Ro Khanna Makes Another Strategic Mistake in Challenging Mike Honda

Nothing hurts in politics like being stabbed in the back—especially by a person who should be helping the cause instead of hurting it. As Brutus ultimately realized, killing Caesar did not work out in the long run.

Fast forward to the curious case of Ro Khanna, the modern day Brutus who is considering a challenge to Congressman Mike Honda in the 17th Congressional District.

Nobody has done more for the empowerment of undeserved populations or mentored more potential leaders than Mike Honda. Not simply for the large Asian community, but every undeserved population. Honda is chair of the Ethiopian Caucus in Congress, for example, a small caucus that champions the issues of a small but growing Ethiopian immigrant population.

Locally, Honda has been responsible for the rise of many individuals including Assemblyman Paul Fong, Indo-American San Jose Councilman Ash Kalra and Campbell Mayor Evan Low, the first openly gay mayor of a South Bay city. Honda has also help Vietnamese-American candidate Jimmy Nguyen by giving his time, advice and money.

As a member of the Democratic National Committee, Honda has raised money from every part of the nation and sought to empower individuals from communities that are poorly represented in the U.S. Congress. Nationally, Honda supported Senator Mazie Hirono and Congresswoman Colleen Hanbusa of Hawaii, both of whom are Buddhist. When Tulsi Gabbard, a Hindu, sought election to Congress, Honda sponsored her fundraiser in Cupertino.

Congressman Honda has promoted the rise of the under-represented, so it is the height of irony that he would be challenged by an Indo-American from his own party.

Khanna, a former President Obama appointee (note the President has endorsed Honda), was stung badly by the defeat of Pete Stark. As a resident of Fremont, he chose not to run against the incumbent congressman with an inferred promise that he would one day replace the aging, but powerful, Stark. The surprise victory of Eric Swalwell over Stark nullified that implied agreement and left the ambitious Khanna wanting.

So Khanna, apparently emboldened by Stalwell’s success, now chooses to carpetbag and run against Honda in a district he does not know, live or work. Undoubtedly, he is kicking himself for not challenging Stark last year, but taking on Honda piles on yet another mistake. By challenging Honda, Khanna’s career will be over before it begins.

The real tragedy of this potential race is its effect on candidates who could have benefited from both Honda and Khanna’s fundraising prowess. Instead of expanding opportunity in congressional districts around the country, these two will be utilizing precious resources to fight each other. Those dollars cannot be replaced and the ultimate winners are John Boehner and Eric Cantor, who could never win California’s 17th District but won’t have to contend with the extra money raised by Honda to support candidates elsewhere.

In the final analysis, Khanna will lose this race badly if he decides to run. Honda worked hard in the last election; not because he had a real opponent, but because the district was new for him and he takes nothing for granted.

Oh, and one more thing. While Pete Stark was an effective Congressman, he was not considered a genuinely nice human being, nor did he pay enough attention to his local district. That is the antithesis of Honda. Anybody who knows Mike has probably sung karaoke with him. He has represented his district well and helped nearly everyone in Silicon Valley. In short, Honda is no Pete Stark.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

26 Comments

  1. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I first read this article.  It’s obvious that the Honda campaign had a surrogate write this.  It is especially curious since Khanna hasn’t announced that he is running against Honda, yet. 

    Khanna has been a resident of Fremont for several years.  Fremont is represented by both Swalwell’s and Honda’s district. To call him a carpetbagger is erroneous, especially considering that Honda’s house is outside of his current district.  If Khanna is a carpetbagger, then the same can easily be said for Honda.

    When Khanna filed his papers with the FEC back in 2011, he did not specify which district he was going to run in.  It was widely assumed that he would run for Pete Stark’s seat once Stark retired.  There have been reporters who have said that Khanna made a grave miscalculation in not challenging Stark.  I couldn’t disagree more.  If Khanna had made the decision to run against Stark, it is highly likely that that State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett would have jumped in the race as well, which would have likely resulted in Stark and Independent candidate Chris Pareja winning the top 2 spots in the primary, leaving Khanna, Corbett, and Swalwell in the dust.  So in my humble opinion, Khanna was brilliant in deciding not to run in 2012.

    Look, I like Congressman Honda.  He is a nice guy.  And it is true that he has been a mentor to many young leaders within the Democratic party, but that doesn’t mean that he is a good legislator.  Congress is broken.  It’s been years since Congress’ approval rating has been above 15%.  It is time to literally clean House and for a new generation of leaders to be elected and fix the atrocious mess that the current Congress has gotten our country into.  As the saying goes, “Out with the old.  In with the new!”

    I hope Khanna does decide to run. Elections should be decided on issues and not popularity.  The voters should be treated to a healthy debate on the issues.  I think it would be crystal clear how out of touch Honda really is with Silicon Valley.  We need someone who understand manufacturing and who actually has a new vision to lead Silicon Valley in the 21st Century.  Honda should kindly step down and enjoy his remaining days singing karaoke with his buddies and let someone who understands the needs of Silicon Valley step in an represent the district. This would be the best service that Honda has given his constituents in years. 

