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CA17: Unpacking the Honda e-mails story

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 at 5:59 pm in 2014 general, Mike Honda, U.S. House

Congressional candidate Ro Khanna’s supporters are abuzz over today’s San Jose Inside story that says Rep. Mike Honda’s staffers violated House rules against mixing campaign activity with official business.

Sourced from emails provided by a former Honda aide who says he quit after being pressured to help out on the campaign, the story’s most biting claim is that Honda’s chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, early last year coordinated with Lamar Heystek, then the Honda campaign’s political director, on whom to invite to a State Department roundtable.

Heystek wrote that he had compiled “a list of South Asian tech/investment folks who’ve donated to candidates in the past” but not to Honda. Van der Heide replied, “Great lists — how are we doing outreach to them for $? Can we at least collect emails and send newsletters or something if we can’t do straight asks electronically now? Also do you have the list of the South Asians now endorsing/supporting MH? I want to make sure we are including all of them. Invites going out first thing Monday morning.”

This constitutes a mixing of official and campaign events that’s verboten under House ethics rules (House Ethics Manual, page 150), even though Van der Heide’s e-mails came from her personal account and not during work hours, the story says. Heystek left Honda’s campaign in March 2014.

Honda office spokesman Ken Scudder issued a statement Wednesday evening saying “it is the policy of the Congressman, and under the rules of House Ethics, for the office to keep separate official work and campaign activities.

“While it is commonplace for office staff to choose to volunteer their time on campaigns, all of our staff who volunteer do so on their own time and volition, and without the use of official resources,” the statement said. “In this instance, while not a violation of House Rules, we should have taken more care to prevent the appearance of coordination.”

Honda’s campaign declined to comment Wednesday, as did Khanna’s.

It’s not entirely clear what sort of influence Honda or his staff would’ve been peddling here; whether those who attended were eventually hit up for campaign donations; and if they were, whether and how much they gave.

Honda’s staff told San Jose Inside that the event in question was a Feb. 21, 2013 roundtable at Santa Clara University with Mitul Desai, who at the time was senior advisor for strategic partnership in the State Department’s South and Central Asian Bureau. (The event appears in San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra’s archived calendar for February 2013.)

Yet when Desai’s boss, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake Jr., joined Honda a month later to host a roundtable at Microsoft’s Sunnyvale campus on the U.S.-India relationship, Honda sent his constituents an e-newsletter basically inviting anyone who wanted to attend:

2013 roundtable invitation

Nor is there evidence that Honda himself knew of the emails anytime before today. Still, there’s at least an appearance of impropriety if not an out-and-out ethical violation in official staffers and campaign staffers conferring about whom to invite to official events. Your thoughts, readers?

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CA17: Khanna’s mailers tout record, attack Honda

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 at 12:33 pm in 2014 general, Mike Honda, U.S. House

Congressional candidate Ro Khanna, seeking to unseat fellow Democrat Rep. Mike Honda in the 17th Congressional District, has sent out his first mailers of the general-election season – one positive, one negative.

The first mailer outlines Khanna’s record at the U.S. Department of Commerce, his experience teaching economics at Stanford, and his expertise on manufacturing, as well as his media endorsements:

(Click to enlarge:)
Khanna positive mailer

The second mailer highlights what Khanna says is Honda’s poor productivity and attendance:

Khanna negative mailer

Khanna spokesman Tyler Law said in a news release that the ads “will outline a clear contrast between Congressman Honda’s history of not showing up and not getting the job done, with Ro Khanna’s record of growing American manufacturing jobs and championing bold policies to move the 17th District forward.”

“Contrary to the Honda campaign, which falsely attacked Ro’s tenure at Commerce and has relied on its Super PAC to send racially coded mailers, our campaign will continue to highlight only the facts behind Rep. Honda’s record,” Tyler added. “We expect that the more voters learn about his failure to show up and deliver, the more eager they will be to vote for change.”

But Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan replied later Wednesday that Khanna’s “desperate campaign will do anything to win, from misrepresenting Congressman Honda’s record of delivering for the district – like $900 million for the BART extension that is creating over 10,000 jobs – to embracing right-wing positions, like cutting pensions for middle-income workers, and right-wing supporters who are organizing The Tea Party Express on his behalf.”

