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VC explains why Silicon Valley will be disappointed by a Clinton presidency

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a keynote address during the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women on February 24, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.
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Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a keynote address during the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women on February 24, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.

Even though she's widely preferred over her rival by the tech industry, Silicon Valley shouldn't get too excited about the prospect of Hillary Clinton in the White House, said one well-known venture capitalist.

If she prevails over Donald Trump next month, her cabinet and office appointments are likely to be less concerned with helping tech than pleasing specific democratic constituencies, whose interests often conflict with Silicon Valley, said investor Bradley Tusk, CEO of Tusk Holdings.

Some of the big issues Silicon Valley wants addressed include immigration reform, new regulations for autonomous vehicles, and worker reclassification to jumpstart the so-called gig economy, said Tusk, a former aide to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who now specializes in helping startups navigate regulatory environments.

The first issue — visa reform to allow more high-skilled workers into the U.S. — is unlikely to come quickly, because Democrats in Congress will push for comprehensive immigration reform, Tusk said, a much bigger legislative endeavor that failed when it was last introduced in Congress in 2007.

Companies like Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft need a lot of engineering talent, and would like to see the government issue more H-1B visas to let more workers into the U.S. and allow them to stay.

"I think they're going to have trouble on that issue," said Tusk.

Opposition from trucking industry unions, insurance companies and some auto manufacturers means Clinton will not prioritize new regulations to promote autonomous driving, he said. The last thing many tech companies want is a long drawn-out process to establish new regulations in this area, Tusk said. (Tusk, incidentally, is an investor in Uber, one of the companies working on autonomous cars.)

Union opposition to worker reclassification makes Clinton unlikely to implement changes that would benefit companies that operate in the gig economy, Tusk said. Both of these areas may yet see regulatory progress on the state level, but tech companies would prefer federal guidance.

Though he expects Clinton to appoint an insider from the technology world to her cabinet, it is unlikely to be to a position with any regulatory authority — like Secretary of Commerce — and thus will result in little meaningful changes for the tech sector, he said.

Some people that are rumored in Silicon Valley to be in the running for a cabinet appointment include Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, HP CEO Meg Whitman, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Mary Meeker, Tusk said. (Sanberg, however said at a conference on Tuesday that she has no plans to work in government.)


Even more, some cabinet appointments could wind up being hostile to tech, Tusk said.

Clinton will almost certainly appoint a left wing Secretary of Labor — to appease Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren supporters — making federal progress on a new worker classification almost impossible, he said. Uber and others would be forced then to negotiate with individual states, which they find much more burdensome, he said.

The Secretary of Transportation will likely become the most important figure in Washington for tech, given both the Federal Aviation Administration's jurisdiction over drones and autonomous vehicle regulations, said Tusk. That appointment is also likely to be a political one rather than someone from the tech industry, making desired reforms less likely, he said.

Clinton's support on the campaign trail for some things the tech world cares deeply about — like strong encryption — was likely cultivated to lure tech donors and voters, rather than to reflect strong beliefs, said Tusk. Ultimately, when faced with a crisis in which security and privacy seem to be at odds, she is likely to side with the government over tech companies, he said.

For example, when faced with a similar situation such as the Apple versus FBI case, Clinton is likely to side with the FBI once she is in office, he said.