NN13: Progressives not so hot on Ro Khanna

Here at Netroots Nation, the annual convention of liberal online activists that’s now under way at the San Jose Convention Center, I just had a casual sit-down with Democracy for America Chairman Jim Dean.

Also joining us was Charles Chamberlain, who’ll rejoin DFA as executive director in August after finishing his stint leading Progressive Congress, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s foundation arm.

DFA is the national grassroots group and PAC that grew out of the 2004 presidential campaign of dean’s brother, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean – who also briefly dropped by our chat today, but didn’t stick around.

Jim Dean said he relishes Netroots Nation – where bloggers, petitioners, organizers and all kinds of online activists are bustling from seminar to panel discussion to exhibit hall now through Saturday night – because he gets face time with “people who are from places where things are difficult” for liberals, from Alaska to Florida.

“It’s a great way to better understand the work that other people are doing and to figure out how to leverage that,” he said, getting “a global view of all the different things – you want to do all of them, but you can’t.”

Dean said DFA tries to balance issue work with election campaigns to make the most of both. Right now the focus in Congress is on student loan interest rates and protecting Social Security and Medicare, while down in the states, things like fracking and campaign finance reform are taking center stage. But by later this year, he said, DFA will start drilling down into specific state and congressional races for 2014.

Here in Silicon Valley, Dean and Chamberlain said, DFA will be taking a close look at former Obama administration official Ro Khanna’s Democrat-on-Democrat challenge of Rep. Mike Honda – and that’s not good news for Khanna.

“Nothing is worse than a Democrat that’s ‘Republican lite,’” Chamberlain said, singling Honda, D-San Jose, and freshman Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Springs, for praise. “I can’t imagine we’ll stay out of either of those races.”

We talked about how Jeremy Bird – Obama’s national field director last year – is now helping to run Khanna’s campaign, even thought Obama and most other prominent Democrats have endorsed Honda. They know Bird, who cut his campaign teeth in part on Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign; they questioned why he’s working for Khanna now, and we discussed the “Silicon Valley wants to hack Washington” narrative that Khanna’s campaign is offering.

“I think the word ‘hack’ is probably right,” Chamberlain with an eye-roll. (UPDATE: I’ve been asked to clarify that he’s talking about Khanna there, not Bird.) “Look, everybody has to make decisions about who they’ll support … but this is a really questionable decision – the president has endorsed Honda, he’s a great progressive. It’s really shocking to me that anyone who considers themselves to be a progressive would be on the opposite side of this campaign.”

Jim Dean made it clear that DFA has made no endorsement yet. But when he looks at Khanna, he said, “I’m looking at a guy who can raise a lot of money, but it almost seems he’s running for office just because he can.”

Bird is presenting later today at a panel on “The New 50-State Strategy: Keeping Our Edge in the Ground Game,” and Khanna has a booth reserved in the exhibit hall and a press availability scheduled for tomorrow; Honda is scheduled to be on stage during tonight before U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., gives a keynote speech. We’ll see how all of them are welcomed.

UPDATE @ 4:18 P.M. FRIDAY: Khanna fires back.

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.

  • Independent Voter

    interesting. I know many strong progressives in the district who are supporting Khanna. Khanna opposed the war and has a very progressive stance on social issues. Dean and Chamberlain are a couple of old-time party hacks who are too short-sighted to think about the future and direction of Silicon Valley. All of these national endorsements for Honda don’t really matter at the end of the day. It comes down to the local support. The DFA would be stupid, stupid, stupid to get involved in this race. If they really want to win back the House, they should focus on winning back seats from Republican strongholds. What is laughable is the state of denial much of the national Democratic Party is in. Congress’ approval rating is around 14%. The majority of voters have NO confidence in the government. Congress is broken and there is just no denying that. Instead of protecting all of these incumbents like Honda year after year, they should really be focused on cleaning House…literally. Honda may vote the right way in many progressives’ minds, but he really doesn’t lead. I can’t think of any significant bill that he has written or sponsored that has actually passed. In fact, Congress had only passed 10 bills this year as of the end of May. Unless they pass a bill every other day without taking another recess, this session of Congress will be known as the least productive Congress in history. Time for some new blood and to invest in a new generation of leaders. Say what you want about Khanna, but I have a hunch he will make a huge impact once he gets into Congress. He will actually lead and make a huge outside-the-box difference. All of the major tech leaders in Silicon Valley think so as well. I think it’s time for the party to get their heads out of their arses and start listening for a change. Just my two cents.

  • Shobana Ramamurthi

    I’m glad that Dean and Chamberlain said that they will be taking a close look at former Obama administration official Ro Khanna, because if they take the time to know the candidate and what he stands for they will be singing a different tune.
    Ro Khanna has strongly represented progressive ideas and values. He was totally against Iraq war, he ran against Tom Lantos just for that reason. He is for immigration reform, marriage equality, women’s right to choose, affordable quality education for all, creating stable work environment for middle class families and many more. If these are not progressive values, I don’t know what else is.

    What troubles me the most in Chamberlain’s comment is, “Nothing is worse than a Democrat that’s ‘Republican lite,’”. There is absolutely no evidence to back a comment like that. Yes, business community and tech industry loves Ro, that doesn’t make him “Republican Lite”. If that logic is used, even our POTUS will be included in the same category for getting support from the same tech industry.
    Further more all these folks seem to forget one important fact, this congressional seat belongs to the people of the district. No one should feel entitled and this is the reason people of California got rid of the old system where party had the say who their candidate will be.
    I’m a staunch progressive. Some even call me a flaming liberal, I can assure you that Ro Khanna is a true Democrat who shares my progressive values. I can also assure you that I’m not the only progressive who has that belief, there are plenty of progressives in the district who shares my views regarding this race and it’s young dynamic challenger Ro Khanna.

