CA17: Khanna challenges Honda to debates

South Bay congressional candidate Ro Khanna on Wednesday challenged fellow Democrat Rep. Mike Honda to meet him for at least four debates before June’s primary election.

Khanna said the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle, KPIX 5, and NBC Bay Area had all expressed interest in hosting primary debates, while other non-local outlets like The Huffington Post and TechCrunch might be interested, too.

Ro Khanna“The modest debate schedule I’m proposing will allow voters to make a fully informed decision about who will best represent them in Congress,” Khanna said in a news release. “Voters are tired of old-style politics and campaigns that consist of little more than sloganeering and demagoguery. With the challenges our nation faces today, the voters deserve better.”

Khanna, a former Obama administration official from Fremont, went on to say that 17th District residents will benefit from a public airing of the issues. “It’s one way to start restoring public confidence in Congress, which is at an all-time low.”

The current House calendar offers plenty of opportunities for Honda, D-San Jose, to return to the district for debates, Khanna said, but he also offered to debate on weekends if necessary. He said he’ll designate a campaign staffer to reach out to Honda’s campaign and local media to start talks on dates, venues and formats.

“Congressman Honda is focused on his work improving the lives of his constituents,” Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said via e-mail late Tuesday, after being asked whether Honda is open to debates. “Given how early it is (the full field of candidates isn’t set yet, and probably won’t be for a couple more months), the campaign has not made any decisions yet regarding debates.”

Debates – or the lack thereof – have played varying roles in a few recent campaigns.

It was at a 2012 pre-primary debate hosted by the League of Women Voters in Hayward where Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, made an unsubstantiated accusation of bribery against fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell – suddenly giving Swalwell a talking point and visibility he’d previously lacked. Further gaffes by Stark followed, and Swalwell eventually ended Stark’s 40-year house tenure.

That same year, Republican challenger Elizabeth Emken made much of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s refusal to meet her for any debates at all, accusing the incumbent of arrogance.

But Emken was running her campaign on a shoestring. “My opponent has virtually no campaign; her whole campaign has essentially been sticking her finger in my eye in one way or another,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said at the time, adding she wouldn’t give Emken’s “right-wing Republican views” a megaphone if Emken couldn’t find one herself. Most Californians apparently didn’t care – Feinstein won with 62.5 percent of the vote.

In this case, Khanna’s campaign had almost three and a half times as much money in the bank as Honda’s as of Sept. 30, so he can buy his own megaphone to capitalize on the public’s frustrations with Congress – including either a “he-won’t-debate-me” taunt, or whatever fodder a debate might yield.

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.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Cheap-o stunt to gain recognition. Plenty of cash on hand, but lotsa folks in his district don’t know much about RoKhall, or even what he looks like. No gain for Mike. I’d rather hear Mike debate a Hoover Institution smarty on the proper role of gov’t. As for enlightening the voters, these boys ain’t Lincoln and Douglas or even JFK and Nixon.


    This is a great opportunity for voters in the 17th Congressional District to hear what the candidates’ opinions are on the issues. Hopefully, this can be like the Campbell-Estruth race in 1995 where the candidates debated nine times in a highly contested race just like this one.

  • Crazy_Like_A_Fox

    So predictable. Waiting for Elwood’s cheap shot comment as well in 3….2….1…..

  • Jacob

    How about you learn to spell the name correctly first, then, comment! Its Ro Khanna not “RoKhall.” Focus on actions of politicians not how they look like, who the hell cares what a politician looks like. Way to focus on the issue blockhead. This is not a pageant, it is a political race, issues should be more of an important consideration than appearance! For your information, his picture is posted above. Check it out!

    I’d rather have you learn a few things about American politics before you make dolt comments.
    It should not be about gain, it should be about giving back to the community. It’s commitment to public service!!!
    I did not know debate was a trick to gain recognition, thanks for the pointless clarification.

    By the way just so you know, debates are there discuss important points.
    It is not a cheap trick,don’t advertise your ignorance on things you have clue about.
    It would be greatly appreciate if you don’t write useless, misguided, braindead comments.

    My advice to you is use the resources available to learn a thing or two. You know what they say intelligent citizens take intelligent decisions.
    And you lack intelligence, I am making the statement based on your comment.

