RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — As the hand counting of provisional and other ballots continues in Wake County to determine the fate of a big technology supporter in the state Senate, tech executives wait.

Tuesday’s elections already have changed the political landscape at the General Assembly. Republicans will share power in the House and have cut deeply into the Democrats’ huge majority in the Senate.

And if tech advocate Eric Reeves, a Democrat Senator from Raleigh, should be ousted by Republican Paul Coble when the hand count and a probably recount are over, the picture changes even more.

The change of power in Washington also has to be watched, particularly since Republicans are back in control of the Senate and have strengthened their grip on the House.

Jane Patterson, one of the state’s best-known high-tech advocates who served as science advisor to former Gov. Jim Hunt, says she will continue to work with leaders of both parties in her role as head of the Rural Internet Access Authority.

Dave Rizzo, who is chairman of the North Carolina Electronics and Information Technology Association and chief executive officer at MCNC, sees the changes as an opportunity — especially for MCNC.

“As a non-partisan organization, the Rural Internet Access Authority has a history of working with leaders from both political parties to help move the state’s technology initiatives forward,” Patterson says. “For example, in recent months, we have worked with both U.S. Senator John Edwards (Democrat) and U.S. Congressman Robin Hayes’ (Republican) offices on exciting technology-related announcements.

“We also have enjoyed the continued support of N.C. General Assembly leaders such as Sen. Virginia Foxx, Sen. Eric Reeves and Rep. Joe Tolson.

“Later this month, the authority’s work also will be featured during a media roundtable held by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Under Secretary Phil Bond in Washington, D.C. (Republicans control that group as well.)

“We look forward to working hand in hand with all our representatives at the state and national level – both Republican and Democrat – to advance the technology efforts of this state and, ultimately connect all North Carolinians to the Internet and a better future.”

NCEITA (which recently sent a delegation to Washington for consultations, meeting — and lobbying), the RIAA and its e-NC initiative, the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, the NC Biotechnology Center, the university system (which relies on the General Assembly and federal money for so much of its funding, especially for technology and research) and individual executives from Red Hat to BellSouth all know the climate is different.

Erskine Bowles was known as a big advocate for technology. What will Elizabeth Dole’s attitude be? Will she pay more attention to high-tech than Jesse Helms?

But this is not just a North Carolina issue.

Change in Georgia, South Carolina as well

Senator Fritz Hollins of South Carolina, for example, will soon lose chairmanship of telecommunications. There could be a sea change in the telco debate. Every telco will be following changes in Congress.

And Georgia’s new US Senator, Republican Saxby Chambliss, is at the forefront of homeland security issues — many of which involve technology. Georgia is a hotbed, for example, on network security firms. Think they will be calling on Chambliss?

Repbulicans also made major gains in state government in those two states. What opportunities might those changes create?

Locally, Rizzo has a lobbyist at MCNC and plans to use that lever to brief General Assembly members and others about what’s up in tech.

“I think any time you introduce substantive changes, there is an opportunity to go and educate people about your value proposition,” Rizzo says. “I think it is incumbent for MCNC and our constituents to march down to the Legislature and help them understand what we do is important not only for research but also for economic development.”

MCNC’s constituents are a powerful who’s who of tech players — the UNC system, Duke, the Biotech Center (which is working with MCNC and others on the still-unfunded Biogrid), and many more.

Tech issues up in air

Many tech issues need to be addressed in North Carolina. Bear in mind, the Democrats controlled the House, Senate and Governor’s office when many of the cuts in programs and policy decisions were made.

What will changes in leadership mean for the North Carolina Technological Development Authority, which really is on the governor’s hit list?

Will the state stay focused on cash grants and tax breaks to lure companies, or might the Legislature take a more innovative approach such as trying to create a better business climate and lower taxes overall?

What will happen to the new biotech training facility proposal?

And who will exercise oversight over the Golden LEAF Foundation’s biotech venture funding initiative, which already is taking some heat?

Given that the budget crisis isn’t getting better — at the state or federal level — what will the fallout be on university R&D and technology funding? Can the universities get money back that was cut for, as just one example, high-performance networking and computing services?

MCNC has patched together a deal to keep the Supercomputing Center open. But what happens if the state cuts networking funding again?

The Biotech Center’s budget has been cut two years running. What’s left to take?

NCEITA wants more tax credits and incentives for the tech industry. One bill was passed last year. But one can bet that some at the General Assembly already are looking for new taxes as they have in the past such as on software.

Showing a ROI

New faces don’t necessarily mean open checkbooks or automatic cuts. As Rizzo said, the universities and tech sector are well advised to present programs that show how “investments” will have a nice ROI for the feds and state in the form of new jobs, high-tech wage earners (three times that of average workers, and often more) and, of course, more tax revenues.

“The fact that more people down there in Raleigh haven’t heard the story about MCNC, I view as an opportunity,” Rizzo says. “I’m sure it will be fun.”

Critics on both sides of the aisle howled for years about MCNC, which was started by Hunt, receiving millions in funding. It’s now independent.

But when MCNC hit that home run with the $600 million Cronos spin-off and sale a couple years back, the General Assembly was among the first in line wanting a share of the money.

Rizzo, Smith and a lot of tech figures should be a common sight downtown — and in Congress. Tech leaders in Georgia and South Carolina will be tramping to state capitals there and DC as well. Change took place in all three states.

And Rizzo says he is ready to travel.

“I view, frankly, a substantial part of my job over the next year or so to reestablish the familiarity of elected officials with MCNC,” he says. “I think we’ve been ignored. I think MCNC is an incredible hidden jewel that this state could easily leveraged without a lot of money.

“The upside so outweighs the downside that it would be a shame to let what happens here atrophy.”

The same message can be made for much else of high tech.

Stay tuned.

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.