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GOP knocks Clinton for Solyndra-related supporter

Republicans are trying to revive Solyndra – the Fremont-based solar energy company that went bankrupt in 2011 after receiving a federal loan guarantee – as an issue in 2016’s presidential campaign.

Hillary screenshotThe Republican National Committee has published an opposition research brief titled “Another Scandal in the Making” that knocks Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton for her scheduled attendance Friday at a Tulsa, Okla. fundraiser hosted by billionaire oilman and banker George Kaiser, a prominent Democratic fundraiser.

“Clinton is cashing in with a central figure in the Obama administration’s Solyndra scandal,” the GOP’s memo says.

Bloomberg News reported in 2011 that Kaiser’s family foundation invested $340 million in Solyndra, partly in hope that the solar-cell manufacturer would open a plant in Tulsa.

Solyndra also had received a $535 million loan guarantee from the federal government. The company, facing stiff competition from solar manufacturers in China and elsewhere, declared bankruptcy in September 2011; taxpayers took a loss of about $500 million. However, the renewable-energy loan program overall has made more money than it lost.

Solyndra in 2012 became a poster child for GOP charges of the Obama administration’s cronyism, in that the Energy Department apparently had pushed the loan guarantee through for a company in which several prominent Democratic donors were invested. Republican nominee Mitt Romney held a news conference in May 2012 outside the company’s shuttered headquarters. And an Energy Department inspector general’s report released in August found that Solyndra company officials had misrepresented facts and omitted key information in their efforts to secure the loan guarantee, while the department itself wasn’t adequately diligent and felt political pressure to OK the application.

The GOP’s new memo notes Clinton spoke in support of Solyndra in 2011 while serving as U.S. Secretary of State, and that Kaiser has donated up to $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation. It also notes that although Kaiser said he didn’t discuss the loan guarantee with the government, an email trail later revealed that his foundation’s staff had.

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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.

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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!”

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Excessive water use tax of up to 300%?

Water agencies could impose a tax of up to 300 percent on excessive use, under an East Bay lawmaker’s bill.

Bob WieckowskiSB 789 by state Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, will be heard Wednesday by the Assembly Local Government Committee. He held a news conference Tuesday at the Matsui Water Park, along the Sacramento River.

“California is in an historical drought emergency that threatens basic water supplies in some areas, yet there are still some residents and businesses who seem oblivious to the need to conserve, or they just don’t care,” Wieckowski, who chairs the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, said in a release issued afterward.

“SB 789 allows local water districts to go to the voters for permission to levy an excise tax on the worst water abusers,” he said. “It is one more tool local agencies can utilize to change bad behavior. This is a drought that affects all of us and we should all conserve and do our part to get us through this crisis.”

The State Water Resources Control Board has moved to curtail water use during the state’s historic drought, calling for a 25 percent cut, yet many water agencies are far from reaching their reduction goals despite managers’ best efforts. Wieckowski’s bill would let agencies impose up to a 300 percent tax on excessive use – a level to be determined by the local agencies – with revenue going to water conservation projects for those communities.

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Obama cites Fremont firm at trade roundtable

President Obama singled out the CEO of a Fremont company during a trade roundtable Wednesday at the White House.

The meeting – with seven small-business executives from around the nation plus the mayors of Philadelphia and Tampa – was to discuss “the opportunities and benefits of trade as well as the challenges that small business exporters face,” the White House said.

U.S. businesses are selling more made-in-America goods and services around the world than ever before, which builds job growth. But the President wants Congress to give him trade promotion authority to finalize new trade deals that will build on the momentum, while progressives argue U.S. workers will get a raw deal under these expanded trade agreements.

Barack Obama“The perception sometimes is … that the trade agenda is only important for big companies, big corporations, big Fortune 500 or 100 companies,” Obama said at the meeting. “Well, the group that’s sitting around here is made up of small business people or medium-sized business people who are seeing their businesses directly benefit from exports — as well as a couple mayors … who can account for hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars of sales coming out of their region as a consequence of exports.”

Among the executives at the table was Steve Basta, CEO of Fremont-based AlterG, which makes “anti-gravity” treadmills and a bionic leg – products aimed at shortening recovery times, reducing injury, and improving mobility for patients.

“Steve Basta with AlterG has created — or has a company that’s created, new technologies for medical rehabilitation,” Obama said. “He’s able to sell his products overseas, but what he’s finding is in some countries you’ve got tariffs that make his products more expensive and that means fewer sales.”

“And so this is not just the Boeings and the General Electrics that benefit” from trade promotion authority, Obama said “It’s also small businesses and medium-sized businesses directly benefit.”

AlterG is in Rep. Mike Honda’s 17th Congressional District. Honda, D-San Jose, in 2013 joined most House Democrats in signing a letter opposing fast-track trade promotion authority – which they said usurps Congress’ authority over trade matters – both for the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact Obama is trying to seal and for any future trade agreements.

“Twentieth Century ‘Fast Track’ is simply not appropriate for 21st Century agreements and must be replaced. The United States cannot afford another trade agreement that replicates the mistakes of the past. We can and must do better,” that letter said. “We are deeply committed to transforming U.S. trade policy into a tool for creating and retaining family-wage jobs in America, safeguarding the environment, maintaining consumer protection and improving the quality of life throughout the country.”

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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.