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Can anyone defeat the Internet’s biggest enemy in Congress?
A relatively unknown Democrat is campaigning in part on Internet freedom in attempt to counter Republican Lamar Smith.
Lamar Smith is the No. 1 “Enemy of the Internet,” at least according to Google search results.
The Texas Republican, who since 1987 has represented the 21st district, around San Antonio, is author and face of the notorious Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), an anti-piracy bill that many feared would, by making it easy for the government to shutter any site that linked to copyrighted content, “break the Internet.”
Though SOPA died in January after an enormous online protest against it, Smith initially promised to retool the bill and has been unapologetic about the fact that the same pro-copyright industry groups that pushed for SOPA, like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), give him hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in campaign contributions. In April, Smith claimed that not only was the bill not really a threat to Internet freedom in the U.S., but that people were “simply overwhelmed by that misinformation.”
SOPA was the bill that caught everybody’s attention, but Smith has an almost comical record of opposing various forms of Internet freedom. In September, he introduced the FISA Amendment Act, which allows the government to continue monitoring Americans’ email activity without a warrany. And back in July, he authored a bill that would force Internet service providers to store records of users’ activity—in the off chance that law enforcement could use that information if those people happen to commit a crime—though Smith later removed those provisions from the bill. And though he didn’t play a leadership role, he voted for the Cyber Intelligence Security Protection Act (CISPA), a bill the the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Trevor Timm described to the Daily Dot as a “privacy nightmare.”
But can anyone beat him?
Smith is so disliked that during primary season this spring, a group of redditors—the catchphrase for users of social news site Reddit—tried to combat the copyright lobby’s political money with a fund of their own called TestPAC. Though it raised $35,000, it spent all of that on flyers, billboards, and TV spots to try to get Smith to lose in the Republican primaries. It didn’t work, despite attempts from other conservatives interested in Smith’s seat, most notably from Reddit favorite Sheriff Richard Mack.
So now, Smith’s only threat to reelection is Democrat Candace Duval, who has little political experience and, like Smith’s primary candidates, comes across as campaigning on a platform of not being Lamar Smith. TestPAC isn’t offering her any support, referring to her as “kooky” and noting that a since-scrubbed line in her LinkedIn profile gave praise to her psychic healer.
Smith has largely ignored Duval during the campaign. (Smith’s campaign also didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.) In response, Duval’s tried to hit him on areas she thinks he’s weak, like with women voters, and has played up pro-Internet stances, like participating in a middling Ask Me Anything session with redditors and pledging her support for “Net Neutrality and the freedom of the Internet” in a paragraph on her website.
Moreover, on Thursday, Duval signed the Declaration of Internet Freedom, a simple, five-point document promising to stand for a free and open Internet. Joining one senator, five members of the House, and a single state senator, Duval is believed to be the first political newcomer to sign the Declaration in opposition to an incumbent.
The candidates’ results are well summed-up by their Facebook pages. Duval’s has 754 likes, and most of the content of her page is remarking on small campaign events. Smith’s has more than 9,000, but it’s littered with critics offering remarks like “No one has forgot SOPA, btw, you nut. Retire,” and “What a pice of work he is… Please vote and make Lammar Smith jobless nov 6.”
A Duval win is unlikely but not impossible. Texas is a solidly conservative state, and the 21st district hasn’t sent a Democrat to Congress since 1979. Redistricting for the 2012 election means the 21st district now includes a portion of liberal Austin. And Duval’s campaign is optimistic that a Libertarian Candidate actually named John Henry Liberty will draw about 7 percent of Libertarian-leaning Republicans’ votes.
“A perfect storm is the perfect way to put it. It has unfolded step by step,” Duval wrote on Reddit about what it would take for her to win on Tuesday.
“I plan to win,” she insisted.
A former senior politics reporter for the Daily Dot, Kevin Collier focuses on privacy, cybersecurity, and issues of importance to the open internet. Since leaving the Daily Dot in March 2016, he has served as a reporter for Vocativ and a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed.