Honda escapes forum unscathed, but the field of candidates, instead, attack Khanna

CA17 candidates Pierluigi Oliverio, Rep. Mike
Honda and Ro Khanna at the League of Women
Voters candidate forum in Fremont.

The candidates in the 17th Congressional District race were out for blood at a candidates forum Friday in Fremont. Curiously, the prey was not the incumbent Rep. Mike Honda, but his challenger Ro Khanna.

In the first and likely only pre-June Primary meeting between Honda, Khanna and the rest of the field of candidates, the tenor was mostly cordial, but at times, seemed teetering on the edge of outright hostility.

At one point, each candidate was allowed to pose another any question of their choosing. Honda, the incumbent with an ethic investigation swirling over his candidacy, was not posed a question by his challengers. Khanna, though, was asked three, including a lengthy and somewhat blistering query from Honda.

WATCH: Entire CA17 candidates forum

“In 2014,” Honda told Khanna, “you criticized progressives, including me, and tried to sound more like a Republican to get Republican support at that time. You’ve taken money from Republican donors during that time, including right-wing corporate executives that have been hostile to living wage ordinances, labor groups, public pension plans. Your donors have advocated for privatizing social security, minimizing Medicaid, sending good jobs overseas when you consistently flip-flop on free-trade issues. Since you are willing to say or doing anything to get elected, how can Silicon Valley’s middle class families trust you to act in their best interests and not like the other party?”

A bit chagrined by the attention following three straight questions, Khanna said, “I’m popular here.”
He added, “Congressman, I have respect for you, but I know you didn’t write that question. One of your political consultants wrote that.” Honda disagreed, “I wrote it,” he said.

Khanna shot back, saying newspaper reports two years ago said Honda’s campaign ads “were lies and filled with innuendo.” Like Honda, Khanna said he favors eliminating the $113,750 cap on the social security payroll tax. He added, “It is a lie that I want to privatize jobs.”

The contentious exchange between the two Democrats continued when Honda used his one allotted opportunity for rebuttal to scold Khanna for allegations his campaign made two years ago about his congressional attendance record. “Not getting personal,” said Honda, “I think there’s a lot of information that you put out in the beginning that I missed certain amounts of votes. But if you took the time to find out why I missed them they were when my wife passed away, when my mom passed away, my daughter had three children, and I think those are good excuses for missing votes.”

Democrat Pierluigi Oliverio, a San Jose councilmember known for his contrarian streak, said he is opposed to sanctuary cities and would advocate against closing the terrorist detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Oliverio also attempted to harangue Khanna over his lack of experience in public office.

“Mr. Khanna, you have never been elected to public office, and therefore, you have no record for the public to review,” Oliverio asked Khanna. He explained voters don’t value public appointments like Khanna’s to the U.S. Department of Commerce as the same as those who are elected. “You have been extremely successful raising millions of dollars from the wealthy donor class, however, again, many would argue that is not a substitute for elected governance,” said Oliverio. Then, noting Khanna’s recent focus on local issues within the district, Oliverio said Congress has little jurisdiction over such matters. So why hasn’t Khanna run for a city council or school board?

Khanna said he was proud of his time at the Obama commerce department. Appointment makes him well-suited for public office. “I don’t think there is one path to public service,” said Khanna. “What matters is a person’s vision, ideas, and ability to get the job done.”

The onslaught on Khanna continued when Republican Ron Cohen asked if he could name a specific bill that he would have voted differently than Honda and House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “I just want to note a Republican has just asked me a tough question on Republican-like charges,” said Khanna. Cohen, in response to the comment, shook his head derisively. But, Khanna’s response was surprising in that it appeared to come to the aid of Honda.

“I’ve had strong disagreements with Congressman Honda,” said Khanna, “but to say someone just votes in lock-step, I just don’t think it’s fair. People have their own judgments and we have a debate and let’s debate the issues, but I don’t think people vote in lock-step.”

Earlier, when Cohen seemed intent on landing a glancing blow on Khanna, there was a brief squabble over previously agreed upon rules prohibiting personal attacks. “Ro Khanna will not take any special interests… ,” Cohen began to say before he was immediately interrupted by Khanna. “Is he allowed to attack me like that by name?” Khanna asked the moderator. “I don’t think he is.”

Cohen said his intention to read off a list of names he believes are special interest donors to Khanna’s campaign. Khanna has pledged not to accept contributions from any special interests or political action committees. “That’s just wrong and it’s factually wrong,” Khanna told Cohen.

Honda, however, came away from the forum virtually unscathed. A surprising development for an incumbent some believe is at risk of losing his seat this fall.

Following the forum, Cohen, a Fremont certified public accountant, said for his part, there is no benefit for the field, which also includes Republican Peter Kuo and Kennita Watson (not in attendance Friday), to gun for Honda in the primary. Instead, Cohen believes his only hope is to dislodge Khanna from the race next month. Said Cohen: “It’s my highest percentage play to knock out Khanna.”

12 thoughts on “Honda escapes forum unscathed, but the field of candidates, instead, attack Khanna

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful response. Very insightful! I agree with you. It was a cheap shot by Mike Honda and his campaign manager. Trump cannot control who (or who doesn't) support him.


