Editor’s Note: This post is a re-posting of “‘Run, Ro, Run,’ Honda Responds to Challenger Khanna“. Mike is an AAA-Fund Honorary Board member and a 2012 AAA-Fund Endorsed Candidate.
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Rep. Mike Honda (second from right), who is being challenged for California’s Congressional District 17 seat by former Obama administration official Ro Khanna, is shown at the India Community Center’s recent 10th anniversary gala. Left to right: Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves; ICC co-founders Gautam Godhwani, Talat Hasan and Anil Godhwani; and San Jose city councilman Ash Kalra (far right). Anil Godhwani and Hasan’s husband Kamil are backing Khanna, while Kalra is endorsing Honda.
- FREMONT, Calif., United States
Rep. Mike Honda, who has served parts of California’s Silicon Valley in Congress since 2001, said he was unfazed by the prospect of a high-profile, deep-pocketed challenger to his 2014 re-election campaign to retain his Congressional seat in Northern California’s Silicon Valley.
“It’s great to have the competition: it sharpens the focus,” Honda told India-West in a telephone interview, after former Obama administration official Ro Khanna announced April 2 his intent to unseat Honda in the 2014 general election.
Both Honda and Khanna are Democrats. New California election mandates allow candidates from the same party to compete against each other in the general election, if they are the highest vote getters from either party in the primaries.
“Ultimately, it’s the voters who decide. We have a highly educated, highly informed district who will make decisions based on the information presented to them,” said Honda, chairman emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “We have to present ourselves in a very transparent and open way.”
Almost 20 months before the Nov. 4, 2014 general election, both campaigns have gone full court press. Honda received early endorsements from President Barack Obama; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; California Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer; California Attorney General Kamala Harris; and Rep. Ami Bera from Sacramento, the sole Indian American in the House.
In an Apr. 8 letter, five former Indian American congressional hopefuls threw their support behind Honda, including former Kansas state Representative Raj Goyle; New Jersey state Assemblyman Upendru Chivukula; attorneys Ashwin Madia and Ravi Sangisetty; and physician Manan Trivedi.
“From civil and religious rights, to minority small business issues and health disparities, to immigration reform to helping individuals from underrepresented communities get elected, Congressman Honda has been there on the frontlines fighting for our communities,” wrote the five, stating that Honda had mentored each of them in their congressional bids.
The 36-year-old Khanna, who teaches economics at Stanford University and law at Santa Clara University and serves as counsel at one of the Valley’s most venerable law firms, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati, has stacked his campaign team with key staffers of Obama’s re-election campaign (see separate story). Khanna has a financial headstart with a $1.2 million campaign war-chest he amassed before announcing his bid against Honda; the Indian American candidate will formally launch his campaign Apr. 14 with an afternoon rally at DeAnza College in Cupertino.
The former Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Commerce Department, who has been dubbed a Democratic rising star, told India-West shortly before announcing his campaign that Honda was out of touch with his Silicon Valley constituency (I-W, Apr. 5).
But Honda dismissed such characterization, noting to this newspaper that he has represented the Silicon Valley for the past 13 years.
“The notion that I do not understand the vocabulary of Silicon Valley is nonsense. I’m not an inventor, or a patent lawyer, but I was a science teacher and I do understand what’s going on,” he stated.
The 71-year-old Japanese American recently “crowd sourced” his campaign Web site, asking the public for their input in delivering his message.
The Walnut Grove, Calif., native, who has been characterized as a traditional, union-backed Democrat, gave a shout-out to labor’s role in the Valley’s recovery.
“Labor is the reason we have a strong middle-class here. They build the buildings the innovators work in, the machines that make the silicon chips,” said Honda, enthusiastically championing educators, firefighters and other union-dominant professions.
In his 2011-2012 campaign, Honda received approximately $157,000 from labor-related PACs of the total $900,844 he received for that run, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
About one-fifth of Khanna’s contributors in 2011 also contributed to Honda’s campaign in 2012, according to FEC filings by both candidates. Significantly, venture capitalist Vinod Gupta – who threw a fundraiser for Khanna in 2011 – contributed $2,500 to Honda’s race in 2012, according to FEC reports.
Gautam Dutta, executive director of the Asian American Action Fund, told India-West, “Mike has been there from the start. He has seen the Silicon Valley grow, he knows all the movers and shakers and is pretty diverse.”
“He cares about immigration, education being affordable, and shattering glass ceilings at the workplace,” stated Dutta. The AAAF announced its endorsement of Honda Apr. 9.
“Today, as Congress debates immigration reform, Congressman Honda leads his colleagues on the issue of reuniting families – one of the greatest concerns for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” Dutta said in the endorsement letter.
One of the real game changers of the race may be a lawsuit Dutta has initiated against the Top-Two Primary law, which he believes to be unconstitutional by forcing people to lie about party preferences during primary races. The case was heard Feb. 13 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif. If the court decides in Dutta’s favor, the California State Legislature will have to amend the law, explained Dutta. If the law is not amended in time for the November 2014 general election, the state will be forced to go back to the old system, where the top vote-getter in either party competes in the general election.
Evelyn Li, a Republican who ran against Honda in 2012 but was roundly trounced, has not indicated whether she will run again in 2014. Harmeet Dhillon, vice chair of the California Republican Party, told India-West, “We will run someone for sure,” but did not hint at prospective candidates.
“There is not much daylight between Honda and Khanna — two flavors of the same big government medicine,” said Dhillon, adding, “Don’t get me wrong — I think it is great that Ro is taking on Mike Honda. Incumbency is corrupting and sclerotic and competition is good for politics. The more choices the voters have, the better.”
“Republicans have been winning conservative battles in Silicon Valley recently including pension reform in San Jose and we intend to give voters a true business-friendly choice,” she added.
Fremont, Calif., Vice Mayor Anu Natarajan told India-West, “This is great, and may get the community organized, there has to continue to be a focus on local politics.”
“This shouldn’t be our only race. We need to create a robust pipeline of people at the local level,” she added.
At press time, Natarajan had not announced an endorsement for either candidate. San Jose city councilman Ash Kalra told India-West he was supporting Honda.