SUNDAY COLUMN | “Is Ro Khanna the new Barack Obama?” blared a headline this week from Bloomberg Businessweek that reverberated throughout the South Bay. Are you kidding me? Or, as college hoop loudmouth Dick Vitale might say if he gave a damn about congressional elections, “Are you seeeerious!”
For Rep. Mike Honda, the holder the 17th Congressional District seat fellow Democrat Ro Khanna now covets, the seemingly absurd assertion is not media boilerplate, but the initial downhill push leading to Honda’s demise. It is a harbinger of things to come. A coupling of Honda’s peculiar, almost desperate behavior by hoarding big-name Democratic endorsements so early in the race and Khanna’s All-Star team of Obama’s foot soldiers, appears to be a train wreck for Honda happening in slow-motion over the next 18 months.
Rep. Mike Honda
What we learned this week from Khanna’s announcement is his clear preference for the quick knockout. Khanna, it seems, defaults toward Shock and Awe. He burst onto the local scene a year ago on a fundraising tear never before seen in these parts. A stack of checks worth over $1.2 million signed by some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley and deposited within 30 days. Fast forward and Khanna achieved the same blunt force trauma on his opponent by naming three members of President Obama’s vaunted campaign re-election team. In terms of local congressional races, it’s akin to an AAU basketball team bringing in Steph Curry and David Lee on the fly, because little Johnny was out with mono.
In one fell swoop, Khanna negated and toppled Honda’s recent spate of endorsements ranging from the President to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In the face of Khanna’s momentum, a youthful opponent and the ghost of Rep. Pete Stark’s drubbing in the nearby 15th District, Honda suddenly seems stale in comparison to growing meme Khanna is quickly becoming Silicon Valley’s New New New Thing.
However, aside from these perceptions, all you need to predict the ebb and flow of this race is to look at the people running the campaigns. We know the cutting-edge fire power Khanna possesses in his campaign team. We also understand its impetus for working with Khanna in terms of their own legacy in transforming the entire Democratic Party and rewriting the playbook for how political campaigns are run for the next generation. We get that, but just look at who Honda has manning the ship—a group of castoffs from Stark’s failed, ultimately very winnable race last year versus Eric Swalwell. Despite Swalwell’s upset in overtaking Stark, an entrenched congressman like Honda facing a young upstart within his party, it is a misreading of the race to merely say Stark fumbled away the seat with his antics. In fact, even if Stark walked into a debate clueless and with his pants around his ankles, he should have won that race. Although Honda’s team should have a useful understanding of the new Dem-on-Dem paradigm in California politics, it is also part of a group that were beaten by an operation last year so unsophisticated that it would have had trouble winning Swalwell’s own seat for re-election on the Dublin City Council.
In the end, Honda supporters are now expected to have confidence in their man’s re-election next year against an operation that demolished a presidential challenger and one with likely 2-3 time greater funding than Swalwell employed to beat the incumbent Stark. It’s not going to happen and you heard it here first. The winds of change are with Khanna and those vaunted vows of support for Honda from the Democratic cognoscenti, there about as valuable as stock in MySpace.
“Yes, he is my friend. I support you to the fullest and, yes, you are my brother and most importantly, you are my councilman.”
–Ken Houston, Oakland businessman, Apr. 2, in comments directing to Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid. Houston was named in the Ruby Report, released last month, in connection to allegations Reid and Councilmember Desley Brooks interfered in the bidding process for a construction firm at the Oakland Army Base affiliated with Houston.
The Week That Was
>>>Lots of action in Oakland this week. Its school superintendent Tony Smith abruptly resigned onfirst public comments over a scathing audit alleging she violated the city charter 12 times features tempered derision and her own allegations the city auditor’s own staff doesn’t like her, either. So there!
Friday representing a huge setback for the slowly rising school district. Councilmembers Desley Brooks’
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said a proposed budget from her office is forthcoming in the next two weeks and nearly of the city’s reserves will revert back to the state following the end of its redevelopment agency. Cuts to staffing and programs may be on the table, she said Tuesday.
>>>Federal regulators told Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and state Sen. Loni Hancock the Cal/OSHA is too short staffed to investigate the state’s roughly 1,600 oil refineries for structural and safety problems like the Aug. 2012 fire at the Chevron Richmond Refinery that sent over 15,000 people complaining of breathing and respiratory problems.
>>>A 100-foot wind turbine moved closer to becoming part of the San Leandro shoreline’s landscape following a 5-1 vote of the San Leandro City Council affirming its zoning commission’s February ruling in favor of the commercial variance. Homeowners at nearby Heron Bay may sue the city in Superior Court arguing for a more rigorous environmental impact report.
Tweet of the Week
“And of course, for shooting a kid in the face OPD puts the shooter on paid leave, IE vacation. Y’know… SOP and all that. #Oakland”
-@Adaminoakland, Apr. 4, tweeting about a 16-year-old boy shot in the face by Oakland Police this week. OPD says the boy was accidentally shot and not involved with a suspected robbery on Clay Street. OPD shot another two days later
>>>Paul Krugman devotes a column to the California as a national example of renewal likely due to shedding Republican impotence in the Legislature and funding education with greater flexibility to raise taxes. (The New York Times, Apr. 1).
>>>Again, isn’t it sad the Bay Area’s own newspapers unmercifully trash Oakland, yet the national newspaper of record continues to heap praise from 5,000 miles away? The Times this week looked at Oakland’s restorative justice program that takes the time to fix wayward youths rather than throwing them into the system. (The New York Times, Apr. 4).
>>>The esteemed Josh Green profiles Ro Khanna, his background and the team of Obama campaign staffers experimenting with the same techniques on the congressional level that won the president re-election last fall. (Bloomberg Businessweek, April 4).
Voice of the People
“So I saw Ro at Mineta Airport recently. He was checking three bags and the worker noticed each had a different tag. The first was labeled San Mateo County; the second, Alameda County; the third, Santa Clara County. When asked why the inconsistency, Ro answered that “I move around a lot…”
–Anonymous, Apr. 5, commenting (joking) about Ro Khanna’s past run, near-run for Congress on “Khanna Announces Run For Congress.”