WTN Interview: Senator Ted Kanavas

WTN Interview: Senator Ted Kanavas

Software and political expertise motivates Wisconsin’s State Senator to trim state government and grow the economy using technology tools and services.

“We want to stimulate venture capital investment in the state by granting tax credits to qualified venture funds as well as expand the Department of Commerce’s CAPCO program. Overall we want to create a bi-partisan effort to pass an end-to-end economic package that leverages public and private capital and makes it easier to do business in the state. There are people in this state that believe in the big government model. I don’t! I think that the best way to grow this state and the best way to provide for the state is with a limited government model.” State Senator Ted Kanavas

Madison, WI – Wisconsin State Senator Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield) representing Wisconsin’s 33rd District, demonstrates an intense level of dedication as well as technology experience and expertise that is well suited for Wisconsin’s reform and growth of the state economy.

The Wisconsin Technology Network had the opportunity to Interview Senator Kanavas at his State Capital office regarding his technology background, visions and recommendations for how Wisconsin can grow its economy and a new industry. The interview will be presented in two parts. Kanavas is open and not bashful about his feelings on bloated government staffing, and the lack of technology integration and information delivery systems that will help control government costs.

Kanavas was born in 1961 and raised in Brookfield. He and his wife Mary, along with their three children, Kelly, Nick and Kate, reside in Brookfield.

Kanavas majored in political science at the University of Wisconsin, where he gained his first experience in elective politics. Kanavas was an aide for Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. He spent long hours driving the Congressman to and from town meetings, learning what it takes to be a dedicated public servant.

In 1990, then Governor Tommy Thompson appointed Kanavas to the Department of Administration. After his appointment ended, Kanavas joined Brookfield-based Harris Data, a manufacturing-management system software company, where he earned salesman of the year honors three times. He also gained valuable insight into how manufacturers grow their businesses and manage their enterprises.

Kanavas brings his technology expertise with him to his new job as State Senator. He has been a very active member of the legislature pushing for new technology adoption for the state to run a more efficient and effective government. He also is a strong proponent of eliminating obstacles for the growth of a technology sector in Wisconsin.

Part 1: Software Expertise helps Senator to trim government and to grow the economy

WTN: How were you involved in the software industry prior to becoming a state senator?

Kanavas: I attended Pepperdine Law School in California and was doing political work for the Republican Party. After retuning back to Wisconsin in 1991, I became involved with Harris Data in Brookfield Wisconsin. Harris Data is enterprise resource software developer that supplies the mid-size company market. I joined the company in sales and was salesman of the year a number of times. Harris grew like crazy, like other software companies during the ‘90s. I left Harris Data in 1997, and then went back to work there last year to assist in sales outside of Wisconsin. I’ve been with them a couple of stretches. Harris Data has always been a great company to work for.

In 1995, I co-founded Premier Software Technologies (with the permission of Harris Data) with Tom Dayton and John Vandenburg from California. We started selling a metadata repository and intelligent middleware solutions. It was a toolkit for developers. We had some good success as we sold it to companies like GE Medical, Hewlett Packard and Intel. We licensed the technology from HP. (Where Tom and John had worked) In return HP received their licensing royalties and services provided back to them for years. We grew the company from an idea to a company and within five years, Premier grew into a multi-million dollar company the year it was sold. I sold my interest in the company in 1999 and Tom and John sold the company in 2000 to Active Software.

In 2000, I joined a California-based media messaging company called MindArrow Systems. Our clients included the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and various sports franchises, Accenture, Baxter Healthcare and Kawasaki. Shortly after I was elected to the State Senate, I left MindArrow because the job required me to frequently travel outside of the district. I then re-joined Harris Data as Senior Sales Executive and still work with them outside Wisconsin.

WTN: What was your first experience in politics?

Kanavas: I started first as an intern and then staff person for Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. Then I went to work for (during the mid-eighties) Tommy Thompson as Waukesha co-chair of his 86 campaign.

While working in the software industry, I was on the Elmbrook School Board, where I served as Chairman of the Finance, Operations and Technology committees for three years from 1999-2002. I ran for the Senate in 2001 during a special election and won.

