Change: Why I'm Voting for Ro Khanna in #CA17

You must forgive me for a few weeks of sporadic blogging. I both needed a break from politics (as I do once in a while) and other things in life took over. But I do plan on being back and bat for this election - no matter what it takes.

With that said, my own June 3 vote for my member of Congress will be my personal statement for continuing the change that President Obama started with his 2008 campaign and continues to this day. I plan on ditching my Congressman Mike Honda - who's been a staple of Silicon Valley politics for decades - and casting my ballot for Ro Khanna, a Stanford instructor and a former Obama administration appointee.

Yes, Congressman Honda has President Obama's endorsement - as do pretty much all Democratic incumbent members of Congress running for re-election. But this district is in no danger of going into Republican hands; in all probability, after the primary on June 3, Honda and Khanna will face off against each other again in November, as California's open primary rules provide that the top 2 vote-getters, regardless of party, will face each other in November. Mike Honda also enjoys near-unanimous support from the state's Democratic establishment.

I should start out with background on those new rules first. In the 2010 elections, California voters passed Proposition 14, changing the state from a closed party primary to an open primary. Now, instead of voting on a partisan ballot, in the primary election, we get to vote for any candidate from any party. Then the two individuals with the most votes fight it out in November.

In 2010, there was vehement opposition to the Prop 14 from both major political parties (to the extent that you can call the Republican party a major political party in California anymore). Not only did the state Democratic party oppose it, so did major unions. The Democratic party argued that having an open primary would favor Republicans, who could vote for a weak Democrat. As a political minority, that would give them outsized power. The unions rather crassly argued that it would reduce their influence on the state's majority party, and by extension, policymaking in the state.

I broke with the state party then. I voted for Prop 14; I even refused to leaflet with the local union office, who insisted on bundling their position on Prop 14 with other election material. Since the passage of Prop 14, what Democrats feared did not come to pass. In fact, exactly the opposite happened. Democrats took over 2/3rds majorities in both houses of the state legislature, and swept all statewide constitutional offices. In 2012, Barbara Boxer crushed Carly Fiorina like a bug in the Senate race, and Jerry Brown trounced Meg Whitman by an even bigger margin.

How is this even remotely related to my decision to vote for Ro Khanna? It isn't, except to point out that despite the fact that California has relegated the Republican party to the status of endangered species, the state's Democratic establishment is often wrong about its selections and positions. In districts where any potential Republican candidate will be fighting to get a double-digit percentage of the total vote, it's up to citizens to look at the Democratic candidates with a fresh pair of eyes.

I looked at these candidates with a fresh pair of eyes. Congressman Honda has been a Congressman for 14 years now, which probably makes his career in Congress shorter than most. Ro Khanna always had a uphill climb, and what has impressed me most about his campaign is his ability to climb that hill. It nearly reminded me of the improbable rise of a freshman senator from Illinois who took the national Democratic establishment by storm.

To be sure, Khanna has not proven himself to be a political talent with Obama's caliber. But he's not running for president. But when I met him for an interview (a year ago - I must apologize for the late posting; but it's still as relevant), he was clear-visioned, optimistic about the future, and ready to go to Washington to be a voice for Silicon Valley and help President Obama. Don't think that I am trying to turn attention from national issues to Silicon Valley's local concerns. Quite the opposite. Silicon Valley, as center of the technological advancements, has some unique things to offer the national policy landscape.

First among them is educating the upcoming generation in not just a first and second language, but a third one - the one computers speak. Plainly put, Khanna wants to make code literacy mandatory for American high schoolers, and he supports the resources that will be needed to make it happen. Ro is a strong supporter of health care reform and making it stronger, and he is avowedly opposed not just to Republican repeal efforts but the efforts to weaken Obamacare joined in by some House Democrats. In my conversation with Ro Khanna, I got the feeling that he had a clear sense of purpose yet a defined sense of what he wants to do legislatively. That is a good quality in any member of Congress, not just the new ones.

It isn't that I agree with Khanna on everything. For example, he has what I believe to be a wrong-headed view of the NSA and its metadata collection program, but thankfully, individual members of Congress aren't in charge of conducting national security. At least, Ro recognizes the threat to Americans' privacy from private corporations as well.

