'I'm Going to Unleash the Brains': Top GOP Recall Challenger Larry Elder on Big Tech

Harri Weber

Harri is dot.LA's senior finance reporter. She previously worked for Gizmodo, Fast Company, VentureBeat and Flipboard. Find her on Twitter and send tips on L.A. startups and venture capital to harrison@dot.la.

Larry Elder

Gov. Gavin Newsom is holding onto a narrow lead, but if he fails to rally apathetic Democratic voters in the fast-approaching recall election, the Republican frontrunner could upend the state's outlook on the tech industry.

Newsom, who grew up a stone's throw from Silicon Valley and who brought in a former Google executive into his administration, is facing a leading competitor who believes "big tech is after us and what we believe in." If he's ousted by a Republican, the next governor could even tip the balance of the U.S. Senate should 88-year-old Diane Feinstein have to bow out. She's only half way through her six-year term.

It's no wonder Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings and other tech leaders like former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer are collectively doling out millions to fight the $276 million recall.

Newsom's challengers are largely Republican, and polls say Republican voters are more motivated to vote come September 14. Among the GOP, two recent polls show Black conservative talk show host Larry Elder, who has stoked outrage over his views on women in the workplace and systemic racism, is leading others in the race to oust the Democratic governor.

He is followed by former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and perennial candidate and attorney John Cox — two candidates who appear to have little to say on the matter of big tech. The same polls show reality-TV star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner trailing far behind. A third poll shows Elder ranking second, behind Democrat and 29-year-old millionaire YouTuber Kevin Paffrath, who's pitched himself as a centrist alternative.

Elder's coronavirus-focused campaign has called for unwinding existing coronavirus restrictions. It's blasted pandemic-era state and federal relief programs and pointed to the many failings of the Employment Development Department (EDD). Elder's website is comparably sparse on other topics, briefly touching on school choice and lowering taxes. And he has shown little interest in defining substantial policies.

Where does the current leading GOP candidate stand on tech, the industry that's swelled to define much of the sunshine state? Elder's comments run the gamut, from vowing to "unleash the brains" in Silicon Valley to tweeting that big tech wants to "destroy" conservatives' income and "cancel" them.

That's in stark contrast to Newsom, who literally wrote a book called "How to Take the Town Square Digital." The former San Francisco mayor campaigned on expanding early access to computer science education and boosting broadband infrastructure. Recently he's leaned on big tech to power the state's response to COVID-19, allegedly hampering state and local health departments in the process, per Protocol.

To get a glimpse of what a victory by Elder, who has never held public office but fancies himself the "sage of South Central," would mean for the tech sector, we took a look at the leading GOP candidate's statements to date on Silicon Valley, YouTube, Google, Russian bots, workers' rights and more. Elder, who has shown a distaste for mainstream press, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

"I'm Going to Unleash the Brains"

In an interview with the "San Joaquin Valley Sun" earlier this month, Elder said he'd lean on Silicon Valley's "brainiacs" to solve the state's water crisis.

"Israel is water self sufficient, so is Dubai. Israel sits on the coast of a little body of water known as the Mediterranean. We have a little body of water known as the Pacific Ocean," he said "Why we can't [sic] figure out how to become water self-sufficient when we have all these brainiacs in Silicon Valley. So I'm going to unleash the brains and the technology and use the bully pulpit to explain to people why we need to do this."

He may have a tough time. While humans have removed salt from water for thousands of years, wide-scale desalination is an energy-intensive process with serious drawbacks. Among them: high costs, harm to marine life and emissions from plants powered by fossil fuels. But this statement response is typical of Elder, who rarely delves into the finer points of issues.

"Big Tech Is After Us"

Elder has contributed to sites known for misinformation, and the candidate says he has been demonized by big tech. In a tweet about his account being limited by YouTube, Elder promoted a subscription to his now-defunct homegrown video site and said, "Big Tech is after us and what we believe in. They want to destroy our income because they want to cancel us!"

Elder's video site, LarryTube.com, has since merged with the Epoch Times' video site. The Falun-Gong backed Epoch Times has relied heavily on Facebook to build its large subscriber base and has been criticized for misinformation campaigns.

While claims that social media companies are biased against conservatives lackevidence, Elder has covered the topic extensively, including on YouTube and in his columns.

Similarly, on YouTube this past April, Elder decried Twitter's decision to ban former President Trump from its platform. In his buttery talk-radio voice — a foil to Newsom's Will Arnett-esque gravel — he said: "You think Americans are too stupid to figure out when somebody's telling the truth or when somebody's lying."

