CA17: Video shows Honda asleep, or resting eyes

South Bay congressional candidate Ro Khanna’s campaign is shopping around an article and video today that purportedly shows incumbent and fellow Democrat Rep. Mike Honda falling asleep at public event in September.

The San Jose Inside article by reporter and editor Josh Koehn starts thus:

Mike Honda sits in what’s been billed as a town hall meeting in Fremont, surrounded by healthcare experts. The congressman starts to drift as they answer questions about the Affordable Care Act’s effects on seniors, who comprise most of the audience. Having heard yet another answer about Obamacare’s deductibles or small business eligibility requirements — it’s hard to say at times, as the microphone cuts out intermittently — Honda sets his glasses down on the table and locks his fingers behind his head. He closes his eyes and takes a 20-second power nap.

Honda, 72, can’t be entirely blamed. Hearing a hundred different people ask a hundred different questions about how an untested health benefits reform law will protect them from unknown ailments is a steady drip to narcolepsy. I know, because I’m sitting in the back of the senior center, wondering why I drove to Fremont for a public forum at which the person who sponsored it has little to say.

I had hoped to hear the bold words of a man who’s in the fight of his political life. Town halls are supposed to be where angry voters hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire. The NSA reads our emails and taps our phones. Republicans are calling Obamacare the worst thing since slavery. Syria’s sarin gas attacks have just threatened to drag the U.S. into an expanding global conflict. Our guy in D.C. is here to account.

But Honda seems restive to the point of lethargy. A panel speaker stops talking and Honda opens his eyes—the man is a pro, after all. He blinks himself clear before anyone appears to notice.

Here’s the video, also uploaded by Koehn (though apparently not shot from that back-row perch):

Power nap, or resting his eyes? Mountain or molehill?

“Those who know Congressman Honda well know that he will sometimes close his eyes to focus or concentrate on an issue,” Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said Wednesday.

As for what Honda did and didn’t discuss at the meeting, the event was billed as “an important discussion about the Affordable Care Act, Covered California, and how both are going to affect you, your family, your business, and our community” featuring representatives from federal, state and local health agencies.

I can’t help but think of the not-so-subtle ways in which Democrat Eric Swalwell, then 31, drew attention last year to the great age gap between himself and incumbent Rep. Pete Stark, then 80 – either by jabbing at the Social Security benefits that Stark’s kids collect or by going out of his way to make himself look as young and vital as possible (training with county firefighters, sparring with a police dog and so on) as if to say, “Look what I can do and Pete Stark can’t.”

Ultimately it was Stark’s own gaffes and unsupported accusations that helped turn the tide in Swalwell’s favor – mistakes the more affable Honda isn’t likely to make.

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.

  • Marga

    What I find most amazing is that Honda only closed his eyes for 20 seconds. I think many seasoned politicians would have been snoring by then. Lord, I only listened to 43-seconds of the video and I was contemplating going and getting a pillow myself.

    All in all, I thought the article was pretty balanced and offered a good recap of what this race has been about so far.

    As for the comparative age of Khanna and Honda, it plays both ways. Youth may say “vitality”, but it also says “inexperience” (as someone mentioned in the article). Age, meanwhile, can be understood as “wisdom”.

    I think that whether Honda’s age becomes an issue or not will depend on how he does in the candidate fora. If Honda refuses to participate, then I can see Khanna’s campaign raising the ghost of Stark. If he does participate and does well, then Stark’s ghost will be laid to rest and age will be a complete non-issue. If he does badly, though, then I don’t see why Josh wouldn’t report on that as much as he did on Stark’s performance.

  • Elwood

    Somehow, I just can’t visualize much of a nap in 20 seconds with your fingers laced behind your head.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Hi everybody! I’m Ro Kha and I like power. I ran against old Tom Lantos and now I’m running against old Mike. I wouldn’t run against old Pete because he loved power too. Pete likes the power to tell people to get lost. That’s my dream.

  • Willis James

    Forget the sleepy few seconds and concentrate on the 30 to 40 pounds of excess weight.
    That will play into the “not fit for office” theme more than a few seconds of resting your eyes.
    Honda has about 6 months to drop 30+ pounds.

  • JohnW

    Yes, excess weight is definitely a show-stopper for political candidates. Just ask Chris Christie! If Honda loses, it won’t be due to physical appearance. It will be because his constituents think he has run out of gas.

  • Willis James

    How did I know you’d bring up the Chris Christie example.
    Now, go to a clip of Chris Christie and see the energy he displays. He is a young man and his level of energy makes his weight issue small by comparison.
    However, as you know, he is serious about running for president and THAT is the major reason he finally chose surgery.
    Honda just needs to drop 30 or 40 pounds and look a bit more vigorous. Right now he just appears to be sitting there, sleepy and overfed in Washington DC.
    Time is running out for him to make a gradual and non-obvious change. Not to get skinny, but just enough to not look like a out of shape older citizen.
    Vitality…. that is what he needs.
    We don’t want grandpa.
    Look at Jerry Brown or even Nancy Pelosi.
    Older but full of energy and not just because they are thin. Even George Brown of Contra Costa County seems more alive and engaged.

  • JohnW

    “How did I know you’d bring up the Chris Christie example?”

    Too hard to resist. My financial advisor had the same reaction this morning when I started our call by commenting that the market was all atwitter today.

    But you’re right that the difference between Christie and Honda is the energy and vigor. I doubt that Honda losing 30 to 40 lbs will change that. How Christie manages to move around the way is does is a mystery to me. Is it just me, or is it hard to detect much difference since he did the lap band thing?