    As an Independent voter, I am anxiously awaiting to see what Ro Khanna decides to do.  If he decides to run, I think he will win!

    • “It’s obvious that the Honda campaign had a surrogate write this.”

      It’s obvious that Rich Robinson wrote this, his name is in the byline. Is Rich Robinson a surrogate for the Honda campaign? No.

      Getting rid of Honda is not “literally” cleaning the House, it’s not even figuratively cleaning the House. Blaming Honda for obstructionism in Congress is like blaming a doctor for your cancer- that cancer being gerrymandered Congressional districts which have resulted in a tremendous disconnect between the opinion of the American people and their elected Representatives. If you really want to fight obstructionist, spend money on races to fight the real obstructionists- don’t blow money trying to unseat reasonable Congressmen.

      • Well by the looks of all of the comments Dakota N. has made against anyone who is remotely opposed to Honda, it is even more obvious that Dakota is a surrogate for Honda’s campaign. I can’t even take any of these comments seriously.  There are so many flaws in Mr. Robinson’s article, that it should be printed in a sensationalist rag like the Enquirer. Maybe he’s not a surrogate, but he is obviously taken directives from Honda’s campaign. Or maybe he’s just a karaoke buddy?

        All of the early endorsements, silly attacks, and announcing a 2014 campaign 20 months before the election and before there is a formal challenger screams desperation. 

        I’m not sure who I will vote for yet, but I am (hopefully) looking forward to seeing two strong candidates debate the issues openly.  It will be good for the district, the candidates, and the voters. I think there is someone out there much better to serve the interests of Silicon Valley in the 21st Century than Honda.  Is it Khanna?  I think so, but that remains to be seen.  Hopefully we will find out soon enough.

        No sitting congressperson should be entitled to hold the peoples’ seat as long as he/she wants.  Honda has told many people in the district that he plans to hold the seat for another 10 years.  That would make him older than Pete Stark when he retires, which is precisely why we need term limits in both the House and Senate.  Too much greed and complacency otherwise.  We really need some fresh blood from both sides of the aisle in there.  Congress will remain irreparable until this happens. In my original comments, I didn’t intent to place the blame solely on Honda but on Congress as a whole.

        One thing I forgot to mention in my original comment… Khanna is an adjunct professor at Santa Clara Law School, so technically he does work in the district contradictory to what Mr. Robinson says above.

        Also the Brutus/Caesar comparison is way off base.  It’s more like David and Goliath.

        “Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.”

      • Well by the looks of all of the comments Dakota N. has made against anyone who is remotely opposed to Honda, it is even more obvious that Dakota is a surrogate for Honda’s campaign. I can’t even take any of these comments seriously.  There are so many flaws in Mr. Robinson’s article, that it should be printed in a sensationalist rag like the Enquirer. Maybe he’s not a surrogate, but he is obviously taken directives from Honda’s campaign. Or maybe he’s just a karaoke buddy?

        All of the early endorsements, silly attacks, and announcing a 2014 campaign 20 months before the election and before there is a formal challenger screams desperation. 

        I’m not sure who I will vote for yet, but I am (hopefully) looking forward to seeing two strong candidates debate the issues openly.  It will be good for the district, the candidates, and the voters. I think there is someone out there much better to serve the interests of Silicon Valley in the 21st Century than Honda.  Is it Khanna?  I think so, but that remains to be seen.  Hopefully we will find out soon enough.

        No sitting congressperson should be entitled to hold the peoples’ seat as long as he/she wants.  Honda has told many people in the district that he plans to hold the seat for another 10 years.  That would make him older than Pete Stark when he retires, which is precisely why we need term limits in both the House and Senate.  Too much greed and complacency otherwise.  We really need some fresh blood from both sides of the aisle in there.  Congress will remain irreparable until this happens.

        One thing I forgot to mention in my original comment… Khanna is an adjunct professor at Santa Clara Law School, so technically he does work in the district contradictory to what Mr. Robinson says above.

        Also the Brutus/Caesar comparison is way off base.  It’s more like David and Goliath.

        “Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.”

        • Do you just accuse everyone who disagrees with you of being “surrogates”, as if anyone who disagrees with you only does so because they’re paid shills? Is anyone who defends any sitting politician a “surrogate”? When your first reaction is to make an accusation like that, you might want to stop and ask yourself if you’re being irrational.

        • I just find it amusing that you feel the need to reply to every poster who doesn’t agree with the author.  The one who is really being irrational here is Rich Robinson.  This whole editorial is a joke and factually incorrect in several areas. Let the process play itself out and leave intimidation tactics out of it.  At least the SF Chronicle and Mercury News are being fair.  The more candidates that voters have to choose from, the better.  I’m just tired of incumbents thinking they are entitled to hold their seats as long they desire.  The voters deserve better than that.  This is the peoples’ seat, not Honda’s.  I want multiple choices.  Just my two cents.

