Tomorrow, citizens of the 17th Congressional District will go to the polls and decide the fate of representative democracy in Silicon Valley. As longtime incumbent Rep. Mike Honda and his tech-industry supported challenger, Ro Khanna, are nearly identical on issues of policy, the decision is really what each Democrat could get accomplished in the House of Representatives.
Honda has only passed one law in the last 14 years. One law. Yet because incumbency rates in the U.S. are consistently over 80 percent, a congressmember can do almost anything they want after winning once and still get re-elected. This is the sad fact of American democracy.
The need for more effective representation is why San Francisco’s key newspaper is backing Ro Khanna. “Our endorsement of Ro Khanna is not so much a repudiation of Honda as a recognition of the opportunity for an upgrade for a congressional district defined by innovation, resourcefulness, and a commitment to meritocracy,” wrote the Editorial Board at the San Francisco Chronicle.
Honda has had more than enough opportunity to show that he can perform at his job, and he has sadly fallen short.
A lot of criticism has targeted Khanna as a puppet of the Silicon Valley elite. He prides himself on being close with his billionaire backers, including Google’s Eric Schmidt, one-time Facebook exec Sean Parker, and a long list of wealthy tech celebrities.
This criticism would be justified if his policy positions were much different from Honda’s. But on high-skilled immigration, Honda clearly sided against labor unions and supported nearly every bill that would bring in more talented engineers from around the world. He even wrote a glowing op-ed on the contributions of tech immigrants to the economy.
Honda has written bills on enhancing cybersecurity, health technology, and skills-based education. It’s hard to imagine a representative more committed to tech issues. In fact, if I were making the argument that Honda were in bed with the tech industry, it’d be difficult to prove otherwise from his record alone.
So, this election isn’t about whether San Jose will have a congressmember that stands up to the tech industry. Technology is the district’s constituency. It’s the role of their representative to support it.
Will Khanna prove more effective than Honda? We don’t know. Anyone who heaps praise on Khanna or his ability after the election is dabbling in irresponsible speculation. But I do know that mathematically speaking, it can’t get any worse than zero — which is the expected number of bills that will come from the 17th District should Khanna lose.
Tomorrow’s election is a fight against incumbency in American democracy. No regular business would tolerate such poor performance.
For those who live in the 17th District (or know someone who does), I urge my fellow citizens to vote. Vote not because you want to see one industry’s interest dominate Congress. Vote because you believe our elected leaders should accomplish things.
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