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CA17: Ron Cohen lays out conservative platform

Ron Cohen, the Fremont Republican who recently joined the race to unseat Rep. Mike Honda next year, has fleshed out his policy positions on his campaign’s new website – and some of his staunch conservative views might be a hard sell in a district that’s only 19 percent Republican.

Ron CohenCohen, a 56-year-old accountant, said last week that if elected he would aim to join the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus – the Tea Party-dominated group of about three dozen Republicans that ousted former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and foiled Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, from succeeding him.

Judging from his website, Cohen’s political views are similar to those of libertarian-leaning Republicans such as former presidential candidate Texas Congressman Ron Paul. The “detailed analysis” part of his site says some parts are “a copy from Rand Paul’s website and others, with whom I agree.”

Cohen says the most important issue is unsustainable federal spending and debt. “This is an existential threat to the nation.”

On immigration, “we must secure our borders, use E-Verify, have a Temporary Workers Program, tighten visitor and student visas, and have every illegal alien case reviewed by a judge to determine their future status,” Cohen wrote. “We are a compassionate nation and illegal immigrants must follow our laws. Pass Kate’s Law and end Sanctuary Cities.”

Regarding foreign policy and defense, Cohen said the United States must “avoid foreign entanglements” – particularly in the Middle East, where “our ‘friends’ soon become our enemies.”

“In light of the Paris attacks, close our borders to anyone suspected of association with ISIS or their beliefs, and search for ‘sleeper cells,’” Cohen writes. “This type of ‘profiling’ is legal in times of war. I would have Congress formally ‘declare war’ on ISIS, as I believe the Constitution requires.”

Cohen calls for repealing the Affordable Care Act – “It’s bound to fail, anyway. Start again with a free-market solution.” He’s anti-abortion but says “the federal government has no business being in your doctor’s office… I would fund birth control and education to reduce the demand for abortions… I will not support any federal funding of abortions.”

He calls for eliminating the Department of Education, auditing the Federal Reserve, slashing business regulations, closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, imposing term limits on Congress, and freeing captive whales.

On gun control and gun rights, Cohen says “Americans have the right to be well-armed. More gun control laws are not the solution to school shootings. I sadly encourage more armed police and staff at schools. Pure evil must be met with force.”

And regarding low-income housing in the district, “no more of these four or five story apartment blocks that we see being built,” Cohen wrote. “Not everyone can afford to live in the district and we should not take steps to make it possible. Our highways are already clogged full.”

Even if Cohen doesn’t get many votes beyond the GOP base, that could be bad news for Ro Khanna, the Fremont Democrat now making his second bid to unseat Honda, D-San Jose. Khanna’s campaign relies on building a coalition among moderate Democrats, independents and Republicans, and any votes Cohen gets would likely come out of Khanna’s pocket.

Posted on Wednesday, November 25th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 6 Comments »

CA17: Republican enters race to unseat Honda

A Republican candidate has entered the race to unseat Rep. Mike Honda in the 17th Congressional District – and that’s potentially bad news for Democratic challenger Ro Khanna.

Ron CohenRon Cohen, 56, of Fremont, filed papers with the Federal Election Commission earlier this month to form a campaign committee. In a brief interview Thursday, Cohen said he’s not yet ready to share his entire platform, but described himself as a fiscal and social conservative who wants to provide a counterpoint to Honda, D-San Jose, and Khanna.

Cohen said he has never sought public office before, as he was too busy building his CPA practice; he’s an international tax partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co. in Fremont. But having become a grandfather recently, he’s grown more concerned with the nation’s debt.

“I’m getting to the age now that if I’m going to do something, it’s time to do it,” he said. “I checked into it with the Republican party and nobody else seems to be running – it’s a tough district for Republicans, I realize.”

The 17th District – a central swath of Silicon Valley, and the first Asian-American majority district outside Hawaii – is 43 percent Democrat, 19 percent Republican and 33 percent nonpartisan. Republican Vanila Singh got only 17 percent of the vote in last June’s primary, failing to make the “top two” cut and leaving Khanna to challenge Honda in November. Honda defeated Khanna by 3.6 percentage points.

Still, Singh’s presence affected last year’s race. Khanna spent big before the primary, even airing several television ads, in trying to finish a strong second behind Honda and to ensure Singh didn’t peel away too many “anyone but Honda” votes. That left Khanna’s campaign practically broke in the general election campaign’s final weeks.

Once again this year, any Republican votes going to Cohen are more likely to come out of Khanna’s pocket than Honda’s. However, this being Khanna’s second run, he already has far better name recognition and funding than Cohen is likely to be able to muster.

