Netroots Nation: Ro Khanna fires back at critics

Ro Khanna, the former Obama administration official who’s challenging Rep. Mike Honda in the 17th Congressional District, fired back Friday at the national progressive leaders who had smack-talked him a day earlier.

Khanna, 36, of Fremont, took questions from reporters near his booth in the main exhibit hall at Netroots Nation, the national convention of liberal online activists running through Saturday night in San Jose.

On Thursday, Democracy for America chairman Jim Dean and Progressive Congress executive director Charles Chamberlain had belittled Khanna’s attempt to unseat Honda, D-San Jose, who they hailed as a progressive hero. Chamberlain used the words “Republican lite” and “hack” to describe Khanna.

Ro Khanna“Name-calling is what’s wrong with American politics,” Khanna retorted Friday. “We’re trying to have a conversation based on facts and my record.”

His record, he noted, includes staunch opposition to the Iraq war and the PATRIOT Act; two years in President Obama’s Commerce Department; and a track record of helping to raise money for other Democrats.

Asked in what ways he might be more progressive than Honda, Khanna replied he would’ve voted differently than Honda did on lobbying reform; Khanna said he believes lobbyists should be made to disclose their bundling of contributions, and should be banned from giving gifts to lawmakers. He said he also wouldn’t have approved pay raises for Congress, as Honda did, at a time when so many Americans are still struggling to make ends meet.

And he said he would bring a “laser focus” on job creation for the middle class which he believes Honda has lacked.

Though House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had once supported Khanna – when he was raising money for what everyone believed would be a bid to succeed Rep. Pete Stark after Stark’s retirement – she now supports Honda.

“I have a lot of respect for Leader Pelosi … and I understand her support of Mike Honda’s many years of service,” Khanna said Friday, but he believes national endorsements won’t make much difference to 17th District voters. “I’m very locally focused.”

Speaking amid the hustle and bustle of almost 3,000 liberal activists, Khanna said he understands online criticism of his bid to unseat Honda and even welcomes it as an important part of the democratic process.

But while Honda’s campaign volunteers had blanketed the convention Thursday, signing up supporters and handing out stickers, and Honda briefly addressed the California caucus, Khanna said he’s less interested in being a “talking head” or political grenade-thrower and more interested in serving constituents by cooperating across the aisle to get things done in Congress.

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.

  • RR Senile Columnist

    RoK’s main motivation in seeking to oust Honda seems to be impatience to get into Congress. His stand against lobbyists presumably would include those who agree with his views and agenda. RoK will get big things done all by himself. He is going to reach “across the aisle” to whom? The Speaker? Nancy Pelosi and veteran Dems?

  • Elwood

    I predict that after 11/14 RoKa won’t even be a footnote to history.

  • Bluecollar voter.

    Cal voters ended the closed primary and took reapportionment away from politicians because they wanted competitive races for Congress, no more gerrymandered “safe seats”. I think Ro Khanna’s challenge of long time incumbent Mike Honda is a great thing, Honda has to defend his record, or his lack of a record.
    Many believe – like I do – the NorCal Congressional delegation has been weak on job creation strategies for the region – especially for blue collar workers, some of these older House members – members in their 70’s and 80’s, like Lynn Woolsey, Pete Stark – both now thankfully out-of-Congress, and Mike Honda – are or were clueless on modern job creation strategies, these pols are 70’s era politicians, they are or were locked into the past. The reason I am excited about Khanna’s run in the 17th is here you have a young candidate that’s focused in on job creation for the middle class – creating decent paying jobs for regular working folks, these 70’s era politicians – like Stark and Honda, just sat around and played partisan power games while all these US jobs moved overseas. The NorCAl Congressional delegation badly needs new blood, hew ideas, some sort of new vision for the future. This younger generation now gaining power – like newly elected Congressman Eric Swalwell, of those seeking office, like Ro Khanna, they have got new ideas, fresh approaches, new ways of looking at job creation for the future. So moving them in, and moving the Honda’s, the Pete Stark’s, and Lynn Woolseys out, is best in the long run.
    This new generation coming up is talented, it’s time they got their chance to hold office. Frankly, some of these older politicians – like Stark, Honda, and Woolsey, just didn’t want to leave Congress, so the only way to get them out is with insurgent campaigns, like the one Eric Swalwell ran. Out with the old, in with the new, that’s what I think is going on here.

  • Independent Voter

    One thing that I think is important to note is that Khanna hasn’t accepted a dime of PAC money. That can’t be said for very many politicians, including Honda.

  • RR senile columnist

    RoK won’t take PAC cash mainly because it isn’t offered to him.

  • Independent Voter

    That’s actually not true. He turned down several PAC donations in 2011 which is one of the many reasons I am supporting Khanna over Honda.

  • California did not have a closed primary (for congress and partisan state office) before Prop. 14 passed in June 2010. Between 1999 and 2010, every independent voter who walked into a primary polling place was shown a card, advising that the voter was free to choose either a Democratic, a Republican, or an American Independent primary ballot. This was in line with the wishes of those three parties, and backed up by the Secretary of State, who issued regulations that all independent voters had to be told about their choices.

  • Elwood

    @ 3 bluecollar voter

    I have heard some bull**** in my time, but you rank right up there among the all time greats.

    Your ridiculous redundancy can only be explained by your being paid by the word.

  • Elwood

    Hey Josh, just for giggles, do Bluecollar Voter and Independent Voter have the same IP?

  • JohnW

    RoK is Tesla or Volt trying to knock off an older model Honda.

  • Josh Richman

    @9 Nope – different IP addresses.

  • Rachel

    I get nervous when supposedly “progressive” Democrats think the first thing they need to do is “cooperate across the aisle.” Cooperate with whom? Climate-change deniers? Obamacare foes? Pro-life Puritans? Anti-government nihilists? Ugh — what planet is he living on? That should be enough to disqualify him right there.

  • GV Haste

    Rachel, Yes, by all means, Khanna should not co-operate with anyone across the aisle.

    He needs to be a “progressive” progressive.
    There is only one set of opinions and positions that are truly progressive.

    Or has Apple put it in 1984
    We have created for the first time in all history a garden of pure ideology, where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests of any contradictory true thoughts.
    Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth.
    We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause.

    No need to appeal to moderate Democrats, independents, or moderate Republicans.
    After all the “top two” voting system, never really passed. It was just a 2012 one time trial, but won’t be used again in 2014.

  • Elwood

    “After all the “top two” voting system, never really passed. It was just a 2012 one time trial, but won’t be used again in 2014.”


    I believe you’ll find the top two primary is here to stay.

  • GV Haste

    Elwood, we know that. I thought that in the context of the post, you would get my point.
    That the excessively “progressive only” types are still walking around with a pre “top two” mindset.
    Acting as though 2012 was a one time event.