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Why the tech industry should care about the next secretary of transportation

Political consultant Bradley Tusk wants Hillary Clinton to make the future of transportation a national issue.


Donald Trump’s Twittering and Hillary Clinton’s email server aside, the 2016 election has been light on conversations about the future of tech. But political consultant Bradley Tusk wants the candidates to start talking about the intersection of technology, jobs and transportation.

"I think in some ways the Secretary of Transportation, for tech, may be the most important pick [Hillary Clinton] makes," Tusk said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher.

"They’re going to oversee all the autonomous vehicle stuff on both cars and trucking, and they oversee the FAA, so that’s drone policy," he added. "It’s really important that the sector use its influence, whatever they have with her, to get someone good."

(As the quotes above suggest, Tusk — a longtime adviser to former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg — has written off the possibility of a Trump victory in November.)

He argued that the regulatory complexity of self-driving vehicles, as well as the complexity of local government, made it ripe for federal action.

"I hate doing things in Washington, but this is an example where ... you need federal preemption, which means you need to pass major legislation through Congress," Tusk said. "If I were Hillary and I wanted to do something forward-thinking on tech, I would make autonomous [transportation] an issue."

He cited the historic example of efforts in the early 1980s to raise the national drinking age to 21 — even though that was a regulation that only states could enforce. President Reagan and members of Congress accomplished this feat via the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which incentivized the states by cutting their federal highway construction funds by 10 percent if they did not comply.

In the end, though, Tusk seemed pessimistic about the potential for a techie transportation secretary, suggesting Clinton may only appoint someone like HP Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman as Secretary of Commerce, even though "commerce doesn’t regulate anything important." He was also not impressed by either candidate’s tech platform.

"She wants to take us back to 1990s, he wants to take us back to the 1890s," Tusk said. "Neither of them are particularly great."

We may find out more about Clinton and Trump’s tech views at the first 2016 presidential debate tonight.

You can listen to Recode Decode in the audio player above, or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

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