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As senators weigh George W. Bush’s nomination of John Ashcroft for attorney general, the battle lines could not be starker. On one side is a liberal coalition of civil rights advocates, feminists and environmentalists outraged by Ashcroft’s arch-conservative political views. On the other side are GOP activists, the Christian right and the technology industry. The technology industry? Ashcroft’s rigid stands on abortion, civil rights and other hot-button issues may put him on the margins of American political thought. But the former Missouri senator, a Republican defeated for re-election last November, has long championed issues near and dear to the heart of technology executives. The Information Technology Association of America, whose members include companies from Amazon.com to ZapMe, has called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve Ashcroft swiftly, casting his nomination as a “win-win” for high-tech firms. “We’re simply looking at where he’s been for industry — that’s the bottom line,” says Connie Correll of the Information Technology Industry Council, whose staffers have telephoned senators to voice support for Ashcroft. Ashcroft’s tech-business record certainly is impressive. He drafted an early version of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act; he also voted to legitimize electronic signatures and raise the cap on visas for foreign tech workers. And the senator was one of the first to launch a congressional Web site in 1995. (His antitrust policy and attitude toward the Microsoft case remains unclear, however.) Given that background, tech executives are willing to overlook Ashcroft’s stands on social issues. But mindful that his nomination is becoming the most divisive presidential appointment since Ronald Reagan tried to put Robert Bork on the Supreme Court in 1987, technology leaders are muting their support for the Christian conservative outside the Beltway. Software executive John Virden admits Ashcroft’s embrace of the religious right’s agenda worries him — but not enough to override his economic interests. “My real focus is what’s he going to do for the industry,” says Virden, a VP at Categoric, a Virginia firm. Elliot Mincberg, general counsel for People for the American Way, a liberal group leading opposition to Ashcroft, called such a position shortsighted. “[Execs] should care because they’re human beings.” That view does not compute for Information Technology Association President Harris Miller: “On our issues, he’s a good friend.” Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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