  • GV Haste

    Just keep chanting that Honda is the most progressive…
    the best progressive… the cat’s meow of progressivism.

    Yes by all means, these jokers will do well to shove Honda’s image further to one side of the scale.

    Of course they both come from non “top two” areas of the nation and simply can’t get off their “most progressive” talking points.

    Keep it up and Honda can be just as “progressive” as Pete Stark.

    Hint to these two pros… The game has changed.
    I guess they didn’t get the memo from Sharon Cornu.

  • RR senile columnist

    Replacing an aging prog with a younger prog sounds like shuffling a short deck. Who gives a hoot which liberal/prog/leftie gets to DC? If the heartland couldn’t stomach Howard Dean, how could an “activist” to the left of the good doctor make any headway in the House? Again, going all the way back to Eugene Debs and co., the “working class” has its grievances but it is more interested in joining the wealthy folks than destroying them.

  • GV Haste

    Just keep pairing the Dean name with Honda


  • MichaelB


    If a “majority of the voters have no confidence in the government” then why elect or reelect “progressives” at all?

    Their “solutions” are to just expand/empower the government while reducing personal freedoms/taking more of the taxpayer’s money in the process. What’s “outside the box” about this kind of reasoning?

    “Clean house” by voting THEM out. Not by replacing one with another who wants the same things – higher taxes, increased government spending, government run health care, more gun control, etc.

  • Elwood

    @ 1 & 2

    You two must be getting paid by the word.

    @ 5

    Say what?

    “Bird, who cut his campaign teeth in part on Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign” That would be the Bird who ” is now helping to run Khanna’s campaign”.

  • Independent Voter


    You are missing my point. I’m not sticking up for progressives, nor am I placing more blame on one party over the other on why Congress is as bad as they are. Frankly, I think both parties are to blame and the House needs to be cleaned up on both sides of the aisle. I am an Independent with zero allegiance to either party.

    I was simply trying to make the point that the DCA would be stupid in investing any resources in an intra-party battle when they claim to be so focused on winning back the House and electing progressive leaders. They should just let this race play itself out and focus on winning back Republican seats if they are going to practice what they preach.

    I am definitely supporting Khanna over Honda for my own reason. His pro-business and education reform platform make it a no-brainer for me. However, to suggest that progressives are not hot on Khanna is completely false in my humble opinion. I know more progressives than I can count who are supporting Khanna right now. That is pretty much the point I was trying to make.

    Long-time Democratic and Republican incumbents alike need to go. I’m so sick of the gridlock and both parties are equally to blame. A generational change is needed across the board. Period.

  • Shobana Ramamurthi

    Nope, not getting paid. However wouldn’t mind working for him, in fact I would love it. Always passionate and ready to change the status quo. I thank Honda for his service but it is time for him to leave. We need new ideas and vision.

  • x

    Khanna supports throwing more money into the black hole that is DARPA, won’t promise not to cut social security benefits, and seems to want to keep in place many tax breaks that benefit the rich and corporations. That is not progressive.

  • GV Haste

    Folks, a huge portion of the electorate does NOT consider themselves to be your version of “progressive”.

    Anyone who portrays themselves as the most progressive will probably not capture their vote.

    I’m sure Pete Stark won the “progressive” vote.

    I’m a lifelong Democrat. I certainly don’t consider myself to be a “progressive”.

    Example, (Bob Wieckowski (D) authored a bill, AB 1401, to give non-citizens, living in California for as little as 90 days, the right to serve on juries.
    His bill would allow recently arrived men from Pakistan, Indonesia, or Mongolia to sit in judgement on you, even though they had lived 99% of their life up to that point outside the USA.
    His bill would allow up to 12 such jurors to be on the jury that decides your guilt. Bringing their entire social experience of the prior 50 years to bear on your case, even though they had only been in the country for as little as 3 months.

    Now I’m sure that is very “progressive” and would instantly get a large approval in many local “progressive” groups.

    I think its plain NUTS.. There is a good reason why no other state in the entire country has allowed such nonsense.

    So yes, keep fighting to make your candidate the most “progressive” and see what happens in November.

  • Old Soul

    The question shouldn’t be which candidate is more progressive / liberal. The question should be which candidate is going to make a big difference. Honda has been in office for a long time, and he has kept the status quo moving.

    It is time for sweeping changes. Let’s talk about the candidate that can clean house. We have seen what Honda can do and has done. It is time to bring in someone new who has the intelligence and the foresight to shake up the tried and true and challenge the status quo.

  • Ultra Left

    Nobody runs for the office just because they can. If that was the case there would be many more people running for the office.
    I have been called an ultra left person and I believe that Ro Khanna is the most progressive candidate to represent the Silicon Valley.
    People are inherently afraid of change and write such panic stricken
    statements such as Mr. Chamberlain’s and mislead every one else.

  • Chad Walsh

    I love it when an incumbent (or his mouthpiece) claims ownership over a term, here “progressive,” and then claims whatever it is “he is it,” and whatever his opponent says or does that “is not it.” That kind of simpleminded analysis is exactly fitting of Honda. If you want deeper and more comprehensive analysis and thinking, go with Ro. He is clearly, far and away, more qualified.