UPDATE @ 3:49 P.M.: Click here for a more complete story, with comments from the Honda and Khanna campaigns.


Posted on Thursday, November 19th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | No Comments »

CA17: Honda endorsed by prominent Democrats

A big chunk of Northern California’s Democratic establishment endorsed Rep. Mike Honda on Wednesday for re-election to a ninth term, shoring up his 17th Congressional District campaign against the second consecutive challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna.

honda.jpgThe list released by Honda’s campaign includes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove; former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; and California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton.

“Mike Honda is a tireless champion for his constituents and for hard-working families across the country,” Pelosi said in the release. “His background in education has made him a strong voice for underserved students and for reforming our broken immigration system to reunite families. Mike’s unwavering dedication to public service has made him a strong and respected leader.”

Lofgren praised Honda’s work in “securing funds for Silicon Valley” and “fighting for fairness in immigration.” McNerney called Honda one of the party’s strongest voices ““when it comes to building a strong middle class, reversing income inequality, and expanding opportunities for women and underrepresented communities,” as well as for boosting STEM education. And Panetta called him “an honest and hardworking public servant who gives his all to his constituents.

The endorsements come despite the cloud of a pending House Ethics Committee investigation into whether Honda’s office and campaign blurred or crossed their lines in violation of House rules or federal law.

Khanna’s campaign respects these leaders who have been Honda’s longstanding friends and colleagues, spokesman Hari Sevugan said in an email Wednesday. “At the same time, we are humbled by the support of many Democratic leaders who like Ro’s background as an educator and his vision of making college more affordable, of universal preschool education, and fighting for equal pay for women for equal work.”

Ro KhannaRecent endorsements of Khanna – a former Obama administration official who lives in Fremont and lost to Honda by 3.6 percentage points last year – have included state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles; San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen and and Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone; and two local officials who had endorsed Honda in 2014.

“Congressman Honda may be in denial that his campaign is in a downward spiral, but when you’re under federal investigation for using your taxpayer-funded office for personal political gain and you’re spending donor money on an expensive legal defense, it shouldn’t be surprising that you’re losing support,” Sevugan said.

Posted on Wednesday, October 28th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

CA17: This is not the Ro Khanna you’re looking for.

As I and my colleagues sifted through a database of the East Bay Municipal Utilities District’s biggest water wasters Thursday, we found the name “Rohit Khanna” in there.

It took only a few moments, however, to determine that the Ro Khanna who owns property in San Ramon isn’t the Ro Khanna who’s challenging Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, for a second time in the 17th Congressional District. The candidate, 39, lives in Fremont and was born in Pennsylvania; voter-registration records show the Ro Khanna of San Ramon is 44 and was born in India.

“Only in the Bay Area can there be two Rohit Khannas!” candidate Khanna quipped Friday. “I guess we’ve come a long way from when I was growing up outside Philadelphia in the 1980s, one of a few Asian-American kids in a public high school class of over 800. In those days, when I went up to bat folks would say, ‘Ro can’t hit.’ So, my name has always been a source of amusement.”

“I am glad in this case I am working for a company focused on water conservation and efficiency,” he added, referring to the job he took earlier this year with Smart Utility Systems. “The tale of two Rohits!”

Posted on Friday, October 16th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 12 Comments »

CA17: Khanna outraises Honda again, though closer

Congressional candidate Ro Khanna raised only slightly more money than incumbent Rep. Mike Honda in this year’s third quarter, but has more than twice as much cash banked for the race, according to both campaigns.

Both Democrats want to represent the 17th Congressional District, which lies in the heart of Silicon Valley and is the first district outside Hawaii in which Asian-Americans make up a majority of voters. Khanna, a Fremont resident who served for two years in President Barack Obama’s Commerce Department, lost last year’s bruising, nationally watched election by 3.6 percentage points as Honda held on for an eighth term.

Khanna collected about $380,000 – mostly in the quarter’s last 10 days – and spent about $103,000 from July 1 through Sept. 30, leaving him with about $1.3 million cash on hand and about $41,000 in debt, according to his campaign’s news release.

“These past few months my priority has been, of course, my wedding and honeymoon,” Khanna said in the release. “So, I am humbled to still see the outpouring of support. It’s a signal that this district wants a new beginning.”

Despite being embroiled in an ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation into whether his office and campaign blurred or crossed their lines, Honda, D-San Jose, raised about $350,000 and spent about $160,000 – including $26,000 on legal fees – during the third quarter, campaign spokesman Adam Alberti said Tuesday.

