Why Austin Tech Entrepreneur Joseph Kopser Might Run For Congress

Austin—Republicans have controlled Texas politics for so long that “we no longer have the good competition of ideas,” says Austin entrepreneur Joseph Kopser.

That’s why he says he’s considering becoming a Democratic challenger to incumbent Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, in the 2018 elections. Kopser, who founded and sold his startup, RideScout, to Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler AG in 2014, has increasingly involved himself in discussions about policy, transportation, workforce development, and education.

“We’ve enjoyed the ‘Texas Economic Miracle,’ but we can’t sustain our leadership and future growth if we don’t invest more in our people today,” Kopser wrote last week in a blog post announcing his potential candidacy.

To him, hyper-partisan rhetoric and a perpetual campaign-rally style of governing are significantly impeding progress on real issues.

“The reality is that the American Dream is at risk from three issues—a lack of leadership and sustained focus on training and education, a lack of bipartisan and multi-stakeholder commitment to reach consensus, and a consistent refusal to recognize that new economic forces are bringing new (not less) opportunity,” he wrote in a recent blog post announcing his potential candidacy. “And it’s going to get worse if we don’t apply resources and focus very soon.”

Kopser joins Shion Deysarkar, the founder of analytics startup Datafiniti, as Austin innovators eager to use their business and tech skills in the political realm. Last week, I spoke to Deysarkar about Blue Squad, an effort he co-founded to create a group of technologists who can offer their skills in data analytics, website creation, and other tech-related efforts to specifically help Texas Democratic party candidates.

Kopser says he first began thinking about running for public office during last year’s presidential race, adding that the Trump campaign—and now administration—has been going in a direction that “doesn’t represent the values of our country.”

Smith’s early support of Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions, as well as the representative’s view that Americans should only get their news from the White House, told Kopser that it was time to take a serious look at running himself. (Kopser says he hasn’t set a deadline for himself to decide. Election law requires that he formally file by December.)

“There is value in reading a lot of other sources of news to get a balanced approach and gain perspective,” he says. “Of course any politician wants to put a spin on their message but this is a new era with Trump. He seems to be separated or divorced from the truth, even when confronted with reality, and that is shocking.”

Smith “has been in office a very long time, and is not serving Central Texas well enough,” Kopser adds. “He doesn’t believe in facts, and he doesn’t want them reported.”

Kopser, a West Point graduate and former instructor, as well as a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army, says he believes there is a way to both support national security and also have a smart immigration policy, to support law enforcement while also advocating for merciful treatment for those in the criminal justice system. “You’re never going to find a bigger supporter of the military than me, and of course I want to stay engaged globally,” he says. “But I also think we should be using all the tools of diplomacy and the intelligence community along with the military might.”

Since Kopser announced his potential candidacy last week, he says he has received about $63,000 in pledge commitments and many encouraging messages, even from people who had assumed he was a Republican.

“If the messenger has credibility, you might sit and listen for a moment,” he says. “Maybe now when I start talking about issues of jobs and education and opportunity, they will see me more as a builder of consensus and less of a partisan hack that they will immediately shut off.”

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