In his one and only debate with Democratic challenger Ro Khanna the other night, U.S. Rep Mike Honda, D-San Jose, reeled off a variety of high-dollar items he claims to have delivered and, despite evidence to the contrary, argued that he’s really the kind of bi-partisan representative Silicon Valley really likes.
Linking himself to the hyper-partisan Republican thug from San Diego, Honda said, “Darrell Issa and myself, we passed the Data Bill, the Data Act, that requires the government agencies to tell people where their dollars are spent, how much it is and to be transparent about it.”
This, Calbuzz must report more in sadness than in anger, is, um, bullshit. Like a lot of the claims of a guy who’s passed just one bill in seven terms in Congress.
Because Honda’s claim sounded so bizarre when we heard it, Calbuzz launched an exhaustive and wide-ranging ten-minute internet investigation at Congress.gov and found that the original co-sponsor of Issa’s Digital Accountability and Transparency Act was U.S. Rep. Elija Cummings, D-MD, when the bill was introduced on May 21, 2013.
Apparently feeling refreshed after six months of deep sleep, Honda signed on as the 10th co-sponsor on November 11, 2013 – the same day the bill was passed in the House on a voice vote of 338-1. The same day!
Yet there was Honda, in a televised debate, claiming that he and
buxom bosom buddy Issa had passed that data bill, whatever its name was. Just like he – single-handedly? – got $900 million for BART and a U.S. Patent Office and a lot of other stuff that surely Congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren had nothing to do with.
Slow-moving dysfunction: But we digress. A bit more on the not-exactly-Lincoln-Douglas debate between Honda and Khanna: the first challenge for Khanna, a 38-year-old lawyer and former Obama Commerce Department official, is to make the case that Honda, 73, should be ousted.
Right out of the gate, Khanna made his argument, but without insulting Honda, a popular, avuncular fixture in local politics.
Briefly replying to the actual question he was thrown – “That is the question of our time – income inequality” — Khanna quickly pivoted to his real mission in the debate, using Congress as a metaphor for Honda himself:
We need real solutions on education and jobs, he said, but “Congress seems to have no real leadership or ideas and it’s stuck in the past, dysfunctional, slow-moving. So tonight I ask, imagine if we had a new standard. Imagine if our elected officials were as hard-working and entrepreneurial as the people in this district. That’s the change we need. That’s the new Congress we need. And that’s why I aspire to represent this area in the United States Congress.”
That’s his argument in a nutshell: Honda is stuck in the past, dysfunctional and slow-moving; I’m hard-working and entrepreneurial, just like people in Silicon Valley.
But without being nasty about it.
A total lack of ZZZs: At first glance, Honda held his own. Most importantly, he didn’t fall asleep nor did he make any bone-head statements. While he did a lovely job of recounting his personal history as a kid who got rounded up with other Japanese during World War II in an effort to portray the Man of Experience, however, he offered no vision of what he would like to accomplish — other than return to Congress for another term.
“I’m not burnt out; I’ve got a lot of gas in this tank — and I’m not even a hybrid,” Honda said, summing up his appeal, in an apparently planned one-liner that got wide circulation in day-after coverage of the debate.
Honda looked his worst when trying to brush away the ethics scandal that hit his office after it was revealed, by Metro Silicon Valley, that his chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, consulted with Honda’s political staff in inviting potential campaign donors to a State Department round-table that Honda was co-hosting at Santa Clara University.
Leading into the topic, Honda was stupidly asked if he’s ethical. (What’s he gonna’ say, “No, you got me there, I’m actually a scum sucking weasel?”
“I am a very ethical person,” Honda said bravely. And then (looking intermittently at what appeared to be notes he was not allowed to have) he went on to make word salad:
These are real people we’re talking about and I want to be sure they’re going to be taken care of but they have to also answer to the issues. And so those who’ve worked for me and work with me currently and in the past, they understand where that line is and anything beyond that is a personnel matter so I’d like not to discuss the personnel part. But I will say this, the high ethical standards for my staff has been reiterated and has been made clear, the expectation of my policy goes beyond the legal boundaries and the legal expectations but my chief of staff did not meet those expectations and she misstepped and I was disappointed in it but she’s apologized publicly and to me that this won’t happen again. And so I think that this kind of a situation needs to be acknowledged, dealt with and all of the legal complaints that surrounding this I think this should be moved forward and let that process take its place and I’ll be perfectly willing to cooperate in any way I can to see the end of this.
So there’s that.
It’s all about Mike: The thing is, however, that Van der Heide didn’t apologize to people in the district, she apologized to Honda.
“The congressman expects that official staff who want to volunteer on his campaign do so on their own time, and without utilizing the resources of the office,” she said. “In this instance, while I was on my own time and not using official resources, I fell short of the congressman’s expectations and the example I try to set for the office. I have apologized to the congressman for my oversight.”
Moreover, an apology (and, btw, Honda has never apologized to the district, either) isn’t really the issue. The issue is what kind of leader keeps a chief of staff who has, at the very least, created the appearance of a pay-to-play atmosphere in his district office? It’s a personnel matter? Sounds like an old, cheesy county supervisor side-shuffle.
Holding office vs. using the office: On a variety of issues, Honda and Khanna are both liberal Democrats, so Silicon Valley is not going to have a congressman who will vote in sharp opposition to widespread sentiment, no matter who wins this election. And odds remain in Honda’s favor. Incumbent congress members rarely lose. Absent serious money to push his argument, Khanna is a decided underdog.
But he has made a strong enough case to convince the editorial pages of the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle, neither of which are flame-throwers. And his endorsement list of high-tech leaders in Silicon Valley is not chopped liver. Khanna promises not to be a place-holder member of Congress — like several in the California delegation.
It’s an argument, as he made it in Monday’s debate, that’s tough to refute:
“It’s not enough in this district, which is the heart of innovation, to just be a vote or to just go to Congress. What we need is someone who’s going to lead the national debate.”
This just in: At post time, we were told about a new mailer Honda has just sent out, claiming — as he did in the debate — that “he also secured $8.6 billion this year for early childhood education programs across the country.” Trouble is, that’s all the funding for Headstart for the entire country that was approved by the Appropriations Committee of which he’s just a minority member. And he wasn’t even a co-sponsor of the bill.
Editor’s note: In an earlier version, Calbuzz misstated Mike Honda’s age. He is 73, not 78. Calbuzz apologizes for the error.