That left him with about $545,000 cash on hand as of Sept. 30, though his campaign declined to provide the amount of outstanding debt he has. At midyear, Honda had reported almost $35,000 in debt.

“Overall the pace of fundraising is steady, and we are on plan to have the resources necessary to fend off what know will be a big-money challenger who outspent the congressman 3-to-1 in his last attempt,” Alberti said.

Neither candidate’s full report to the Federal Elections Commission is available yet; the filing deadline is Oct. 15.

Khanna outraised Honda in the year’s first and second quarters, too.

Posted on Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Some of my favorite stories of 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, I’ve been ruminating on my favorite political moments of this year – not the most important or impactful ones, perhaps, but the ones that either made me shake my head in amazement, or guffaw out loud, or both.

And so, in no particular order:

Homeless NeelNeel Kashkari takes it to the streets: Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, distrusted by the more conservative elements of his own party, managed to beat out a more right-wing rival to finish second behind Gov. Jerry Brown in June’s top-two primary. In July, he made an inspired attempt to rekindle his unusual momentum (for when was the last time you saw a statewide GOP candidate running on so ardent an anti-poverty platform?) by spending a week “undercover” pretending to be jobless and homeless on Fresno’s streets. I said it then and I still believe it: “You’ve gotta give him credit for cojones. Whether California voters believe the state is worse off under Brown’s stewardship remains to be seen, but this is not something you would’ve seen Meg Whitman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Simon, Dan Lungren or Pete Wilson do in a million years.”

Neel's drowning kidNeel Kashkari drowns himself in hyperbole: Aaaaand then we had the rest of Kashkari’s campaign. Unable to maintain the buzz that his “homeless” stint created, polls shows his campaign on the slide as contributions dried up. In October, he aired a television ad depicting his rescue of a child that Brown had left to “drown” in poor schools. Candidates want people talking about their ads, but if the viewers’ main sentiment is, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?,” you’re probably doing it wrong.

ManoramaManorama K. Joshi (or Manorama J. Kumar): The 17th Congressional District battle between Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and Democratic challenger Ro Khanna, had a lot of weird moments, but few that rivaled the revelation that Khanna donors and supporters had been instrumental in getting Republican Joel Vanlandingham onto the ballot. It seemed the idea was to dilute the GOP vote that would’ve gone to Republican Vanila Singh, as a means of ensuring Khanna would finish second behind Honda in June’s top-two primary. “No, I don’t want to talk to anybody, thank you,” Joshi replied when I buzzed her Newark apartment. Yeah, I’ll just bet you don’t.

Leland Yee (photo by Karl Mondon)“Uncle” Leland Yee gets pinched: When an editor called me early one morning in late March to tell me state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, had been arrested, I could never have anticipated the circumstances. Payoffs and gun trafficking and a Dragon Head named Shrimp Boy… oh, my! The affidavits accompanying the original criminal complaint and the superseding indictment filed in July made for 2014’s most compelling political reading, hands down. And yet Yee finished third in a field of eight candidates for Secretary of State in June’s top-two primary. Seriously, California?

DRAPER map 022514Six Californias comes apart at the seams: Honestly, it took me a while to figure out whether renowned Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper was serious about his plan to split California into six states, or if he was doing some sort of Andy Kaufmanesque political performance art demonstrating the absurdities enabled by our ballot initiative system. As it turned out, Draper was for real, and so was the $5.2 million he sank into gathering signatures to put his measure on 2016’s ballot. But not enough of the signatures were real, so he blew it, depriving all of us of two years worth of joke-making.

Posted on Wednesday, December 31st, 2014
Under: Leland Yee, Mike Honda, Neel Kashkari | No Comments »

Honda touts manufacturing bill within CRomnibus

Some last-minute poison pills kept Rep. Mike Honda from voting for the $1.1 “CRomnibus” spending bill approved by Congress, but he sees a few bright spots in it for Silicon Valley nonetheless.

And there’s little that Honda – who just eked out a narrow electoral win last month over fellow Democrat Ro Khanna – would rather do these days than deliver a bit of good news for his district.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, said Tuesday that the CRomnibus included the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act. This Republican-led, bipartisan bill that the House had approved back in September authorizes $400 million to create up to 15 Centers for Manufacturing Innovation – regional hubs where universities and colleges, small and large manufacturers, and government can address manufacturing challenges and bring ideas from lab to market. They’ll also work toward producing a skilled workforce to meet the nation’s manufacturing needs.

