Khanna, Honda Contend for Non-Party Vote in CA-17 Debate

In order to win, Khanna and Honda will need to sway voters outside of the Democratic Party.
Jane Susskind
On Monday, October 6, candidates Ro Khanna and U.S. Rep. Mike Honda both participated in the first (and only) televised debate in the race for Congressional District 17. The 75-minute long debate, which aired on NBC affiliate KNTV, focused heavily on the issues of immigration, education, and partisanship in our government.

Located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, Congressional District 17 is home to some of the world’s largest and most innovative tech companies, elevating its importance to the national level. Congressman Mike Honda has comfortably represented the district since 2001.

Following the implementation of California’s nonpartisan top-two primary, however, a fellow Democrat is now challenging Honda in the November election.

Why Political Parties Hate California's Top-Two Primary

Non-Democratic voters make up the majority of the electorate, with 28.2 percent registered Republicans and 23.1 percent registered No Party Preference voters. In order to win this election, Khanna and Honda, both Democrats, will need to sway voters outside the Democratic Party.

Here are their attempts in three key areas:

Both Khanna and Honda made references to the need for bipartisanship. Ro Khanna referenced his meeting with the San Jose Chamber of Commerce as an effort to bridge the partisan divide. The Chamber, he cites, does not support an increase in minimum wage while Khanna and Honda both do. This disagreement prevented Honda from meeting with them, he argues.

“The difference is I am prepared to meet, even locally, with people who disagree. I will take the same approach in Congress.”  – Ro Khanna

Mike Honda responded with a concrete example of when he crossed party lines to work with Republican Darrell Issa on the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act).

When the candidates were asked about Congress’ abysmal approval ratings, Honda played defense asking us not to rate the performance of individual members of Congress by the performance of the body at large. Khanna played offense, arguing that while Honda began his career in Congress with good intentions, he has now become part of the problem, referencing the inefficiency of Congress as a legislative body.

When asked if he would vote for or against an immigration reform bill that doesn’t include a pathway to citizenship, Mike Honda stated “I would be hard pressed to vote for it.” He continued to clarify that he would have to see the specifics of the bill and draws on the example of the 40 percent of “dreamers” in California that are Asian Americans.

“They are in the UC system and California college system. They need a pathway to citizenship and they should have a shorter path to citizenship.” – Rep. Mike Honda

Ro Khanna tried to differentiate himself from Honda by focusing on the need for action now.

“People have been talking about immigration reform for the last 10 years and nothing is getting done. I would work across the aisle, with the Republicans…to have a piecemeal approach to getting something done because I get that it’s important for our competitiveness,” he stated.

Both candidates agreed that H-1B visas are an important component to welcoming skilled workers to the Silicon Valley and both cited the need for higher caps on these visas.

A major difference that been made clear throughout the entirety of the campaign is the age gap between the two candidates. Mike Honda draws on his extensive experience to make the case that at age 73, he is the most qualified to serve in Congress. Khanna, 38, argues that we need new leadership and a new vision.

When asked if he was “burnt out,” Honda jokingly said “I’ve got a lot of gas in this tank, and I’m not even a hybrid.” His energy, he says comes from his deep-seeded desire to make sure our country does the right thing.

Khanna was forward thinking in his response, refocusing the question about what the district needs in the future. “Who is going to solve the issues for this district and lead in this moment in time,” he asked, citing the need for Honda to pass him the torch.

The election will be held on November 4th. Click here for more information regarding the intra-party race.