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Next week’s Commonwealth Club politics panel

Please come join me, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci and San Jose State University Professor and political analyst Larry Gerston at the Commonwealth Club of California’s “Week to Week” political roundtable and social next Tuesday evening, Sept. 16 in Palo Alto.

Moderated by club vice president John Zipperer, we’ll be chewing the fat about Tesla’s decision to site its battery “gigafactory” in Nevada instead of California; the campaign against Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper’s effort to split California into six states; and other hot political topics and campaigns.

We’ll be in the Schultz Cultural Hall at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, 3921 Fabian Way in Palo Alto; a wine-and-snacks social starts at 6 p.m., and the program starts at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $10 for club members or $20 for non-members and are available online; students get in free with valid ID.

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CA17: Honda-Khanna debate details not yet final

Rep. Mike Honda’s campaign has accepted an invitation to debate his challenger, fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, but the details are still in flux, the campaigns and a debate organizer said Monday.

Honda & Khanna (photo by Jim Gensheimer, Bay Area News Group)The Huffington Post and San Jose State University are working together to host the event – that much we know.

Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said Monday that his team accepted a proposal that the hour-long debate would be held on Tuesday, Oct. 14 or Thursday, Oct. 16. The format, Kembaiyan said, is a single moderator plus a panel consisting of Bay Area journalists and SJSU faculty, with questions selected by the Huffington Post but not provided to either candidate ahead of time. After a coin-toss determines the order of speakers, there will be no opening statements; instead, they’ll get right to two-minute responses with 90-second rebuttals and, at the panelists’ discretion, one-minute discussion extensions. Each candidate will finish with a two-minute closing statement.

A leak of some of this information on Friday caught Khanna’s campaign unawares, drawing anger that the debate (singular, they note, after Honda agreed earlier this year to “debates,” plural) wouldn’t happen until well after vote-by-mail ballots go out on Oct. 6.

“The Honda campaign apparently felt it would be acceptable to hold a debate that a large portion of voters wouldn’t get to see before they cast their ballots,” campaign spokesman Tyler Law said in a statement issued Monday. “Why doesn’t Congressman Honda want his constituents to see a debate?”

Khanna had tweeted to HuffPo Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim on Friday that he’s “happy to participate. But be honest and have it before absentee drops instead of enabling Honda games.” Grim replied, “We can work with that. Will get back to you with a date before ballots drop;” he later tweeted that it’s “a reasonable request, to be sure.”

Kembaiyan wouldn’t say Monday whether Honda will accept an earlier date, reiterating that Oct. 14 or 16 “was the proposal we got and which we accepted. We hope that works out.”

But Grim said Monday that “it’s still being worked out, it’s very early in the process” and that Friday’s leak “left the impression that something was finalized” when in fact it’s not.

In other 17th Congressional District news, the Berryessa-North San Jose Democratic Club – the only local Democratic club to have endorsed Khanna, back in February – voted 33-12 last Thursday to switch its endorsement to Honda. Club president Tim Orozco couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Club member John Comiskey, as quoted in a Honda campaign news release, said the club changed its endorsement because Khanna since the primary “has shown his true conservative colors” with endorsements from Republican former Rep. Ernie Konnyu and the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. “The vote of the club reflects the knowledge that there is only one true progressive in this race, and he is Mike Honda.”

But club member and Khanna campaign volunteer Mary Morris blogged last Wednesday about the process, noting Khanna had attended the February endorsement meeting and Honda didn’t. Pushing for a re-vote, she said, was “the epitome of pettiness. … Do we really want a congressman whose staff, under his leadership, needs two chances to get something done?”

UPDATE @ 1:39 P.M.: “Congressman Honda skipped both of the Berryessa-North San Jose Democratic Club forums, and every other Democratic club forum throughout this campaign,” Law said in an email. “His handlers can desperately spin Ro’s recent endorsements from Democratic Mayor Chuck Reed and the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, but voters are much more concerned with the Congressman’s absenteeism and whether or not he is still up to the job.”

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Ex-White House Cabinet Secretary visits Bay Area

Chris Lu this week might face a task more daunting than his four years as President Obama’s Cabinet Secretary: convincing college students of the value of public service, even as a federal shutdown sends public distrust of government skyrocketing.

Chris LuLu, 47, from January 2009 through this past February was the main liaison between the president and his executive departments and agencies; Obama called him “one of my longest-serving and closest advisors.”
He’s speaking Tuesday evening at St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, and then again at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in at San Jose State University’s Morris Dailey Auditorium.

And with Obama and House Republicans in stalemate, large swaths of the federal government shut down, and an Oct. 17 deadline for raising the nation’s debt limit and staving off economic chaos, Lu might be glad he’s 2,400 miles away from Washington.

“I’m optimistic that cooler heads will prevail… but candidly I can’t see the path forward at this point,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “It is hard for me to see what the exit strategy is, and I think that’s unfortunate.”

He said House Republicans first wanted to defund the Affordable Care Act, then to delay it, and now might be making demands about other spending instead, he said.

“It’s hard to negotiate when the other side’s demands keep changing,” he said, noting the shutdown in 1995-96 was over budget issues on which it was easier to settle by splitting the difference. “Here there is obviously some money involved, but the president has made clear he’s not negotiating over defunding Obamacare … or on the debt limit, either.”