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CA17: Honda-Khanna debate details finalized

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 at 11:10 am in 2014 general, Mike Honda, U.S. House

Final details have been set for the first – and most likely, only – general-election debate between Rep. Mike Honda and his Democratic challenger, Ro Khanna.

NBC Bay Area has joined with KQED, the Huffington Post and San Jose State University to co-host the event at 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. Monday, Oct. 6 in the NBC Bay Area studios in San Jose.

The 17th Congressional District debate will be moderated by NBC Bay Area Anchor Raj Mathai and will include four panelists: lead panelist Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post; Thuy Vu, host of KQED Newsroom; Melinda Jackson, an SJSU associate professor of political science; and LooLoo Amante, an SJSU student and director of external affairs for the university’s Associated Students. The candidates will be notified of the topics 72 hours in advance; Mathai and SJSU Professor Larry Gerston will offer analysis after the debate.

The showdown will air live on NBC Bay Area, and will be re-broadcast on KQED World at 9 p.m. that evening and on KQED Plus at 11 p.m. KQED Public Radio will also broadcast the debate live on its stations in San Francisco (88.5 FM) and Sacramento (89.3 FM), and the debate will also be streamed live on nbcbayarea.com and on The Huffington Post’s online streaming video network, HuffPost Live. And of course, I’ll be there to tweet and report.

“This is going to be one of the most-watched races across the country this November, and this debate has been long anticipated,” Rich Cerussi, president and general manager of NBC Bay Area, said in a news release. “We’re proud to bring such a strong group of partners together to provide a forum for the candidates to discuss the issues that matter to voters, and help Bay Area voters make an informed choice.”

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Pot advocates form 2016 initiative committee

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 at 10:25 am in ballot measures, marijuana

A national marijuana advocacy group is filing papers with the Secretary of State’s office Wednesday to form a committee in support of a 2016 ballot measure for recreational legalization.

That measure is still coalescing, but the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project says it’ll be part of a coalition of activists, organizations and businesses supporting a plan they expect will resemble the MPP-financed initiative approved by Colorado in 2012. And they intend to start raising money immediately.

“Marijuana prohibition has had an enormously detrimental impact on California communities. It’s been ineffective, wasteful, and counterproductive. It’s time for a more responsible approach,” MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia said in a news release. “A diverse coalition of activists, organizations, businesses, and community leaders will be joining together in coming months to draft the most effective and viable proposal possible. Public opinion has been evolving nationwide when it comes to marijuana policy, and Californians have always been ahead of the curve.

“Marijuana is an objectively less harmful substance than alcohol, and that’s how it needs to be treated,” Kampia added. “Regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol just makes sense.”

California activists have been watching Colorado’s and Washington state’s experiences with legalization, and have said they’ll tweak the Golden State’s ballot measure accordingly.

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CA17: Honda & Khanna on Tesla’s ‘gigafactory’

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 at 3:52 pm in 2014 general, Mike Honda, U.S. House

Tuesday brought another terse exchange in the 17th Congressional District race, as Rep. Mike Honda encouraged electric-car maker Tesla Motors to put its next battery factory in California while Democratic challenger Ro Khanna accused Honda of being late to the party.

Tesla logoPalo Alto-based Tesla builds its cars at the former New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, but recently decided to site its first “gigafactory,” for producing the batteries on which those cars rely, in Nevada. California had offered the company a tax-break package that ultimately wasn’t as large as the $1.25 billion deal Nevada was willing to make.

Honda, D-San Jose, joined with Reps. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert; Jim Costa, D-Fresno; and 21 other lawmakers in writing a letter last week to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, urging him to consider the Golden State next time.

“While any state would be thrilled for the opportunity to add thousands of high-tech manufacturing jobs, California has the supply of qualified workers to meet Tesla’s current needs, and the educational infrastructure to support further growth,” they wrote. “Our delegation is dedicated to continuing our thriving relationship with Tesla and supporting its prosperity in every way possible. We look forward to continued discussions at every level of government and hope that you will make California the home of your next Gigafactory.”

