Part of the Bay Area News Group

CA17: Honda and Khanna are busy as bees

Rep. Mike Honda and his Democratic challenger, Ro Khanna, are keeping busy at keeping themselves in the public eye this week.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, hosted a public town hall Tuesday in San Jose with Ted Osius, the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam. This month marks the 20th anniversary of normal diplomatic relations between the two nations, and San Jose – and the 17th Congressional District – have significant Vietnamese populations.

Honda also was among 72 House and Senate Democrats who wrote to President Barack Obama on Monday urging him to fight for expanded Social Security benefits.

“We have a duty, as a civil society, to take care of our vulnerable populations, including older Americans. They have worked a lifetime to earn these benefits and we must make sure that there is sufficient support for our seniors,” Honda said in a news release Tuesday. “Would you be accepting if I told you your grandparents… or even you, or your parents will be forced into poverty? Even as we face challenges today, we also know we are facing a looming crisis that needs to be handled now – over half of today’s working Americans are not expected to have sufficient resources once they retire.”

And Honda issued a news release noting he met this week with state officers of DECA, a student organization focused on career and technical education for high school and college students. Among them were Albert Zeng of Monte Vista High School, DECA’s state president; Zuhayer Quazi of Mission San Jose High School, the vice president of public relations; and Jacinta Cheng of Mission San Jose High School, the group’s Silicon Valley vice president.

“Speaking with these motivated young people showed me the amount of potential we have here in Silicon Valley,” Honda said in his news release. “They surprised me with their astute questions related to specific legislation about technical education. The combination of their civic engagement and interest in technical education points to a very bright future for Silicon Valley.”

These certainly aren’t the only constituents with whom Honda meets, but you might recall that one of the angry constituents Khanna showcased at a news conference last August was a teenager who complained Honda hadn’t had the time to talk with her during a D.C. visit.

Ro KhannaMeanwhile, Khanna – a former Obama administration Commerce Department appointee from Fremont – on Tuesday helped inaugurate his new employer’s Water Innovation Center in Santa Clara.

Khanna in January became vice president of strategic initiatives for Smart Utility Systems. The company, which already had offices in Irvine and in Noida, India, creates software to help water districts and utilities increase conservation efforts, better manage resources and make operations more efficient, from usage monitoring and leak detection to customer engagement and workforce management.

The company said its new Santa Clara facility “will provide a hub in Silicon Valley to help maintain the company’s leadership in the evolving utilities landscape.” Tuesday’s event included the unveiling of a new low-cost water reduction program for utilities, and a new mobile app that will let consumers partner with utilities to identify water waste and increase conservation.

Posted on Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 5 Comments »

CA17: Playing it cagey on trade authority debate

In reporting my story today on Rep. Mike Honda’s declaration of candidacy for a ninth term, I tried to contrast his position on the trade package that House Democrats sank last week with that of Ro Khanna, his Democratic challenger.

But Khanna – a former Obama administration Commerce Department official – isn’t making that easy.

honda.jpgHonda last Friday joined most Democrats in voting against the trade package for which President Obama and Republican leaders had pushed hard. The “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority bill “did not include a voice for working families” and limits Congress’ power to represent labor, business and environmental interests, he said in a statement issued Friday, while the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill was underfunded, “ignores public sector workers, and is propped up on the back of continued cuts to Medicare.”

Khanna was out of town Tuesday, but I asked him and his acting campaign manager, Brian Parvizshahi, to provide me a succinct summation of how he would’ve voted on the bills.

Ro Khanna“Ro agrees with Secretary Hillary Clinton’s recent, thoughtful comments on the issue,” Parvizshahi replied by email. “He agrees with her that we need to increase TAA funding and fight for a fully funded highway bill to find a way forward.”

Yet Clinton – who supported TPA while serving as Secretary of State – has been very cagey in what she says about it now, as frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

At a campaign rally Sunday in Iowa, Clinton spoke more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a trade deal with 11 other Pacific Rim nations – than about the TPA and TAA bills that would let the Obama Administration finish negotiating it. She urged President Obama to listen to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats and make changes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that reflect their concerns about protecting American jobs and wages.

“She declined to take sides on the Friday vote itself but instead allied herself with Democratic critics of the deal — without actually opposing it,” the New York Times reported.

And CNN reported Monday that Clinton in New Hampshire had once again declined to say whether she thinks Obama should have authority to fast-track the Pacific trade deal through Congress without amendments. She dismissed the fight over that legislation, known as trade promotion authority, as “a process issue.”

