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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 | 2 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 »

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 »