A recent survey of governors' State of the State addresses illuminates political priorities and the advancement of information technology as a major policy issue in the states.
After sifting through lofty quotes from former presidents, governors, poets and NFL coaches, one may not be surprised to find that most governors haven't fully grasped the digital revolution taking place around them. There are, however, a few notable exceptions.
The best examples include Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, Michael Leavitt of Utah, Benjamin Cayetano of Hawaii, James Gilmore of Virginia and Ed Schafer of North Dakota. It is clear that these state "CEOs" understand the opportunities presented by our transition into the Information Age.
"One hundred years ago," Ridge said, "Pennsylvania coal fueled the Industrial Revolution. This time, our technology can provide the fire."
In his State of the State address, Ridge touted his state's award-winning Web site, its leadership in Y2K and its exceptional Link-to-Learn program. Ridge has a grand vision for making Pennsylvania a leader in electronic commerce and offers a CyberStart program to harness the power of the Internet for preschoolers.
"The next century will be a time of supercomputers and smart highways," Leavitt said. "Digital television will be used for entertainment, but also for education. Microprocessors will be in our kitchens. We'll get the morning's Dow Jones on our toast."
Leavitt, a founding father of the Western Governors' University, remains on the cutting edge of technology, stressing "Webtone" as the future in citizen-service delivery.
"Hawaii will become a center for commerce employing a network of state-of-the-art technology touching every corner of the world," said Cayetano. As a Pacific Rim leader, Cayetano is committed to telemedicine, 21st century education and a robust telecommunications infrastructure to support global competitiveness. His vision is helping to move his financially beleaguered state into the Information Age.
"The Internet is the empowerment tool of the 21st century," Gilmore said. "It provides unlimited information and unlimited opportunities to improve every person's life."
Gilmore opened his speech by relaying best wishes from the first lady, who was participating in two distance-learning Webcasts from England. He also introduced groundbreaking Internet legislation and appointed the nation's first cabinet-level secretary of technology.
"Technology has eliminated many of the physical and geographical disadvantages that have historically held us back," Schafer said. "Technology can liberate North Dakota."
Schafer understands how technology can change his state's economic landscape, and he put forth an aggressive technology agenda for the new millennium.
While reading speeches is an imperfect method of obtaining precise gubernatorial positions, it is, however, a fascinating window into the minds of our leaders.
Some years ago, a Harvard study concluded that only 7 percent of elected officials felt that they understood technology well enough to make intelligent decisions about it. This is obviously changing. But even though there are a number of governors who view technology as a strategic tool for governance and delivery of service, there is plenty of room for improvement.
In this Information Age, we need to understand how technology will ultimately change government. And we need governors who will lead the way.
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