        • I replied to three people. My comments to Minority White Community were more related to his comments on Paul Fong and my question to Lou was about taxpayers. I’m glad that amuses you, but it’s pretty lousy evidence for assuming I’m a “surrogate”. The fact that my admonishment of you for fallaciously labeling Rich a “surrogate” is evidence that I am a surrogate is what I find amusing.

      • I am not a surrogate for Congressman Honda—just a fan.  Dakota is right, the dysfunction with the current Congress has everything to do with gerrymandering in states like TX, PA, OH, WI and FL.  If we had a fair national standard for drawing distircts—patterned on Iowa or CA—the tea party would not even be a topic on FOX.

        The problem with our system is that the current minority party is an intolerant, religious organization that seeks to obstruct all policy. 

        Mike Honda has challenged that view and should be allowed to help others in districts where that view currently prevails.  It won’t be long—but everytime Democrats of the same values fight each other, there is less resources to fight the real battle against those who are destroying this country.

        That is the point of the article.  One last statement;  Mike Honda needs no surrogates—he has adequately spoken for himself for many years.  Those of us who know him, work with him and support him will not remain silent if he is attacked—I’m not the only one.

        Rich

        • Just for the record, I wasn’t attacking Mike Honda. I just have a different viewpoint on his effectiveness as a legislator.  I simply don’t understand why you feel the need to attack Khanna when he hasn’t even announced that he’s running yet.  Unless I’m missing something, I haven’t seen/heard Khanna attack Honda either.  If Khanna were attacking Honda, then I would see your point.  But, I think you are contradicting yourself a little bit, Rich.

          Also, if Khanna does decide to challenge Honda I think you will see stark differences between them on the economy/manufacturing and education reform.  Both are very important issues in Silicon Valley which we need to see a vast improvement.  I think that’s why Khanna is considering running.  In that regard, they are very different candidates.

  2. Why is it the height of irony for an Indo American to want to run against Honda?  There is something inherently wrong with a system that encourages elected officials to champion equality for minorities so they can have a voice in important matters only to have the expectation that there is some pecking order where those newly encouraged voices should remain silent unless they have the permission of the establishment.

    Honda is a nice guy who has done good things for his constituents but he should by no means think he has a lock on that seat forever or that just because he still has more ideas or has his own wanting to lead that he has the right to expect others to pass on their call to leadership. 

    The public experienced this in District 5 of San Jose when the powers that be decided that Xavier Campos was being anointed without any experience or exhibited leadership and the dirty race that was run against his opponents. The public was supposed to simply accept that there was a pecking order and Campos was “selected” by the behind the closed door sessions of his mentors.  Honda backed Campos, as he backs the shamed Shirakawa so by that count Mr Honda makes some pretty big mistakes along the way too.

  3. > As a member of the Democratic National Committee, Honda has raised money from every part of the nation and sought to empower individuals from communities that are poorly represented in the U.S. Congress.

    The minority community that is MOST powerless and MOST poorly represented in the U.S. Congress is the Taxpayer American community.

  4. Great job Rich,

    Mike is a great Congressman and an honest human being. He is principled in the core values of democratic party. He also reach out to all people, regardless where they came from or who they are .
    A luta continua!!!

  5. Rich says, “Locally, Honda has been responsible for the rise of many individuals including Assemblyman Paul Fong…and Campbell Mayor Evan Low…”

    When will the Hon. Mike Honda (as well as the Hon. Evan Low) finally speak out against the slur of “white boy” hurled by the Hon. Paul Fong at a top city leader of San Jose?

    Fong has refused to clean up his slur, and Honda & Low seem to support that kind of language.

    • When will the Hon. Mike Honda speak out against the growing tide of anti-white sentiment? Hopefully someday whites will be treated in this country like the human beings they are. Maybe someday we’ll even have a white President, maybe even 43 of them in a row!

      I had actually never heard of this before, and I googled “Paul Fong white boy”- the first result was a page on “anti-war slurs” on the neonazi site Stormfront. Bravo.

  6. It’s clear to me that you, the Merc’s editorial folks and Scott Herhold are only trying to “help” Khanna make up his mind about running against Honda.

    I’m sure you can write something filled with “lavish praise” for Khanna if he decides not to run, but I would rather you not.  I would rather you butt out, and let the man decide for himself.

  7. Great job Rich,

    Mike is a great Congressman and an honest human being. He is principled in the core values of democratic party. He also reach out to all people, Regardless where they came from or who they are .  A luta continua!!!

  8. Congressman Mike Honda has been a stalwart advocate for underrepresented and minorities. His unyielding commitment to brining issues to the forefront has been exceptional.Mike has the understanding to see the problems that common people are facing. I believe he has the unique ability to connect with all people, of every ethnicity and racial groups.
    I really appreciate Mike’s leadership and guidance in US Congress.

    • I like Mike Honda too.  However, I believe that elections should be decided by voters.

      That’s the problem I have with consultants and newspaper people trying to stack the deck.  These people are not friends of democracy.

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