  2. Thanks for asking about Mr. Honda's email “White Supremacists Love Donald Trump.” It's a cheap shot by Honda (and his Campaign Manager).

    First, to clarify, I was told I MAY be on the list to be a Trump delegate, but other long-time Republicans on the Santa Clara County Central Committee got picked. No problem. Whatever gets him nominated is OK with me.

    Second, Trump can't control if some racists endorses him. Trump first denounced Duke when asked, immediately, but that was not good enough for CNN. They kept asking the same question over and over again until they found a way to make Trump stutter a bit…then, later that same day he denounced Duke again…but all CNN and Honda cling to is the brief stutter. That's desperate nonsense. Trump is not a racists. He's a businessman… success is based on merit and achievement. Lots of people have a hard time dealing with that, in this P.C. world we live in.

    Third, the William Johnson bit was a clerical error, or a set-up by parts of the California Republican Party looking for some way to embarrass Trump. I have become well aware of the RINO establishment operators in the California Republican party. Trust nothing you are told by these people. They are working for ulterior motives…mostly to keep or get their own buddies in power.

    I assure you, Mr. Trump does not know or even care about William Johnson's human existence.

    Trump won West Virginia and Nebraska yesterday and we hope we will have heard the last of Ted Cruz's comments to re-start his campaign. Very undignified how Cruz can't seem to stand down, even after he bows out. But Cruz is backed by a lot of money that wants something other than a loss.

    At the end of the day, no one cares what Mr. Honda thinks or writes. The Trump movement is growing and coming West on June 7th. Mr. Honda just votes as told by Nancy Pelosi (excluding his brave vote against the TPP, for which he's paid a price of not getting Obama's endorsement).

    In a few weeks, and then next January, our long trendy, progressive, Politically Correct, Nanny State, national nightmare will come to an end when Trump takes office.

    Mr. Honda, whether re-elected or not, will be able to take credit for getting 20 whole miles of BART track laid, promised in the 1990s, delayed by endless legal and funding problems, and still not operating today. Besides that, he is an automatic voting machine for Nancy Pelosi, mostly voting for bills he was not even given time to read.

    Mr. Trump will not have Mr. Honda, or the little he did while in office, or his comments above, anywhere in his thoughts, while he is working on “Making America Great Again.” So that's what I think of Mr. Honda's money raising non-truths, above.

    The federal government is corrupt, broke and working for many foreign lobbyists. Mr. Honda does not even understand what is going on around him.

    At the end of the day, my response to Mr. Honda's pitch above, is just sadness.

    Warm Regards,

    Ron Cohen


  3. I appreciate that Mr. Cohen. But, the rules were that a candidate could not be named. I am happy to participate in an open debate with all the candidates! I have called for that. I rather we have a less scripted forum. –Ro Khanna


  4. Mr. Cohen, as a Trump delegate, what are your thoughts on Honda's emails implying that Trump supporters are white supremacists? Below is text from an email that I received from his campaign this morning.

    Subject: White Supremacists Love Donald Trump

    Dear Friend,

    A man called William Johnson just became a delegate for Donald Trump in California.
    Johnson leads the American Freedom Party, whose stated mission is “to represent the political interests of White Americans” and protect “the customs and heritage of the European American people.”

    In other words, William Johnson is a white supremacist, who leads what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls one of the most prominent white nationalist groups in the United States. In 1985, Johnson published a book called Amendment to the Constitution: Averting the Decline and Fall of America, which advocates for the abolition of the 14th and 15th Amendments and the deportation of all nonwhites in the United States.

    This is not the first time the presumptive Republican nominee for President has been singled out by racists as their candidate of choice. Don’t forget, Trump was also endorsed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

    Trump has repeatedly failed to firmly denounce support from dangerous hate groups and bigots. He cannot be allowed to become President. Stand with us today by chipping in $5 to send progressive leadership, not hate, to Washington this November.

    In solidarity,
    Mike Honda


  5. I appreciate that Mr. Cohen. But, the rules were that a candidate could not be named. I am happy to participate in an open debate with all the candidates! I have called for that. I rather we have a less scripted forum. –Ro Khanna


  6. I found Mr. Cohen's questions thoughtful and respectful. I did not think they were personal attacks. Mr. Cohen and I disagree vehemently on most issues. But, he is an eloquent spokesperson for his point of view, and these debates are what democracy is all about. –Ro Khanna


  7. To clarify, it is very, very hard to beat an incumbent in a primary. Further the Candidate Forum was very structured, so with limited time and opportunities to ask questions, Ron and Pierluigi asked questions of Ro. Peter Kuo was too confused to know he had to opportunity to ask a question, poor guy. If I'm fortunate enough to be in the top two in the primary, then, of course, I can directly confront the differences between me an Mr. Honda — which are very clear. But with extremely limited time in the Forum, we had to question (intelligently and respectfully) Ro.

    Ron Cohen


  8. No. Did you read the last paragraph? Honda is so strong that it's pointless to try to attack him…but the “highest percentage play” is to try to knock out Khanna.

    People keep pointing to the fact that Khanna got close last time but do we know how many voters weren't just voting for some D on the ballot not knowing either of them by name?


  9. Welcome to front runner status, Ro! Lol! Front runners get attacked from the rest of the field when they feel threatened by their candidacy. Keep it up!


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