Honda announced this in a news release Tuesday, in which he noted that “as the world capital of innovation, it makes sense that Tesla’s next Gigafactory be in Silicon Valley.

“Our highly-educated workforce, abundant renewable energy resources, and world class research institutions makes the Bay Area a natural partner to build Tesla’s Gigafactory,” Honda said. “I look forward to working with Tesla, Governor Brown’s Administration, and my colleagues in the California Delegation to bring this game-changing battery facility to Silicon Valley.”

Too little too late, Khanna said later Tuesday.

“Congressman Honda is shutting the barn door after the animals are long gone,” he said in a news release. “We needed active leadership when the decision was being made – not after we lost the competition. It’s as if Congressman Honda just woke up and discovered that 6,500 good jobs have left the building.”

Khanna wrote an op-ed last week suggesting better political leadership might’ve helped California land the Tesla battery plant, though what to offer the company ultimately was up to state lawmakers and the governor, not members of Congress.

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Tim Donnelly praises Brown for signing DNA law

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 at 9:52 am in Assembly, Gov. Jerry Brown, Tim Donnelly

Somebody note the date and time: Assembly Tim Donnelly, the conservative former gubernatorial candidate who spent much of the spring trashing Gov. Jerry Brown, just said something nice about… Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown on Friday signed Donnelly’s AB 1697, the DNA Protection Act, which prohibits using the state’s criminal-justice DNA database from being used as a source of material for testing, research or experiments by any person, agency or entity seeking to find a causal link between genetics and behavior or health.

Tim Donnelly“I would like to thank Governor Brown for standing with me once again to defend the civil liberties of all Californians,” Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, said in a news release. “California will continue to use DNA samples for forensics, missing persons, collecting evidence or other legal means. With AB1697 now law, we have prevented government from abusing our privacy. We have protected the civil rights of all Californians from this high tech tyranny.”

Donnelly said the new law is critical to protecting those who’ve been arrested from the government’s genetic snooping.

“Currently, the government of California has hoarded over 1.8 million DNA samples,” he said. “As the cost of DNA sequencing decreases and the ability to process large amounts of data increases, the state has the unprecedented ability to link genetics with criminal activity. While this may sound like the movie Minority Report, it is no longer science fiction. Thanks to AB1697 becoming law, the DNA of every Californian will be safe from being violated by an ever-intrusive government.”

The bill certainly wasn’t controversial. The Assembly passed it 78-0, and the state Senate passed it 33-0.

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‘Nanny state?’ Brown vetoes diaper changing bills

By Josh Richman
Friday, September 19th, 2014 at 4:01 pm in California State Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown, Lois Wolk

So much for the “nanny state” – Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a pair of bills Friday that would’ve required more diaper changing stations across California.

SB 1350 by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would have required the California Building Standards Commission to adopt building standards governing the installation of baby diaper changing stations in places of public accommodation for equal use by men and women. The Senate had passed it 32-0, the Assembly 67-8.

diaper changing stationAnd SB 1358 by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would have required buildings owned or partially owned by state or local governments, as well as certain other private buildings open to the public, to maintain at least one safe, sanitary, and convenient baby diaper changing station accessible to women and men. The Senate had passed it 29-1, the Assembly passed it 66-11, and the Senate concurred in Assembly amendments 31-2.

Brown nixed them both Friday, issuing a joint veto message.

“At a time when so many have raised concerns about the number of regulations in California, I believe it would be more prudent to leave the matter of diaper changing stations to the private sector,” he wrote. “Already many businesses have taken steps to accommodate their customers in this regard.”

“This may be a good business practice, but not one that I am inclined to legislate,” he concluded.

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Pols want AG to probe CPUC’s ties with PG&E

By Josh Richman
Thursday, September 18th, 2014 at 4:03 pm in Assembly, Attorney General, California State Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown, Jerry Hill, Kamala Harris, Kevin Mullin

Peninsula politicians want state Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate possible crimes involving the California Public Utilities Commission’s shockingly cozy relationship with PG&E during the agency’s probe of the utility after the deadly 2010 gas explosion in San Bruno.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo; Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco; and San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane will hold a news conference Friday morning in San Francisco to deliver a letter to Harris.