Lu defended the glitchy rollout of enrollment in health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. It’s an extremely complex system in which more than half the states have refused to cooperate, leaving the federal government to do it for them, he said.

“This was always going to be challenging, but what I am optimistic about is – to the extent that there were glitches in the first week – the glitches were a result of too many people going online,” he said, which is a far better problem than having too few people interested. “The president made clear this was not going to be a smooth rollout, that there would be glitches along the way, but we’ve got multiple months to work it out.”

“Even in the best of times, encouraging people to go into public service and work in the government is a tall order,” he said, but it’s moreso when a shutdown situation like this breeds rampant distrust of government. People outside of Washington aren’t immersed in partisan bickering and “they don’t understand why the government isn’t running, why people can’t sit down and talk these things out and reach some kind of compromise.”

But college campuses still offer some hope, he said. “I still think young people get the value of service… of thinking beyond themselves and looking to help others.”

Lu and Obama attended Harvard Law School at the same time and became good friends when Lu joined Obama’s U.S. Senate staff. He was Obama’s legislative director in the Senate, and was named executive director of Obama’s transition team after his election in 2008. As Cabinet Secretary, he was one of the administration’s highest-ranking Asian-Americans and also co-chaired the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Since leaving the White House, Lu has been a fellow at the University of Chicago and at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.

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A few more thoughts on Pete Stark’s defeat

We’ve posted my story for tomorrow’s print editions on how Rep. Pete Stark’s defeat marks both the end of an era and, probably, the start of another Democrat-on-Democrat race for the 15th Congressional District in 2014. Here’s a few final thoughts for which there wasn’t room in that story, but which seem noteworthy nonetheless.

This was a contest for which our editors wanted election-night photographs, but Stark’s campaign refused to tell us Monday and Tuesday where he would be Tuesday night; I still don’t know where he watched the returns.

I take this as a sign that his campaign staff knew there was a pretty good chance he would lose. I’d bet their final internal polling showed a tight race, perhaps with Stark holding a small lead, but with many last-minute “undecided” voters likely to break against the incumbent. Apparently they did.

San Jose State University political scientist Larry Gerston said Stark’s “quirky political behavior and a dramatically changed district” fueled his downfall at least as much as the top-two primary system. That is, Stark’s loss necessarily doesn’t mark a sea change in how future campaigns will be run, and other Bay Area House Democrats need not look over their shoulders.

“This was the exception to the rule – I don’t know any other elected official in Congress who had the reputation Stark had,” Gerston said. “It’s a shame. He’s a man who at one time had an impeccable reputation, a liberal icon. This is more a story of ‘his time had come.’”

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Local Dems running hard with student-loan issue

Democrats are running hard with the student-loan issue, including some efforts here in the Bay Area.

The interest rate on need-based student loans will double to 6.8 percent July 1 unless a law is passed. Both sides of the aisle appear to favor freezing the interest rate, yet each side is using the question of how to pay for it against the other as a political issue.

The House last week passed Republicans’ HR 4628 to maintain the rate at 3.4 percent for another year, paid for by eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the Affordable Care Act health care reform law. Democrats say the GOP has set up a false dilemma by cutting flu vaccines, cancer and heart disease screenings and other services for children and families.

The White House has threatened a veto, but the bill isn’t expected to get past the Democrat-controlled Senate, anyway. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has introduced S.2343 to pay for freezing the interest rate by making it harder for owners of so-called S corporations to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on some of their earnings.

The Senate might consider Reid’s bill Monday, so politicians are hitting the streets and phones to drum up support.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will be joined by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Mills College President Alecia DeCoudreaux, Holy Names University President William Hynes, and Cal State East Bay President Leroy Morishita for a news conference tomorrow morning at Cal’s Haas Pavilion.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, will address this and other issues during a conference call tomorrow with reporters.

And Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, will attend a rally Thursday morning at San Jose State University with local students who’ll discuss how the interest-rate increase would affect them. An estimated 7.4 million students nationwide, including more than 570,000 in California, would pay an average of $1,000 more over the life of their loans.

UPDATE @ 4:25 P.M. WEDNESDAY: Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, was banging the drum today at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, while Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, did so at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park.

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Clintons head for California

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is the featured speaker at Friday night’s Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco. (Click here for details.)

And Bill, her husband and former president, will headline a rally on Friday and Sunday rally with gubernatorial candidate and Attorney Jerry Brown. The Friday event is at UCLA, followed by a  San Jose State University rally on Sunday.

Wait? Don’t those two dislike each other? Never mind. San Francisco Mayor and lieutenant governor candidate Gavin Newsom will on hand to buffer any leftover hostilities as Democrats push back against predictions of a mid-term Republican wave.

The Vote 2010 Rally in the Bay Area begins at 6:30 p.m., San Jose State University event center, 290 S. 7th St., San Jose. To RSVP, email bayarea@cadems.org or visit www.cadem.org/clintonvote2010rallies.

In a flyer distributed on campus, the organizers say folks who participate in a pre-rally phone banking event will receive preferred access to the rally.