On Russian Bots

Elder is skeptical of Russian interference in the election. In a 2018 column titled "Russian Bots vs. Media/Academia/Hollywood — Which Had A Bigger Impact On The Election?," Elder downplayed the impact of fake accounts that were created to promote election misinformation. He wrote, "Whatever influence Russia may have had on the elections is dwarfed by the 'collusion' of the largely anti-GOP media, academia and Hollywood. If the right dominated these fields, congressional Democrats would demand hearings."

On the EDD's "Antiquated Technology"

Elder wants to revamp the website for the Employment Development Department, which doles out Californian's unemployment benefits. Elder's campaign site devotes special attention to the EDD, which has struggled with a vast backlog of unemployment claims and failed to detect an estimated $31 billion in fraud. In one paragraph, the candidate pledged to revamp the agency's technology and "promote public-private partnerships."

"As governor, I would revamp the EDD's antiquated technology, which created an unprecedented backlog and the absurdity of the agency not being able to automatically process some half of its claims online at the height of the pandemic. Gavin Newsom wants to simply throw more money at the problem. I will implement structural reforms to remove roadblocks to efficiency in the EDD's IT system and across the state government. That means promoting public-private partnerships and overhauling the state government's cumbersome procurement process, which currently favors Sacramento insiders over easy access to innovation."

On Women's Rights and Venture Capital

Elder thinks mothers are a business risk. In his book, "Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies, and the Special Interests that Divide America," Elder wrote, "Are there legitimate business reasons for a venture capitalist to ask a female entrepreneur whether and when she intends to have children? Hell, yes."

"Call it protecting an investment," the candidate said in the 2002 book.

On Reddit and Gamestonks

Elder suggests that the trading app Robinhood allows gambling. In another YouTube video, Elder commented on the Reddit-driven meme stock craze, saying, "I've been trying to understand this Gamestop thing, and how it's been characterized as 'David versus Goliath.' I am a big fan of investing in the stock market. I'm a big fan of believing in America. I believe in investing. I don't believe in gambling. This strikes me as gambing."

There Should Be "a Conservative Google"

Elder doesn't appear to support the antitrust case against Google.

When social media companies limited the reach of a "New York Post" story on Hunter Biden, Elder said in a Fox News interview: "It's an outrage. It's akin to making an in-kind campaign contribution — the way that Google admitted that they restricted the New York Post story [...] This is absolutely outrageous and all of these big tech companies are in bed with the Biden administration and they want Donald Trump to go down."

He continued, commenting on the Justice Department's antitrust case against Google:

"I've never been fond of government busting up large corporations. The larger the corporation typically the more arrogant it gets, the more dismissive it becomes of its consumers, and that's what you've got here. In the past, when the government's gone after big companies like IBM, like Microsoft, it's been because their competitors have complained.

"In this case the consumers are complaining, and it seems to me the response ought to be a conservative Google. There ought to be some sort of conservative alternatives. And there is an alternative to Twitter, it's called Parlor, and I joined that a few days ago. And it seems to me [..] we ought to be coming up with our own alternatives for search engines and social media platforms, so we don't have to run the risk of being screwed by these people who hate our guts."

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Two LA Startups Participate in Techstars 2023 Health Care Accelerator

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Two LA Startups Participate in Techstars 2023 Health Care Accelerator
Courtesy of Techstars

Earlier this month, Techstars announced that their 2023 accelerator program will have two simultaneous cohorts–Techstars health care and L.A. As previously reported on dot.LA, Techstars has brought on board returning partners Cedars Sinai, United Healthcare, along with new partners that include UCI Health and Point32Health for its health care cohort.

“For our healthcare program, this is the first time we've had multiple partners as sponsors,” Managing Director Matt Kozlov said. “This allows us to support and mentor a wider diversity of companies than we've been able to help historically.”

The in-person program is taking place in Los Angeles and two out of the twelve companies accepted into the health care program are based in Southern California.

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The Creator-To-Podcaster Pipeline Is Ready to Explode

Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a freelance reporter with dot.LA. They previously worked at Protocol writing the Source Code newsletter and at the L.A. Business Journal covering tech and aerospace. They can be reached at nat@dot.la.
The Creator-To-Podcaster Pipeline Is Ready to Explode
Evan Xie

It’s no secret that men dominate the podcasting industry. Even as women continue to grow their foothold, men still make up many of the highest-earning podcasts, raking in massive paychecks from ad revenue and striking deals with streaming platforms worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But a new demographic is changing that narrative: Gen-Z female influencers and content creators.

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NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.