The latest revelation of emails between CPUC staff and PG&E executives led to the outser of officials at both this week. The utility also disclosed in a regulatory filing that it may have violated PUC rules with emails it sent the agency as recently as January.

E-mails released by PG&E showed that the utility tried to influence the selection of the administrative law judge who would decide how much customers’ rates should go up to pay for required gas pipeline improvements after the 2010 blast killed eight and injured more than 50.

“The letter from Hill, Mullin and Ruane also cites what appear to have been a series of illegal interventions on PG&E’s behalf in the penalty case against PG&E for the explosion in San Bruno perpetrated by the CPUC’s executive director and former general counsel – including pressuring its own attorneys to advocate no penalty in the case, which attorneys felt to be ‘illegal and unethical;’ reassigning the attorneys after they refused to back down; and firing one when he pressed PG&E to produce pipeline safety records,” according to a news release from Hill’s office.

Gov. Jerry Brown offered full-throated support for CPUC President Michael Peevey last month even after an initial disclosure of e-mails related to the San Bruno case.

“I know there’s been a lot of ink poured out on this topic, but I would say he’s a very effective leader, he gets things done” especially on promoting renewable energy, Brown said of Peevey at the time. He went on to describe Peevey as “a strong force,” the likes of which hasn’t held the CPUC’s reins since John Bryson did so during Brown’s second term, from 1979 to 1982.

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Most Bay Area House members oppose ISIS plan

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 at 4:58 pm in Eric Swalwell, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, War on Terror

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jerry McNerney were the only greater Bay Area House members who voted Wednesday in favor of President Obama’s plan to beat back the Islamic State in part by training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels.

The House voted 273-156 to add an amendment authorizing Obama’s plans to a short-term spending bill passed shortly after that will keep the federal government operating through mid-December. Voting yes were 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats, while 85 Democrats and 71 Republicans voted no.

Nancy PelosiPelosi, D-San Francisco, didn’t whip Democratic votes behind the scenes, but did make a floor speech in favor of the amendment in which she called the Islamic State’s brutality “outside the circle of civilized human behavior.”

“We wish that this action that we’re called upon to do today was not necessary,” Pelosi said. “But the fact is that, with the diplomatic, political and humanitarian foundation that the President has laid out, with the narrowness of the request that he is making to us – it is not pleasant; it is not easy; it is hard – but it really is necessary for the House to approve this.”

A McNerney spokesman didn’t immediately answer an e-mail seeking comment. (See update at bottom.)

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the measure “an important, initial step forward” against a group that “represents a direct threat to the safety and security of the United States, and House Republicans are firmly committed to doing everything we can to help keep America safe.”

But several Bay Area Democrats explained why they couldn’t vote for the plan.

honda.jpgRep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, said he supports “the President’s call to dismantle ISIL through robust regional and international partnerships, support for local capacities on the ground, and expanded humanitarian assistance. Arming and training Syrians and Iraqis, and perhaps eventually supporting them with airstrikes, may push back ISIL’s gains. But it will not defeat extremism.”

“There is no lasting military solution to extremism. The only lasting solution is a political solution. One in which the rights and concerns of all religious and cultural groups are respected,” Honda said. “The US must focus on building partnerships in the region, and around the world, to encourage moderate Sunni groups in Iraq and Syria to move away from ISIL, and towards an alternative and inclusive future.”

“Simply arming the Syrian opposition groups comes with great risk,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, said in a statement issued after the vote. “Instead, we need a comprehensive strategy that includes a debate and vote in Congress that specifically authorizes the use of force against ISIL, and the involvement of a broad, international coalition of Muslim and Western countries to diminish ISIL and degrade their organizational capabilities.”

“To defeat ISIL, I support U.S. led airstrikes and the building of a real, substantive coalition of regional allies who will stand up to defend their own countries and existence. I do not support putting substantial U.S. resources in, and betting the house on, unproven ‘moderate’ Syrian fighters,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, said in an e-mailed statement. “Over the course of U.S. military history, this proxy-war approach has had disastrous results and no evidence in this case has convinced me the result would be any different.”