In 1990, I worked for the Thompson administration at the Department of Administration on the redistricting project. In 2001, I was elected State Senator in a special election.

WTN: What conditions led to that special election?

Kanavas: In March 2001, Margaret Farrow was the state senator in my district. When Tommy Thompson left for Washington to join the Bush administration, Farrow became the first women Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin and was appointed by Governor McCallum.

WTN: After a successful career in the software industry what made you decide to run for the vacant state senate position?

Kanavas: I did this as I was watching Chuck Chvala and the way he was running the senate. Chuck was an obstructionist trying to prevent any kind of help for companies like Midwest Airlines. He stopped a great deal of initiatives that were put forth by republicans who were trying to build the states economy. So I was ran for senate for three reasons:

1) To win back republican control of the senate so we could take Chvala out of power.

2) To work to clean up the states budget as we are in a massive deficit situation

3) To Grow the Wisconsin Economy

WTN: Have you met your campaign goals?

Kanavas: We won back the state senate in 2002. We are finishing up the process of cleaning up the state budget without raising taxes. I am Co-Chair along with Senator Stepp on the Senate’s Economic Development, Job Creation, and Housing Committee. This summer we are working on the entire Wisconsin economic growth package to stimulate Wisconsin’s economy.

WTN: What does the economic growth package include?

Kanavas: It includes regulatory relief hearings that will begin August 5 that will include discussion on how we change some of the regulations placed on business by the states burdensome regulatory climate. We also want to hold and drive down property taxes.

On August 19, I will Co-Chair a select committee hearing on job creation in the state. We want drive up wages and make it easier for start-ups to do business in Wisconsin.

On August 26, we will hold hearing about deregulation of broadband access to provide more Wisconsin businesses with access to high-speed Internet access.

We want to stimulate venture capital investment in the state by granting tax credits to qualified venture funds as well as expand the Department of Commerce’s CAPCO program. Overall we want to create a bi-partisan effort to pass an end-to-end economic package that leverages public and private capital and makes it easier to do business in the state.

WTN: How does your proposed plan differ from Governor Doyle’s?

Kanavas: I do not think they are different. They are in fact very similar and that’s why we are trying to get the legislature and governor to work together on this. We think that there is more synergy than difference here. Everyone is interested in the same objective, which is to take great Wisconsin ideas and keep them here at home rather than exporting those ideas and the people with them, to California, Texas and other places. The Governors committee is less partisan and more of a “think tank” approach. There are going to be many good ideas talked about. But, whenever you have about 40 people working on a committee, it is very difficult say that these are the singular proposals we are going to pass in order to get something done. So, I think the Governor’s task force, like most of them, will have great ideas that will end up in a report being issued. We are not interested in reports; we are going to pass legislation.

WTN: What is your model for state government?

Kanavas: There are people in this state that believe in the big government model. I don’t! I think that the best way to grow this state and the best way to provide for the state is with a limited government model. Thomas Jefferson articulated that to generations of people when he stared writing about it. The idea is that you want a limited government you have to have fewer laws and taxes that support that government entity. So if we limit that focus and we provide the environment for growth, then we are going to have an economy that will be vibrant and diverse.

WTN: How can technology impact state government?

Kanavas: During the meetings of the Committee of Joint Finance, I had a proposal that would allow us to adopt a statewide computer systems to establish a performance-based budgeting system. We need a statewide budget and management system (computer based) so we can do what e-Government promised. I said to DOA, “Put your money where your mouth is. Let’s actually do what this is all about.” What we were trying to do with E-Government was to get business practices applied to state government and reduce the overall cost of the IT model. And at the same time we need technology integration and cost saving applications to increase government efficiency. We don’t have data marts in Wisconsin government. We don’t have knowledge-based enterprise systems and customer facing portal that allow access to information and insight. In the private sector of big business it’s a matter of course and now required for the private sector under Sarbanes Oxley for IT governance. That’s what we need to do. We have to pull productivity out of the model. I helped pass this legislation on a 12-4 vote and then the Governor vetoed it.

