Mike Honda, Ro Khanna Vie For California's 17th Congressional District Seat

The contest for California's 17th Congressional District in the South Bay pits two Democrats, incumbent Mike Honda and lawyer Rohit "Ro" Khanna, in a race that may come down to who has enough money left before election time Tuesday.

Honda and Khanna finished first and second respectively in the June 3 primary, the Republican candidate a distant third, so under state rules both Democrats are running to represent the 17th -- two Asian Americans in a majority Asian congressional district covering parts of southern Alameda County and northern Santa Clara County.

Honda, 71, is a graduate of San Jose State University and career politician elected to Congress in 2000, and Khanna, 38, is a patent attorney and former commerce official for the Obama administration who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2004 in another Bay Area district.

"We're standing on Congressman Honda's record," Honda campaign communications director Vivek Kembaiyan said. "I think people care about who is going to deliver for them in Congress...what are you able to get done."

Khanna said the campaign is "all about the economy" and that among his top priorities are to provide "the next generation with the right (job) skills" and add more women to the technology workforce, things he is emphasizing in a district that includes some of Silicon Valley's major tech businesses such as Apple, Intel and eBay.

"That's been the biggest difference in this campaign," Khanna said.

Both candidates have impressive endorsement lists. Of the two, Honda has the more powerful political names, among them President Barack Obama, Gov. Jerry Brown, state Attorney General Kamala Harris, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and more than 50 other members of Congress.

Khanna's list, which includes Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, also includes a litany of Silicon Valley executives: Facebook chief operating executive Sheryl Sandberg, Google Inc. head Eric Schmidt, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and other execs from tech firms like Microsoft, Oracle and Yelp.

With the campaign winding down toward the general election, money is an issue, with Khanna admitting that he has a lot less than the $3 million he raised prior to the primary.

Honda's spokesman Kembaiyan claims that Khanna's campaign had only about $6,700 left as of Oct. 16, while Honda had $420,000, he said.

"He (Khanna) raised a ton of money at the beginning, but in every corner of the year we have out raised him," Kembaiyan said.

Khanna agreed that Honda "has more money to spend in the final stretch of the campaign" but that Khanna's camp is going to a better job at the grassroots level with volunteers going to door-to-door to get out the vote.

"We're focused more on the ground game," he said.

But lately, even Honda's campaign has acknowledged Honda himself has a serious shortage of money following a slew of recent television ad buys.

Khanna's campaign forwarded an Oct. 23 internal email from Honda's campaign manager Doug Greven to staffers, stating, "I have terrible news.

Looking at our fund raising numbers and our projected budget, we are in serious trouble. If we don't get more cash fast then we might have to cut our Get Out the Vote program, or even close a field office."

Kembaiyan confirmed the Honda staff email was genuine but declined further comment.

Honda at first released a TV ad about his background as a South Bay local who was interned with his Japanese-American family by the U.S government during World War II.

Then he sent out in mid-October a new TV commercial directly attacking Khanna for, among other things, accepting campaign donations from conservatives.

Honda's people claim that Khanna has adopted right-wing views to impress Republicans in the district and cited former San Jose-area Republican Congressman Ernie Konnyu as someone endorsing him against Honda.

"He's clearly trying to attract the Republican vote," Kembaiyan said. "Although Ro Khanna is running with a 'D' next to his name, he certainly is acting more like a Republican."

Khanna said Honda's negative ads deliberately distorted the truth and he is not a conservative.

"It's almost unprecedented for a veteran congressman to go negative against his opponent," Khanna said. "I have never seen an incumbent campaign go nuclear on a challenger. It's a sign of desperation."

Khanna said there is not much of a difference between them on mainstream, liberal Democratic issues such as being pro-choice, in favor of marriage equality and protecting Social Security and Medicare. He denied a charge he said Honda's supporters made that he favored cutting Social Security payments.

Khanna said that in their debate on Oct. 6, Honda was not able to adequately explain his opinions and "lacked a basic understanding of the modern tech economy."

"He is really out of touch with the issues and is really not able to articulate his positions on them," Khanna said. "Anyone who has seen the debate will see he's no longer up to the job."

Khanna has complained about Honda's attendance record for votes in Congress. Kembaiyan acknowledged Honda "missed some votes" due to family matters and added that other Congress members in the Bay Area have lower attendance records.

But Khanna said that even when considering understandable family reasons to miss a few dozen votes, Honda failed to show for 466 votes, which he said is "still one of the worst attendance rates."

Kembaiyan took issue with Khanna's claim that Honda had authored only one bill, naming a post office, in the congressman's nearly 14-year House career.

Kembaiyan cited the $900 million in spending for BART's planned extension from Fremont to San Jose that Honda arranged while a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and his leading the passage of a bill in 2007 to spend $3.7 billion on nanotechnology, which Kembaiyan said "is huge for Silicon Valley."

But Khanna countered that Congress no longer permits earmarking money for specific projects, which he said is how Honda obtained the funds for BART. He criticized Honda for taking credit during their televised debate for obtaining $8.6 billion in funds for the national Head Start program.

Honda should not be taking credit for "mass appropriations" by Congress, Khanna said.

But Honda's people said he was only saying that it was an example of a program that he got funding for as a member of the Appropriations committee.

Honda's membership on the Appropriations Committee is important to the district because it determines where millions in federal funds are distributed for education, affordable housing and veterans, Kembaiyan said.

"It's about getting results, not about getting your name on a bill," Kembaiyan said.

Khanna's side has made an issue of its call for the House to investigate an alleged ethical breech by Honda's chief of staff, who in an email about an official round table by the U.S. State Department in 2013 asked Honda's previous campaign manager about people to invite for fund raising purposes.

Khanna claimed that violated House rules against mixing official duties with campaign-related fund raising.

Kembaiyan said that Honda's chief of staff has apologized, Honda himself has expressed his disappointment in her and that the congressman is willing to submit to an ethical investigation by Congress if one is launched.

Khanna said the ethical issue that came out if it shows that Honda is not involved enough in managing his office.

"I think his staffers are out there doing his job," he said.

Copyright BAYCN - Bay City News
Contact Us