SAN JOSE — Sixteen years after he was first elected to the House of Representatives, Rep. Mike Honda’s tenure was brought to an end by Tuesday’s election in the 17th Congressional District.
In an unusual battle between two Asian American Democrats, Honda lost to Ro Khanna, 63,902 (39.9 percent) to 96,436 (60.1 percent). Khanna, who served as deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Commerce under President Obama, narrowly lost to Honda in 2014.
The Silicon Valley district includes Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Fremont, Newark, San Jose and Milpitas. The headquarters of Apple, Intel, Yahoo and eBay are located there.
Honda, 75, previously served in the State Assembly from 1997 to 2000 and on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors before that. Having been incarcerated with his family during World War II, he was known as a civil and human rights advocate.
Saying that Honda had been in office too long, Khanna characterized the election as a choice between the past and the future, but Honda maintained that his years of experience made him a better candidate than someone who has never held elected office.
“It has truly been an honor serving as your congressman,” Honda said in a statement. “My commitment to public service has always been about expanding opportunities for working families. All the work I have done in my career, every decision I have made, every action I have taken has been to give all Americans the tools and conditions to build a country that works for everyone. A country with a strong economy, a cleaner environment, a country that protects the civil rights of all, a country that is the envy of the rest of the world.
“I am proud of my service to this region. I’ve seen it grow from the Valley of Heart’s Delight to Silicon Valley. I am honored to have been apart of that growth and transformation.
“Although I am disappointed by the outcome of this election, I respect the choice the people of Silicon Valley have made. I want to thank my family for their ongoing support, and the hard-working staff, volunteers, and supporters who have stood with me throughout my career. It is a testament to the support you have shown for our collective cause that helped me to achieve all the things I have in these 16 years I served as your representative in Congress and the many earlier years of public service.
“Our nation faces a tough road ahead. I’ll continue fighting to make sure we treat all with respect and dignity, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation and regardless of when or how they arrived in our country. This work is too important to stop, I look forward to continue working with you in pursuit of our ideals.”
Khanna, 40, the son of Indian immigrants, works for the Silicon Valley law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. He gave the following speech when his victory was confirmed:
“Four years ago, when we began this improbable journey, I believed that our district could redefine American politics.
“Since then, I have seen what makes our district special. I saw young Indian Americans going door to door with Pakistani Americans, oblivious to the history that once divided them. I saw fourth-generation Santa Clarans who traced their heritage back to our very founding making phone calls alongside the son of a Palestinian immigrant. I saw Latino construction workers in East San Jose express the same hope for their kids as Chinese parents in Cupertino.
“It’s easy these days to be cynical about politics. But, let us not forget that our democracy remains the most open political system in the world.
“It is a system where a single tweet can move an electorate, where a green-card holder can volunteer to be a poll worker, where the grandson of an Indian freedom fighter can one day realize his dream of representing Silicon Valley in the United States Congress.
“What allows our system to work, what allows our democracy to thrive, is the ability to emerge from battles, aware of the limitation of our own perspective, open to finding some common cause with those who we opposed.
“It is in that spirit that I want to acknowledge tonight Congressman Mike Honda’s career in public service. Mike Honda displayed courage in overcoming one of the darkest chapters in American history — the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans. He built on Norm Mineta’s legacy to say ‘never again.’
“For decades, Mr. Honda has stood up for the rights of Arab Americans, Iranian Americans, Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, and transgender Americans, even when it wasn’t the popular thing to do.
“That the son of Indian immigrants could run against a Japanese American survivor of internment to be the political face of Silicon Valley suggests just how far America has come. I don’t think my parents would ever have imagined it. I don’t think they would have imagined it when they first stood in line at JFK Airport, waiting to have their passport stamped. I don’t think they would have imagined it when they took the oath to become citizens.
“Only in America can the son of a schoolteacher and an engineer, who came to this nation with nothing, grow up to represent the most powerful economic district in the world.
“You see, both my parents and Ritu’s parents shared a belief in this country’s fundamental decency. They raised us to believe that in America anything is possible… I mean, she did marry me. Their story is the story of a community — a community that will now add its voice to the American chorus.
“From the very beginning, our campaign cried out to the Bay Area, to California, and to our nation — that here in Silicon Valley, we have new communities that have something to offer, new activists who want to give back, and new, young voices who seek to answer the call to service. In doing so, we did not seek to diminish the past, but sought to prepare for the future.
“At a time when software is transforming every industry, when workers are competing with machines, our nation desperately needs stronger leadership from this region.
“We need new thinking for how to create jobs in the face of automation.
“We need to make educating our workforce for a global economy the highest priority of our government.
“We need to figure out how to lift up those that the technology revolution has left behind.
“And we need to make the case that having the best and brightest from around the world makes us stronger, not weaker.
“I believe years from now when people will look back at this room, they will say, ‘I glimpsed the future of America. I saw the future of the first nation in history that has people from every part of the globe, bounded by a commitment to build a more just and peaceful world.’ Is that not a brilliant future?
“After centuries of wars, assassinations, coups, internments, and colonial overreach — to think that a new America may help lead a new century of peace, a new century of understanding, a new century of innovation.
“My friends, I know our journey has been long to get here, but our work is just beginning. Let us come together, rising above the divisions, emboldened by a sense of purpose and possibility, to renew our faith in the great American political experiment so that we might achieve that elusive dream, what Lincoln prophesized as a ‘just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.’”