Journey of a Capital Insider From Hill To Valley
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
WOODSIDE, Calif. -- Here, he's from another planet. Here in Silicon Valley, David Kralik is, let's face it, some strange import. That's why he's attracting such buzz one recent afternoon inside Buck's, the legendary eatery, while lunching on a pulled-pork sandwich.
Jamis MacNiven, Buck's owner, plops himself down and blurts out: "So you're the guy that works for Newt the Snoot!"
Yep, that's Kralik. A lifelong Republican in the land of liberal Democrats. Who relocated from uptight, Brooks Brothers Washington. And works for Newt Gingrich.
Then after giving an abbreviated history of Buck's (Hotmail, Netscape, PayPal, et al., scribbled their first business plans here; Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison and Al Gore stop by sometimes), MacNiven goes for the kill: "You seem like a nice person, so take my advice," he tells Kralik. "Lie about your politics, and you'll come to the right -- oops, the left-- thinking in time."
Kralik is silent, smiling so tightly his jaw looks as if it's going to fall off. Speechless is not a state he's usually in. Outside Buck's a few minutes later, he says it wasn't the first time he's heard the slight. Won't be the last. "I just shrug it off," says the 28-year-old. "It's not about Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. I'm here to learn."
Kralik is a probe of sorts, a vanguard of a small but growing Washington consensus that the federal government -- not just its elected officials but also its middle bureaucrats -- can learn from Silicon Valley's ethos. Its creative, entrepreneurial drive. Its consumer-driven, my-product-is-better-than-your-product spirit. Its technological know-how.
Once a House page when Gingrich was speaker, Kralik is now director of Internet strategy for Gingrich's new "tripartisan" nonprofit, American Solutions for Winning the Future. The group aims to move beyond partisanship and tackle issues -- government accountability, education, etc. -- with the help of the Internet.
Kralik is Gingrich's point man in the Valley, arriving nearly five months ago. He describes himself as a bridge between "a world that works: the Valley" and "a world that doesn't: Washington." The political gridlock. The circular bureaucracies. What Kralik fails to mention is that the Valley, too, has its faults, its own shortcomings. It's a bubble. And, just a few years ago, the bubble burst.
But technology is irrepressibly changing politics. The 2008 presidential campaign has buried any doubt. Its impact, Kralik knows, goes beyond whichever party wins the White House and Congress in November. It will continually affect how people interact with their government, Kralik explains, and what they expect from their officials, and when.
"That's why I'm here now," says Kralik, who lived in Washington for 10 years. "This is the new world."
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A cross between political junkie and tech geek, he's the kind of guy who sends an e-mail at 2 a.m. and follows up at 8. Talks so fast he swallows his consonants. And text-messages while driving. A guy who remembers his very first computer ("a Tandy 1000, with a monochrome green screen"). Who lives it up on fantasy role-playing video games.