“I agree with the President’s decision to remove the threat created by ISIS but the plan laid out by the White House is still too vague,” Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, said in his statement. “I could not support the amendment without clear answers to how that threat will be removed and exactly what the United States role will be. ISIS remains a roadblock in creating stability in the region and they must be stopped. However, I am fearful today’s vote does not bring us closer to our ultimate goal of peace.”

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, issued a statement saying the vote “was not, as some have argued, a choice between supporting the President’s plan and simply doing nothing about ISIL. To be clear, I share President Obama’s assessment of ISIL as a brutal terrorist organization, I support the goal of destroying them, and I believe there should be an American role in a broad, multinational response to ISIL.

“My ‘no’ vote today is because this plan for a new American-led war in Iraq and Syria is being advanced without a proper congressional authorization as required by the Constitution, and because I believe the strategic assumptions underlying the plan are deeply flawed,” Huffman said. “Frankly, we should know better than to provide arms and training to fighters we know very little about – and what we do know is troubling. We should know better than to take the lead in fighting and funding this war without a real multinational coalition where the countries most impacted by the ISIL threat carry their fair share of the risk and cost. And we should know better than to do all of this on the basis of wishful assumptions and rosy assurances that the conflict will not escalate out of control.”

UPDATE 5:24 P.M.: McNerney just emailed me a statement saying that “taking military action is the gravest responsibility of our government, and I take my role in helping decide our nation’s policy very seriously.

“I support the current plan to engage and ultimately destroy ISIL, but it won’t be successful unless we can enlist an alliance of nations within the region that are fully and demonstrably committed to true democratic inclusion and are willing to fight for their own freedom,” he said, including training potential allied military units off the battlefield and arming competent and reliable allies.

“Meanwhile, the President must demonstrate America’s commitment to the region by using very limited American air power in conjunction with local military units to help prevent additional ISIL territorial gains. I do not support the involvement of American ground troops beyond their training mission, or the excessive use of American air power. Both of these are not needed and would likely be counterproductive in the end,” McNerney continued. “While I supported this amendment, I also urged my colleagues to consider the long-term effects of authorizing force: to our soldiers, to the innocent civilians, and to sustained stability in the Middle East.”

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Catching up with Ashley Swearengin

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 at 12:18 pm in 2014 general

A barrage of attacks from her Democratic rival has Ashley Swearengin, Fresno’s mayor and the Republican candidate for state controller, convinced her campaign is running strong.

Swearengin stopped by the Oakland Tribune’s office Monday afternoon to chat about the state of the race. The Field Poll last week found Swearengin trailing Democratic rival Betty Yee, a Board of Equalization member from Alameda, by 14 percentage points, though more than one in five likely voters remains undecided. Yee in recent days has attacked Swearengin’s stewardship of Fresno, and challenged her “Mayor/CEO” ballot designation.

“We’re very pleased with where we are,” Swearengin said Monday, adding that while Yee’s attacks are “so easily refutable,” they’re a sign that “they definitely take our campaign seriously.”

“My hope is that the other side continues to come at me with their inaccurate and misleading accusations,” she said.

Yee’s campaign has said that Swearengin’s Fresno is a place of fiscal disorder, unemployment, poverty and homelessness. But Swearengin defended her record saying she helped steer the city out of massive deficits exacerbated by the housing-market crash and recession; the city is now building its budget reserve and ranks among the state’s top job-creators, she said.

Yee was in Fresno last week seeking endorsements from the city’s police and firefighter unions, meeting with an agricultural group and holding a fundraiser. “She was definitely playing to the Sacramento insiders and those who support the status quo,” Swearengin said.

Despite several campaign events scheduled with other GOP statewide candidates, Swearengin continued to make her political independence a core talking point.

“I think Californians are tired of just checking the box for whatever their party affiliation is,” she said. “Most important to me is making sure that we’re reaching all the voters of Califonria, not just one party or the other.”

Reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office shows Yee has raised more money than Swearengin, but “we knew for certain we would be outspent,” Swearengin said.

“We’re working as hard as possible to get the resources we need to get the message out,” she said, adding her campaign will start its paid advertising soon. “We’ve got to make as much noise as possible and point out the importance of this seat and my qualifications.”

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