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CA17: Honda mingles at Silicon Valley econ forum

I spied with my little eye: Rep. Mike Honda slapping backs, shaking hands and otherwise mingling with Silicon Valley’s business elite at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s Regional Economic Forum on Friday morning in Mountain View.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, took part in a panel discussion entitled, “How can Washington, D.C., help Silicon Valley succeed?” with Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton; former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm; SendHub.com CEO Garrett Johnson; ChargePoint vice president Dimitrios Papadogonas; and SunPower CEO Tom Werner. The moderator was Working Partnerships Executive Director Cindy Chavez, a former San Jose councilwoman, current Santa Clara County supervisorial candidate and longtime Honda ally.

They were speaking to about 400 local government and business leaders – key constituencies that Honda wants on his side as he faces an electoral challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, a former Obama administration official. Khanna’s campaign strategy depends in large part on convincing voters he’s more in touch with Silicon Valley’s needs than Honda.

Honda clearly tried to prove otherwise Friday as he talked on topics including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Outside, he insisted this isn’t a new cause for him – he said he started at least six or seven years ago, with bills to consolidate approximately $2 billion in STEM education grants that were spread across almost a dozen federal agencies, and to elevate STEM education to the level of a presidential committee.

He said he also has pushed for additional financial support to college students who want to teach STEM subjects, and for having more personnel with technology and corporate backgrounds working on Capitol Hill either as fully-paid interns or permanent staffers: “Most congresspeople don’t have a background in everything that you need.” And, he said, he wants President Obama’s push for universal preschool to include STEM education that starts in the pre-kindergarten to third-grade years – an earlier start to introduce a future workforce to the wonders of science.

Khanna – a former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Commerce Department – also has emphasized STEM education as a cornerstone of his campaign, but has suggested that Honda is late to the party on this issue.

My chat with Honda was briefly interrupted by Palo Alto Councilman Marc Berman, who greeted the congressman with a hug and a vow of support. Honda said Berman had been a student volunteer for his first House campaign, back in 2000.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.