It’s a familiar story. A wealthy business person, actor, real estate mogul (you can fill in the blank here) isn’t happy with government and so runs for office. Sometimes they succeed -- President Trump and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- but often they fail. (See Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman).
Tech entrepreneur Sam Altman is taking a different tack. He’s the president of Y Combinator, an incubator that helps entrepreneurs start up their tech companies. After the presidential election, Altman went on a listening tour to meet voters across the Golden State. He’s also been meeting with policy experts, grass-roots activists and politicos. That has sparked reports that Altman might be considering a run for office.
“A lot of people have tried to convince me to run for governor,” Altman said in an interview with KQED. “ I think I can make a much better impact if I can find a slate of candidates to work together. I think it’s always hard for one person to make a change. I think it’s usually small groups that can do that, and so I’m trying to focus my efforts on this.”
“This” is the United Slate. Altman is looking to fund a slate of candidates to run in the 2018 California elections. He’s got a platform of 10 policy goals, among them tackling the housing crisis, universal health care and improving the education system to give students the skills they need for the future.
“I think we’re in the middle of a human socioeconomic revolution,” Altman said. “It will be as big, when we look back at it, as the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution. And this is the automation revolution. Software and artificial intelligence are going to work in this really fundamental way.”
Altman believes both state and federal government aren’t addressing these problems. At the same time, it can’t be missed that the United Slate’s platform is in line with the Democratic Party's. So why not just fund Democratic politicians who are already working on the policies?
“I think we will support some existing candidates,” Altman said. But “we are particularly interested in candidates who are already out there doing good work, but not the chosen ones of the existing party.”
Altman says the political parties have become too entrenched and beholden to wealthy donors, and in California to wealthy homeowners. He tells a joke to make his point.
“In California, you can vote for any Democrat you like as long as it’s the one the California Democratic Party chose for you,” Altman quipped. “And I don’t like that!”
Altman said that since launching the United Slate, he’s discovered that there are a number of people who have been working in government and have new ideas but haven’t been anointed by the Democratic Party. Without that backing, these people can’t raise enough money to run for office.
“They don’t have a fair shot,” he said. “I think there are plenty of people with experience in government who could be great ..."
But it’s not just candidates Altman is looking to back. Many of the issues outlined in the United Slate platform will need local buy-in. For example, housing. To this end, Altman said he’s also been talking to grass-roots organizations that are trying to make change locally or propose ballot measures.