The DOA and executive branch thought that it was meddling by the legislature. They said, “Don’t mandate how we should behave.” The response was, “We know what’s best and we will take it from here. Don’t mandate how we should behave an executive branch.” I came to them as a partner on this initiative and they actually wanted it in. And they ended up vetoing it. It was a mixed message from the executive branch, as usual. They have had a very tortured life with the legislature so far, which is too bad.

We should be moving back in the direction of electronic government. And we should have a powerful CIO. The problem with government is that unless they have to be forced to change, they will not change. That’s what happened here. Secretary of Administration (DOA) Marotta told me that they (the administration) were going to make some of these vetoes so as to give them more flexibility to implement them. He (Gov. Doyle) just killed them (DOA) with kindness because unless you tell these agencies that they have to deal with these problems, they won’t. Inertia takes over just like it does in any organization and unless there is a change that is mandated on them, they don’t change.

WTN: What states have done a good job of implementing technology?

Kanavas: There are some states that have started and are doing very well. Take a look at states like Tennessee where they implemented data marts and where they have real opportunities for people instead of sending out three books of facts about a question they have. In these states they can go to a web site or portal and get the information themselves. We need to make government consumer-friendly and smaller and give consumers more helpful tools with ease of access to achieve this. We just have not done this here in our state government.

WTN: What is your opinion of the state’s new budget?

Kanavas: I serve on the Committee of Joint Finance, which is the committee that is responsible for the state budget. We just finished probably the most difficult budget process in the history of the state. We have the $3.2 billion dollar deficit that we promised to fill without raising taxes. We did it. Then the Governor spun around and vetoed part of what we did — the freeze on local property tax. The idea that I am describing is that Governor Jim Doyle passed a $400 million dollar problem to the local governments and said, “I expect you to do the right thing.” That is not what you are supposed to do. What you are supposed to do is if you have a $400 million dollar cut, you have to make it up at the level of government that you are responsible for. So Doyle should have cut something else to cut $400 Million and not pass that problem along.

WTN: We hear that the Department of Revenue is targeting IT companies for back taxes. Is that true? Can you provide some background?

Kanavas: Yes. They are. There are some taxes on services in the state and they want to start applying them to a new category: IT services. What’s happened is that there has been a very strong push by people like myself to make sure that we don’t tax growing industries. Whether it’s sales tax collection for business conducted over the Internet or IT services, there has been a push by the Department of Revenue to tax IT services. So if you have an IT consulting company that is doing $1 million a year in sales, please forward 7% to the state. My objective is to prohibit that from occurring. The reason is you don’t want to tax businesses that you are trying to grow. People are looking for new ways to collect more revenue. The Department of Revenue is saying, “Look we think this a potential cash cow, so let’s just pass this tax and then we can spread the burden of growing Wisconsin’s government across a broader tax base.” I don’t want to grow the size of our government and if you have the revenue, you will spend it. That’s Wisconsin!”

WTN: What are some examples of why the state’s economy is hurting?

Kanavas: One of the problems with economy is that we are manufacturing top-heavy. It is an industry segment that has struggled and will continue to struggle because of the world dynamics. We have a responsibility to slow down the decline in manufacturing with a single sales tax factor while at the same time ramping up these new types of intellectual property-based jobs that are anything from consulting opportunities to software to biotech companies to publishing companies that use a great deal of intellectual property. IP is still the largest export in this country, by far. Wisconsin has become an exporter of people. We have to stop the exodus of quality people and quality ideas. We have to make it attractive to build those kinds of companies here. That is the whole genesis of this “Grow Wisconsin” initiative.

Kanavas currently serves on the Joint Committee on Finance, the Senate Transportation and Information Infrastructure Committee, the Senate Health, Children, Families, Aging and Long Term Care Committee. He is also a member of the Joint Legislative Council Committee on Public and Private Broadband, the State Fair Park Boa
rd and the Council on Highway Safety. He can be reached at Sen.Kanavas@legis.state.wi.us .