Voice mail from Honda campaign to party delegate is coercion, says Khanna

Rep. Mike Honda speaking to a voter Jan. 21
at a candidates forum in San Jose.
PHOTO/Steven Tavares

With the possibility the crucial Democratic Party endorsement may no longer be a certainty, Rep. Mike Honda’s campaign is scrambling to gather enough votes to win outright Saturday’s pre-primary endorsement vote in Oakland. But, a voice message from a member of Honda’s campaign this week to a voting delegate is being labeled coercion by Democratic challenger Ro Khanna.

In a voice message obtained by the East Bay Citizen, Honda’s political director questioned the voting status of a member of the Santa Clara County Democratic Club before advising the delegate not to cast a ballot for the coming pre-endorsement until further notice.

“All I ask that you please do not submit your ballot for the Santa Clara County Democratic club until I clear this up. I know last night was a no endorsement, but there might be something in the making here,” said the voice message.

Last Monday, the club, typically a Honda stronghold, voted for no endorsement in the race. The tally, in fact, favored Khanna, 80-51, but fell short of the club’s threshold for endorsement. At the same endorsement meeting, club members were asked afterwards to approve a proposal to allow one delegate to vote for Honda and the other vote for Khanna at the pre-endorsement. The idea was voted down by the club’s membership. A day later, one of the club’s delegates received a call from Honda’s political director, Vedant Patel.

Patel confirmed he made the phone call. He denied the intent was to strong-arm the delegate into voting in a manner positive to the Honda campaign, but only to confirm their voting status. The campaign also reached out to the state party for additional information.

“The hallmark of democracy is a fair and open and transparent process,” Khanna said of the voice message. “As a challenger, you expect to have the deck stacked against you because of the incumbent’s power to appoint. But, my basic hope is that delegates are allowed to vote their conscience or follow their clubs election outcome free of coercion.”

Patel said he was only seeking clarification of whether the delegate was bound to the endorsement of the club. “It is important to our campaign that delegates have all the information before casting a vote,” said Patel. “This is just another example of our opponent’s willingness to say anything to get elected. At the end of the day there is only one candidate in Congressional District 17 that embodies the values of California’s Democratic Party, and that is Mike Honda.”

There are clear reasons why identifying a delegate’s status is important to Honda and his bid to avoid a potentially embarrassing denial of pre-endorsement support and a drawn out appeal for the party’s backing at its convention in late February. A central committee member, according to the party bylaws, can vote their conscience, while a delegate may be bound by its club’s decision.

The California Democratic Party bylaws are silent on the question of whether a delegate must vote as directed by its club, said Michael Soller, communications director for the California Democratic Party. But, many, like the Santa Clara County Democratic Club, have their own bylaws that bound delegates to certain voting instructions. But, come Saturday’s pre-endorsement meeting, there are no rules against a delegate voting differently than their club’s direction. However, the club could later sanction its member.

In recent weeks, the number of local Democratic grassroots groups that have either split their endorsement between Honda and Khanna or registered no endorsement has grown in frequency. In the last week and a half, three clubs, including the Santa Clara County Democratic Club, have rendered no-endorsement decisions. In addition, the Khanna campaign has been buoyed over the past few months by uncertainty over Honda’s pending House ethics investigation into allegations his former campaign commingled its duties with its congressional office.

Even if Khanna is able to block Honda from winning the requisite 70 percent of delegates at the pre-endorsement meeting, Honda could still earn the nod at the February convention. However, the political optics of the long-time incumbent fighting further for the party’s endorsement will only bolster the Khanna campaign’s recent narrative that Democrats in the South Bay are beginning to reevaluate their support for Honda

3 thoughts on “Voice mail from Honda campaign to party delegate is coercion, says Khanna

  1. As the President and Secretary of the Santa Clara County Democratic Club (SCCDC), we would like to clarify several points.

    First, when the club delegates were selected last November, they were expressly required by the Board to cast their pre-endorsement conference ballots according to the January vote of the club members, which they agreed to do. Their personal preferences were not to be considered. This was done by a Board resolution, not a Bylaws provision.

    According to the club rules (an earlier Board resolution), at membership endorsement meetings when no candidate is named on over 2/3 of the ballots and only one is over 50%, there is NO ENDORSEMENT (not a dual endorsement). After that result was announced at the January 25 meeting, a motion was proposed to affirm that the delegates should vote accordingly: vote “No Endorsement” on each ballot, not splitting the ballots. That motion passed by a hand vote.

    Since the SCCDC delegates were pledged to follow the direction of the membership, they cast their pre-endorsement conference ballots for “No Endorsement” (the ballots expressly provide for that option). To do otherwise would be a violation of that pledge.

    We are wholly satisfied that the SCCDC rules were followed and that the delegates' votes reflected that.

    Rob Means and Tom Pyke


  2. By MW:

    When I think of Honda, I think of the old line traditional members of the Democratic Party leadership of the last several decades, in other word the people who pretend to be liberals, and who also pretend to be good guys and defenders of truth and fact.

    So therefore I am extremely confident that neither Honda himself nor any of his associates would try to pull anything sleazy or underhanded, since after all they are the good guys, and in fact the saints, in charge of defending us from those mean, evil, rotten, no good, and extremely stupid Republicans.


  3. Looks like Vedant Patel is carrying on Jennifer van der Heide's tactics of unethical and immoral behavior. He worked for her for a few years in Honda's office. Am surprised, however, that he would stoop so low as to confuse the delegates and ask them not to vote. The delegate is obligated to vote “no endorsement”. No ambiguity. I thought only the GOP tried to depress turnout!!! As political director, it looks like Patel is going to be humiliated on Saturday when Honda, as the longstanding incumbent, doesn't get the endorsement automatically and it goes to the convention.


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