Rep. Mike Honda, Ro Khanna and Joel Vanlandingham before the start of Saturday’s CA-17 forum in Fremont. PHOTOS/Steven Tavares

CONGRESS | 17TH DISTRICT | This is what the top two primaries produce in California electoral politics: The upstart Democrat offers fresh and buoyant rhetoric, but agrees with nearly everything the incumbent has to say. Meanwhile the Republican, with little to lose, issues pot shots at their ideological opposites, while agreeing often with the Democrats. It’s a dynamic seen twice played out in the neighboring 15th Congressional District and it was no different at the first public forum between Rep. Mike Honda of the South Bay’s 17th District and fellow Democrat Ro Khanna Saturday night in Fremont.

Honda supporters wait to enter the 
Fremont City Council chambers.

Honda and Khanna found common ground on many stalwart Democratic issues posed at the League of Women Voters forum that featured a packed Fremont City Council chambers. Both Democrats rang similar tones on a long list of issues such as, protecting the Voting Rights Act, stronger oversight of the National Security Agency, tamping down military spending overseas, limiting campaign finance, prohibiting fracking and strengthening gun control. However, in some cases, such as the NSA spying program, Khanna attempted to charge Honda and Congress with not doing enough to protect citizens.

It was the subject of housing and job creation, though, that became of point of contention. The issue pushed both Khanna and Honda to use their one allotted opportunity for rebuttal over an assertion made by Honda that a federal grant to extend BART to San Jose will create 10,000 permanent jobs.  “People who make Silicon Valley work need to be able to afford to live here,” said Honda.

A standing room-only crowd watches
Honda from the back of the room.

Khanna’s campaign has challenged the assertion in the past. “Here’s the reality,” he countered, “there are no earmarks anymore in Congress and the people who create jobs are small business owners, entrepreneurs and people who have maxed out their credit cards and takes risks.”

Honda disagreed, saying the $900 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation Department will have tangible effects on the district. “The fact remains I’ve done something. That created hard jobs for everybody, from blue collar workers to white collar workers and engineers to professionals. That is what people want, they want results and that’s what I’ve done,” said Honda. “It’s not theory.”

Aside from the brief exchange, the hour-long forum featured a high level of comity between the candidates, although, near the end Honda answered conciliatory comments from Khanna towards him with a curt, “Ditto.”

Joel Vanlandingham, one of two Republicans in the primary race, along with Vanila Singh, who did not attend the event, played the role of foil to the pair of front running Democrats. “I am not a professional politician,” said Vanlandingham. “I have no spent time in Washington. I’m not part of the party organization.”

After the forum, Honda and Khanna
supporters face-off outside.

During the forum, the political novice levied a glancing blow against Khanna on the issue of campaign finance and his substantial $1.9 million war chest. Vanlandingham said he will not accept campaign donations. He said, if you have spare money to give to politicians, you should instead give it to the poor. He then turned to Khanna and asked, as part of the Obama Commerce Department, “When do you say we have to stop this madness?” said Vanlandingham, ”Take that for what it’s worth.”

Voters, though, were revved up for the night of politics. About 90 minutes before the early evening event, large groups of supporters for both campaigns rallied in front of Fremont City Hall. Waving signs and boisterously chanting for their candidate and against the other, the throng’s passion was muted once inside, but reignited outside after the forum for another 30 minutes. A Khanna supporter, through a megaphone, screamed, “We want a debate! We want a debate!”

The urging by Khanna’s campaign and the local media for Honda to participate in a debate has been one of the race’s few points of contention. Following the forum Saturday, as Honda was whisked away, he told reporters he would debate whoever finishes in the top two this June.

Khanna responded to the news by offering a series of 5-6 debate in the fall on specific issues such as the economy, environment and education. “I’ve always said the debates aren’t about me or Congressman Honda, they’re about the 17th District. Let’s have a debate that really excites the district and have a debate that really elevates the dialogue.” Khanna then added, with a grin, “Of course, we have to win first and get in the top two.”