Of course, as president Clinton would stand in Obama’s shoes, not those of Congress. But Khanna wants to fill congressional shoes, and only 3.6 percentage points in November prevented him from being part of Friday’s roll calls. It would be nice to know, definitively, how he would have voted.

Larry Gerston, a San Jose State University professor emeritus and political expert who closely watched the 2014 Honda-Khanna showdown, said Honda seems to be poised to make a case to voters for why the trade package would have cost jobs in the 17th Congressional District. For Khanna to make a different case “would be a large contrast,” Gerston said.

Posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 10 Comments »

CA17: Mike Honda touts budget bill victories

Rep. Mike Honda, facing a second consecutive challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, wants his Silicon Valley district to know it was front and center in his mind as he pursued certain funding in the Commerce, Justice and Science budget bill that the House passed Wednesday.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, issued a news release Thursday saying he used “his senior position on the Appropriations Committee and long-standing relationships” to ensure that the bill prevented NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – which includes researchers at Ames Research Center in Mountain View – from being prematurely terminated; directed the FBI to explore using outside labs for DNA testing, to end the backlog of untested rape kits across the country; and called for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program to focus on plastic marine debris, one of the main types of waste harming fish and other wildlife.

“I will always work to bring Silicon Valley’s unique voice to Congress,” Honda said in the release. “We represent the very best of America – a diverse population made up of forward thinkers and innovators who have a deep understanding and respect of our history. Serving as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee has allowed me to champion initiatives critical to the continued success and growth of our region.”

Khanna, a former Obama administration Commerce Department official who lost last year’s race to Honda by 3.6 percentage points, launched his 2016 campaign this past Saturday and announced this week his lead campaign strategist will be netroots guru Joe Trippi. One of Khanna’s key criticisms of Honda has been that the eight-term congressman is ineffective, authoring too few successful bills and accomplishing too little.

Posted on Thursday, June 4th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

CA17: Honda attacks Khanna’s ‘usual suspects’

With Ro Khanna about to launch his second campaign to unseat Rep. Mike Honda on Saturday, Honda’s campaign has fired a shot across his bow – a website taking potshots at Khanna’s deep-pocketed campaign contributors, including some of Silicon Valley’s most successful investors and executives.

The RosUsualSuspects.com page seems to revive many of the attacks that Honda, D-San Jose, leveled last year against his Democratic challenger during the ugly 17th Congressional District race. Honda won an eighth term by 3.6 percentage points.

honda.jpg“The Honda campaign will be aggressively reminding voters who is behind the obscene amounts of money that the challenger will raise and spend in his continued pursuit of power,” Adam Alberti, a spokesperson for Honda’s campaign, said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

“Ro Khanna’s style-over-substance brand of politics combined with the backing of big money is a threat to the democratic process, and if successful will come at a cost to the great many members of our community who have been excluded from the tech boom and are struggling to provide for their families,” Alberti continued. “Congressman Honda believes in representing the entire district, not just the top 1 percent who have benefited most from our economy.”

But Khanna issued a statement later Thursday afternoon saying “attacks like this are precisely why we need new ideas in Washington.”

“This is what people do in Washington – they try to score political points with dubious guilt-by-association tactics, rather than working together to get things done,” he said. “I prefer to spend my time fighting for good paying local jobs and trying to make our community a better place, rather than engaging in political bickering.”

Khanna vowed to “campaign on ideas to elevate the debate. I hope Mike Honda will offer more than the same tired old Washington attacks.”

Much of what’s on the page is similar to a Honda campaign television ad we dissected last October, and merits explanation and/or refutation.

John Arnold, the “Power Broker” who used to work at Enron, and his wife gave $350,000 last year to Californians for Innovation, a super PAC that spent almost $776,000 on Khanna’s behalf. Arnold also has contributed to the campaigns of President Barack Obama; U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove; and dozens of other Democratic candidates and committees.

Republican ex-Congressman Ernie Konnyu did try to get the Tea Party Express to spend $50,000 to support Khanna, but he was unsuccessful in convincing it to do so – so calling Khanna “their candidate” seems disingenuous at best.

Marc Leder – the Florida hedge fund executive who hosted the fundraiser at which Mitt Romney made his infamous “47 percent” comment, and who gave Romney and affiliated groups more than a half-million dollars – did contribute $5,200 to Khanna’s campaign last year and has given $5,400 this year. But if that makes Khanna less of a Democrat, you’d have to say the same about U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.; and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. – all of whom have accepted Leder’s contributions.