Honda believes the initiative will lead to more domestic manufacturing and job creation across the nation. He anticipates that Silicon Valley will be among the first applicants seeking to create such a center, probably in order to develop the next generation of semiconductor manufacturing tools.

IPC – a global trade association serving the printed board and electronics assembly industries, their customers and suppliers – issued a statement Monday thanking Honda for his role in RAMI’s passage.

“Among the bill’s earliest and most steadfast champions, Congressman Honda keenly appreciates the connection between the strength of America’s manufacturing base and the incredible innovation that takes place in his district in Silicon Valley.” IPC President and CEO John Mitchell said. “Representing all facets of the electronics industry, IPC’s members — including the many located in Congressman Honda’s district — look forward to the collaboration among private and public sector stakeholders at the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation centers that this legislation will establish.”

Honda was proud of the bipartisan effort behind this bill and the greater CRomnibus, but said he had no choice but to vote against it after two riders were added that he staunchly opposed – one to roll back part of the Dodd-Frank banking reforms that prevent taxpayers being left on the hook to insure risky derivatives trading, and another to vastly increase the amount of money individuals can contribute to political parties.

“I had to make that decision (to vote nay) … That’s the way the sausage is made in Congress,” he said. “But I’m glad we got the RAMI in and also the next round of funding on BART, about $150 million” for the Berryessa extension.

Honda spoke Tuesday as he prepared to leave for South Korea, where he’ll spend the next few days meeting with business and government leaders including Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert, as well as visiting U.S. troops and surviving victims of World War II sexual enslavement.

He said his priority is to discuss what South Korea is doing to encourage American businesses to thrive there, and the investment and innovation opportunities South Korean businesses have in the Bay Area. He’ll be delivering a policy speech at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul about how the two nations can strengthen their economic and political relations; he also has a dinner scheduled with the Korea International Trade Association and its chairman, as well as a meeting with the vice minister of trade, industry and energy.

Posted on Tuesday, December 16th, 2014
Under: economy, Mike Honda, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

CA17: FEC reports reveal final spending frenzy

New Federal Election Commission reports shed new light on the frenzy of spending that occurred in the final weeks of the 17th Congressional District showdown between Rep. Mike Honda and Democratic challenger Ro Khanna, which Khanna lost by 3.6 percentage points.

Perhaps most illuminating is the report filed by Californians for Innovation, a super PAC formed by Khanna backers to raise and spend money independently in support of his campaign.

Californians for Innovation reported raising $310,000 and spending $484,692 from Oct. 16 through Nov. 24, leaving $14,930 cash on hand and no debt at the end of that time. In all, the super PAC raised $790,000 and spent $805,070 this year to support Khanna.

Notable donations during the final weeks included another $100,000 from Texas energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold, bringing his and his wife’s total contributions to $350,000 – far and away the super PAC’s biggest benefactors.

The next-biggest contribution after mid-October was $70,000 from billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla of Portola Valley. Other notable contributions included $25,000 from Ashok Krishnamurthi, vice chairman and co-founder of San Jose’s Xsigo Systems; and $25,000 from Anil Godhwani, CEO and co-founder at Milpitas’ Habitera Inc. (bringing Godhwani’s total contributions to $45,000).

And another $15,000 came in from San Francisco-based OO Investment LLC, bringing that shadowy entity’s total ante to $40,000. Corporate records reveal nothing about OO Investment’s partners or activities, and the lawyer designated as its agent has not answered repeated queries.

The super PAC’s money paid for radio ads and mailers on Khanna’s behalf as his own campaign – once far more well-funded than Honda’s – ran dry in the contest’s final weeks.

Khanna’s campaign raised $172,368 and spent $314,598 from Oct. 16 through Nov. 24, leaving $5,134 cash on hand but $114,415 in debts at the end of that period. Over the entire course of the campaign, Khanna raised $4,597,033 and spent $4,460,621.

Honda’s campaign raised $317,663 and spent $710,226 from Oct. 16 through Nov. 24, leaving $27,732 cash on hand and no debt at the end of that period. Over the entire course of the campaign, Honda raised $3,244,647 and spent $3,202,356.

Posted on Saturday, December 6th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Mike Honda, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

CA17: Thoughts on whether Khanna will run again

Someone just asked me – in a Facebook comment beneath my Monday-morning quarterbacking of the 17th Congressional District race – whether I think Ro Khanna will run again in 2016. I wrote a lengthy reply, and then thought, “Hey, this looks like a blog item!”

My slightly modified answer: I honestly don’t know – a lot depends on whether Mike Honda keeps his victory-speech “promise” that this won’t be his last term.