I could do a rundown of issues, but that probably won't tell you why I thought throwing my support publicly behind Ro was important to me. That part of the reason actually does have to do with some parallels that I have observed with 2008 presidential primaries. The establishment candidate is worried despite the overwhelming support of the establishment, and has started throwing mud at the insurgent. Sound familiar?

As I said, Ro is no Barack Obama. But while the Honda campaign - and its friends on the establishment progressive blogs like Daily Kos - have been too busy insisting that any reference by Khanna to the 'old politics' is an obvious dig at Mike Honda's age, Ro Khanna is the only prominent candidate in this race that has sworn off PAC and lobbyist contributions. In the last quarter, the vast majority of Honda's funds came from outside the area, while the vast majority of Khanna's came from northern California. Not that Honda's contributions are necessarily coming from "bad" PACs, but Khanna is beating Honda in the fundraising race without any PAC or lobbyist contributions. It's one reason I picked President Obama over Clinton in 2008.

Campaign finance is small potatoes, though, compared to what appears to be Congressman Honda's absolute determination to avoid debating Ro Khanna. No wonder, then, that despite having promised in person to be interviewed for this blog, first his campaign manager and then his DC office stalled and never actually made the Congressman available. But this isn't about the Congressman breaking his personal promise to me, this is about a much bigger issue: by avoiding direct debates, Mike Honda is depriving the residents of my district of the best opportunity to evaluate the candidates. Both candidates have made accusations against each other, but it appears that only Congressman Honda would prefer the finger-pointing limited to campaign pages and ads.

The area's largest newspapers, the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle have both unsuccessfully called on Congressman Honda to debate Ro Khanna, and that refusal no doubt has at least partially driven both papers to endorse Ro Khanna. In fact, the Chronicle mentions the fact in its editorial endorsing Khanna.

Khanna, whose vehement opposition to the Iraq War and the Patriot Act led him to challenge Rep. Tom Lantos on the Peninsula in the 2004 Democratic primary, has demonstrated a command of issues that go well beyond tech.

It would have been helpful to us - and a service to voters - to compare Democrats Honda and Khanna, and Republican Vanila Singh, in a live-streamed debate we proposed. But Honda declined our invitation.

Mike Honda isn't a bad guy or a bad legislator. But as the Mercury News editorial points out, mostly voting the right way is no longer enough - not for a region that has led the tech revolution that has had both positive and negative economic effects (by making certain skills obsolete, for example), and not for a country trying to open up tomorrow's economy. Khanna isn't only right on most of the issues - he talks of a stronger social safety net even as technology changes our lives, fully supports the president on the obligation of the richest to contribute to that safety net - he is also someone who intricately understands technology, in addition to demonstrating a dedication to economic justice and and civil equality.

I am a constituent in this district - California's 17th - but even more importantly, my support to Ro Khanna is as an American. It is long past time we elected to Congress people who deeply understand issues beyond taxes and spending. We need members of Congress who understand that technology is running end runs around them, and who can make policy for a world connected by that technology. We need members who will use their voice to fight Citizens United - not just on paper but by following President Obama's example of refusing corporate, PAC and lobbyist contributions - even if they are Democratic ones. It's not Ro Khanna the person that Congress desperately needs - it's that understanding of the modern world, and the ability to face modern challenges.

Without taking gratuitous potshots, Mike Honda seems to have loosened the deep connection he once had with this area. For a veteran legislator that has also led the DNC as vice chair, Honda's refusal to debate strikes me as a sort of a sense of entitlement. There is even a sense among some of his supporters that it is his seat. It is not.

It's time to break the mold. It's time again to shake up the establishment, even the Democratic one. Mike Honda is my Congressman, I have voted for him before, and and I'd vote for him again over any Republican with my eyes closed. But California's open primary process has given us the chance to infuse fresh ideas and new blood into Washington without risking handing over seats to the far Right. And California's 17th district is in the best position to take advantage of it.

Tell me what you think - and if you agree, feel free to help Ro out.

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