reelected for a second term last November. This term, White has become even
more visible in high-tech circles. And when the Supreme Court held a
hearing on the CDA in March, people on the Hill were finally talking
On the snowy day of the CDA hearing, just before he rushed off to a Microsoft mixer, White sat down with NEWS.COM and eagerly discussed political
influence, the caucus, and teaching Congress a few high-tech
NEWS.COM: You seem like someone who speaks her mind. Does
that ever get you in trouble?
Bartz: [Laughs] Oh of course! There's a great saying though: A tall tree
gets a lot of wind!
What have you gotten flack about recently?
People occasionally get the idea that because I'm a successful female I don't
support family issues. I am a proponent of women being careful about this concept of
balance in their lives. There is no such thing as balance in your life and we need to
forget that concept. So I get hit up on that occasionally.
To me, the concept of balance in itself means perfection. I can't be
perfect. Every day I can't be a perfect mother, a perfect CEO, perfect
citizen. I can't call all my old college roommates and check in, and be a
great friend, and I didn't volunteer today to do something important for
some cause. And by the way, I can't make sure I get my dishes washed. I
mean, give me a break. This is not possible!
There are times when I am 80 percent dedicated to what's happening at Autodesk and
there are times when I have to be 80 percent dedicated to what's happening with my daughter. This
balance concept is ridiculous. It puts too much stress on us. I think that women in particular
have issues around this, thinking that they have to be able to do it all, all the time.
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