If he runs against Honda again, it’s hard to see how anything will have changed in his favor in 2016.

    1.) He’ll be starting with $0 instead of the $1.2 million he’d raised when people thought he would succeed Stark.
    2.) Honda will be at least the same candidate as he is today – he’s not scandal-prone, so I doubt there’d be many new negatives – and might be better, after having the next two years in which to step up his legislative game.
    3.) The bigger turnout of a presidential year – when Californians will be flocking to the polls to elect a Democratic president – may or may not help him. Yes, I know Khanna believes bigger youth, independent and Republican turnout this year would’ve put him over the top. But 2016 will see many more older Democrats turning out as well, and given their registration margin in the district, the overall increase could still break in Honda’s favor.

And it would be hard for Khanna to run against any other incumbent. Given his 2004 primary challenge vs. Tom Lantos, his hope to succeed Pete Stark in 2012, and this year’s run against Honda, trying again in a fourth district would give credence to those who call him a carpetbagger, and would deprive him of the grassroots support and Silicon Valley identity he has already built.

But an open seat might be a different story. Consider the ages of many of the local members: Honda, 73; Anna Eshoo, 71; Zoe Lofgren, 66. Even presidential coattails won’t help Democrats re-take the House in 2016, and if any of these were to tire of being in the minority and decide to retire, I think Khanna could make a credible play for the seat assuming he’s not up against a party-endorsed, better-funded foe. That means Khanna will have some fence-mending to do with the party, though…

Posted on Tuesday, November 11th, 2014
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 15 Comments »

CA17: A little more Khanna-Honda post-mortem

My story in today’s editions explores why Ro Khanna’s campaign to unseat Rep. Mike Honda didn’t succeed, but there was more to my interview with Khanna than we had room for in this article.

I sat down with Khanna minutes after he delivered his concession speech Friday night. At that time, Honda led in unofficial returns by 3,658 votes, or 3.66 percentage points. Another 27,853 votes have been tallied in Santa Clara and Alameda counties since then, and as of Monday morning, Honda leads by 4,637 votes, or 3.62 percentage points.

CONGRESSMAN CANDIDATE RO KHANNAFirst, some more math. Khanna had said Friday that he and his consultants had hoped 150,000 to 160,000 votes would be cast in this race; in a district of about 296,000 voters, that would’ve meant turnout of about 51 to 54 percent. As of Monday morning, only about 128,000 ballots have been tallied – a turnout of only about 43 percent – and as Khanna notes in the story, his key constituencies of young voters, independents and Republicans were among the least likely to vote.

In Election Day’s earliest returns – absentee ballots that came in early enough that they’d already been processed by 8 p.m. Tuesday – Honda led by about 7 percentage points, a lead that narrowed later that night and in the following days. Khanna said that indicates Honda did better among earlier voters, while he was far more competitive among those who did their vote-by-mail ballots at the last minute or who voted at the polls on Election Day.

“We’d always said this was a race against time,” he said Friday. “If we’d had a couple more weeks, maybe we would’ve pulled ahead.”

Also, Khanna was more effusive in his praise of his deepest-pocketed supporter than I could fully explain in the story.

I had pressed Khanna about the $857,000 spent by Californians for Innovation, the super PAC formed by his supporters to do independent spending on his behalf; much of that spending came in the campaign’s final month, and about half that money was contributed late enough that the donors’ identities won’t be revealed until December.

I asked whether this had been a double-edged sword for him – the radio ads and mailers kept his name out there after his own campaign had run out of money, but the independent and somewhat shadowy spending might’ve discomfited some supporters who had been proud to back a candidate who shunned PAC and lobbyist donations to his own campaign. Khanna said he was OK with it.

“I was very open to say that if there were supporters who wanted to come to our defense, they should” – and he’s thankful that they did, he said. “I’m glad that there was someone there to set the record straight, I didn’t discourage it… but I think it’s unfortunate that we had to go there.”

The biggest super PAC donors – at $250,000 – were Texas energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold and his wife. Honda’s late ads noted Arnold had worked at Enron, a company which before its collapse in 2002 had gamed California’s electricity grid to cost the state’s residents billions of dollars in surcharges.

“I do know John Arnold, we had a long conversation about pension reform and his desire for new leadership in the Democratic Party,” Khanna said, noting Arnold has also supported Democrats like outgoing San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. “The idea that he’s a right-wing kind of person is just false… He and his wife are an incredibly decent couple and I’m very proud of their support. I regret that they were attacked in the campaign, I think they’re good people.”

Posted on Monday, November 10th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Mike Honda, U.S. House | 8 Comments »