    Thank you! Vote for a better future!

  • JohnW

    Ooh, that’s a bit harsh. I disagree with RR on many if not most issues but would never suggest that he is lacking in knowledge about American politics. Wrong, sometimes. Uninformed, rarely. He is right about debates. Have you ever heard of an incumbent challenging a wannabe opponent to a debate, especially if that opponent is having difficulty gaining traction? RR said nothing about how RoK looks, just that many in the district don’t know who he is and wouldn’t know him if they saw him. That’s despite his large war chest. If you want to “go there” on the appearance issue, one of RoK’s supporters has often commented here about Honda’s age and waistline.

  • Marga

    There is no legitimate reason for Mike Honda to refuse to debate Khanna. Khanna is a legitimate candidate, and one that Honda takes seriously.

    While I don’t vote on the district, I personally think it would be a great opportunity to hear both men have to speak unscripted. It would also be an opportunity for someone to challenge some of Khanna’s weaker policy points – such as his desire to punish Congress members who don’t pass a budget, even if that means pushing them to agree with a budget that hurts most of their constituents.

  • Elwood

    Can I ride with you to the debates?

    I know there will be a lot of them, but I really would appreciate the rides.

  • Elwood

    Looking at Ro’s pic accompanying this piece I am compelled to describe it as a **** eating grin.

  • Richard Woulfe

    I’m guessing Honda will agree to maybe one debate – top’s – due to the fact he has such a weak record as a Representative. Honda is pretty much a back bencher in DC, he’s been in the Congress over a decade now and has left no footprints, none. He’s just not effective, that’s well known. If Congress was a baseball team Honda would be described as a little- used-weak-hitting- third -string -utility- infielder, I think. In a debate setting Honda will vulnerable on his weak record – on the fact that he has accomplished so little – so he has to duck debates. I’m guessing he will do one, if even that.

  • Crazy_Like_A_Fox

    LOL – And there it is! I knew you wouldn’t disappoint!

  • Crazy_Like_A_Fox

    Hey now. He did manage to get one of his bills past in the 13 years he has served. He was able to get post office renamed in someone’s honor. Compelling stuff! 😉

    I agree. I think he will likely hold off as long as possible, then will cave to media pressure and agree to do one debate. If he doesn’t, he can kiss any chance of receiving the media endorsements goodbye.

    BTW – Love the ‘Steal Your Face’!

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Thank you for the kind words, so rare on this blog.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    As Bob Grant, RIP, would have put it, “Hang up the phone, you creep!!”

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Me too! I’ll look for your pink Prius.

  • Crazy_Like_A_Fox

    It’s actually lavender.

  • Richard Woulfe

    Good points. The fact Honda has passed a single, inconsequential bill in 13 years very telling. I think when it comes to being effective in Congress being a hard worker is the key. I recall the late Phil Burton being an absolute whirlwind, he worked 18 hour days, 7 days a week. This Congressman one district over – George Miller, he’s a hard worker too, got list of legislative victories that stretch to moon and back. Miller is a powerhouse in DC. Honda, like Pete Stark, not a hard worker, asleep on the job. It’s the go-getters that get stuff done in Congress, forget about party, ideology or pedigree, it’s the hard workers that make things happen. The reason I supported Eric Swalwell over Stark, and now Ro Khanna over Honda, is because I think these young guys will work like heck – 18 hours a day, they will shake things up in the NorCal delegation, Swalwell already has, everybody is working harder now since Swalwell took out this lazy prima dona Pete Stark. Many people still suffering, out-of-work, under-employed, to alleviate this suffering our political leadership must work harder.

  • JohnW

    I’m chuckling at the comments that Honda hasn’t passed any consequential legislation during the past 13 years. I’m not in the district and not for/against either Honda or RoK. But come on now! During that 13 year period (2001-present), the Dems have had the majority in the House a total of four years, 2007 through 2010. Prior to 1995, the Dems ruled the House for 40 years, and members with seniority and good committee assignments passed all kinds of legislation.

  • Elwood

    There are 435 of those turkeys. They can’t all be Gladys Knight. Most of them have to be the Pips.