Meet Ro Khanna: The ‘Rising Star’ of the Democratic Party

Sunita Sohrabji


From New America Media and India-West:


Editor's Note: Ro Khanna, who has been called by the New York Times “a rising star in the Democratic Party,” says he wants to bring the innovative spirit of Silicon Valley to Washington.


FREMONT, Calif. -- Ro Khanna, formerly a high-ranking trade official in the Obama administration, announced this week his bid for California’s 17th District congressional seat, which is currently being held by the venerable Mike Honda.


Khanna and Honda are both Democrats likely to be pitted against each other in 2014, due to new state mandates which allow two opponents from the same party to run against each other in the general election. The district – from which Honda received 73 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Evelyn Li in 2012 – stretches from Cupertino to South Fremont and covers huge swaths of the Silicon Valley. Almost half of District 17’s residents are Asian-American; Fremont is home to one of the largest concentrations of South Asians in the United States.


Both candidates have aggressively begun campaigning 20 months before the general election. Khanna has already amassed $1.2 million for his congressional bid, according to his Dec. 31, 2012 Federal Elections Commission report. He has also recruited several key members of President Obama’s re-election campaign team, including Steve Spinner, who will serve as Khanna’s campaign chair.


Jeremy Bird, who served as the Obama campaign’s national field director, will serve as a general consultant to Khanna’s campaign. Leah Cowan, formerly a field director with the Obama re-election campaign, will serve as Khanna’s campaign manager.


Honda, who has served in Congress since 2001 and co-chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, has already received endorsements from President Barack Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Howard Dean, former chair of the Democratic National Committee.


But Khanna characterized Honda as a politician who did not understand the economic dynamism of his community. “This district at this time needs a voice who understands the global economy, and what policies will foster entrepreneurship and growth,” the 36-year-old Indian American told India-West shortly before announcing his congressional bid. “We need real solutions about how we will compete in a global economy, and someone who can work across the aisle to find common ground between business and labor.”


“Congress has simply not focused on an economic growth agenda or supporting entrepreneurs. We need to have the right tax and trade policies that will encourage companies to stay in the United States and invest here,” he said.


“We need to figure out how to encourage more small- and medium-size businesses to take advantage of overseas markets and export. And we need to foster entrepreneurship,” said Khanna, the author of Entrepreneurial Nation: Why Manufacturing Is Still Key to America's Future, which was released by McGraw Hill last August.


Khanna, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service in the Commerce Department, said he will push aggressively to make the Silicon Valley’s advanced electronics, semiconductors, and also clean technology products available to markets overseas without unfair tariffs or restrictions. He also hopes to aid small and medium businesses to gain access to capital to be able to export their products abroad.


To keep up with a global economy, Khanna opined that children need to learn to code as a “second language” and to be “exposed to entrepreneurship from an early age.”



In support of Khanna’s congressional bid, Kamil Hasan, founder of Hi-Tek Ventures, told India-West, “Ro represents the values and aspirations of our community very well. He also has a clear understanding of the issues important to the high-tech community, and can strongly and proactively represent Silicon Valley in Congress.”


An at-large member of the Democratic National Committee, Hasan added, “Silicon Valley needs to get actively involved in helping strengthen our country's competitiveness, and in creating jobs. Ro is capable of achieving this. While we have a lot of respect and regard for Congressman Honda, and appreciate his contributions to the causes of Asian-Americans, the time has come for a young and dynamic professional to represent this district.”


Anil Godhwani, co-founder of the India Community Center in Milpitas, said he is also supportive of Khanna’s run. “Given what Silicon Valley needs, Ro is the better choice to represent the tech community,” Godhwani told India-West.


Godhwani, who said he has known Khanna for about a decade, characterized the candidate as an entrepreneur who would bring fresh ideas and new energy to the 17th district.


Barbara O’Connor, former director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento, told India-West that Khanna will have to appeal to the large Asian-American bloc which makes up almost 50 percent of the residents of his district. “Mike is well connected with the Asian American community and there’s a huge amount of support there for him,” she said.


“Ethnic groups love incumbents, and they are circumspect of challengers,” noted O’Connor. “You’re not going to get them to give up an incumbent unless there’s a very compelling reason,” added O’Connor, emeritus professor of communications at CSUS.


“To win this race, Khanna must focus on independent voters and young people who tend to be less partisan in their voting patterns. Both candidates will have to build large social media campaigns in addition to the shoe leather, door-knocking tradition of campaigns," said O'Connor.



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