And although Khanna’s donor list does include some executives “who would profit by cutting wages and outsourcing U.S. jobs” and “strongly opposed increasing the minimum wage to ensure fair pay for families in our region,” Khanna – a former Obama Commerce Department appointee – repeatedly has spoken against offshoring jobs and in favor of raising the minimum wage. Likewise, Peter Thiel supports Social Security privatization but Khanna does not.

Khanna raised $801,000 in the first quarter of this year, mostly after C-SPAN aired footage of Honda seeming to doze off during a Feb. 27 House floor debate on homeland security funding. Honda raised $258,000 in the first quarter.

Posted on Thursday, May 28th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 7 Comments »

CA17: Gentlemen, start your engines…

It seems Ro Khanna will announce his widely expected 2016 rematch challenge to Rep. Mike Honda in the 17th Congressional District at the end of this month.

Khanna supporters received an email Tuesday inviting them “to hear his special announcement in person on May 30th! As a supporter of change and fresh thinking in Washington, you won’t want to miss it!”

The event is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, May 30 at the Santa Clara Civic Center, 1500 Warburton Ave. An RSVP form has been added to Khanna’s campaign website.

Khanna, 38, a former Obama administration Commerce Department official who lives in Fremont, finished 3.6 percentage points behind Honda in November’s election after one of the nation’s costliest House showdowns of 2014. As I reported last month, Khanna raised about $800,000 in this year’s first quarter – or more precisely, in March, after CSPAN’s video of Honda, 73, dozing on the House floor Feb. 27 as his colleagues debated the Homeland Security Department’s funding.

Posted on Wednesday, May 20th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Ro Khanna has a new job & got engaged

Former congressional candidate Ro Khanna has a new job, and is engaged to be married.

Khanna, 38, has joined Smart Utility Systems – a company with offices in Irvine and in Noida, India – as vice president of strategic initiatives.

Ro Khanna“I am excited about opening Smart Utility’s Silicon Valley office, and working on increasing awareness for an energy-efficiency software that will save consumers money and reduce energy consumption at peak hours,” Khanna said Wednesday.

Khanna, a former Obama administration Commerce Department official who lives in Fremont, last year mounted an insurgent Democratic campaign against seven-term incumbent Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, in the 17th Congressional District. After a costly and hard-fought race, Honda prevailed by 3.6 percentage points.

Khanna also said his longtime girlfriend, Ritu Ahuja, is now his fiancée.

As reported here last week, Khanna has been spending some time recently helping organize opposition to a proposed expansion of the Newby Island Landfill, at the end of Dixon Landing Road in Milpitas.

Posted on Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
Under: 2014 general, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Ro Khanna’s new project: Opposing landfill growth

Ro Khanna, the renegade Democrat who came within a few points of unseating Rep. Mike Honda last year, has found a new, local cause to champion: a fight against stinky garbage.

Ro KhannaThe former Obama administration official is helping to drum up opposition to a proposed expansion of the Newby Island Landfill. Expanding the dump at the end of Dixon Landing Road by 15.1 million cubic yards, and delaying its estimated closure from 2025 to 2041, would create the Bay Area’s highest landfill. Residents of Milpitas and other nearby communities say the dump’s odors already are affecting their health and quality of life.

Khanna, 38, of Fremont, said Wednesday that Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves – who had endorsed Khanna in the 17th Congressional District showdown that Honda won by 3.6 percentage points – has appointed him “to be a liaison to community groups on this and to work with the city’s lawyers.

“I am involved in a public strategy to make sure Newby takes actions to mitigate the odors that are affecting residents in Milpitas, Fremont and even Santa Clara,” Khanna said. “Also I am opposed to the expansion permit.”

Khanna said he’s no longer of counsel to the Silicon Valley powerhouse law firm Wilson Sonsini, but he remains a visiting lecturer at Stanford’s Economics Department and may have an iron in the fire with a tech firm – stay tuned for that.

Khanna forwarded information about a demonstration the landfill’s opponents intend to stage at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday outside San Jose City Hall, before the city planning commission’s 6:30 p.m. meeting. Activists say they’ve gathered 10,000 petition signatures opposing the expansion permit since November; they want the planning commission to deny the permit and order an odor-mitigation study.

Posted on Wednesday, January 14th, 2015
Under: 2014 general, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

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 »