Khanna says constituents expect him to focus on the big picture
Although he ran a campaign that emphasized local issues, U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna says there’s a reason he has spent much of his first 10 months in office appearing on national television news discussing American conflicts overseas or Republican budget proposals.
Khanna, a Fremont resident, says he wants to be a “thought leader,” helping to lay out the national progressive agenda and serve as a Democratic alternative to House Speaker Paul Ryan.
He recently wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times about a resolution he is sponsoring that would invoke the War Powers Act to force the president to remove American soldiers from the Yemen conflict. It has bipartisan support and may be debated in the coming weeks, but will not go to a vote.
Khanna says his actions since unseating longtime incumbent Mike Honda last November have been in line with the values of constituents in his 17th Congressional District, which includes Fremont and Newark as well as other South Bay cities.
“I believe we have the type of district that would support that kind of aspiration, that would be listened to and has that kind of values,” Khanna said in a recent interview at his district office in Santa Clara.
Khanna narrowly lost to Honda in a previous bid for Congress in 2014 and admitted later he didn’t do enough to focus on local issues.
In his 2016 campaign, he ran on issues of local concern such as the odors believed to waft over Milpitas and South Fremont from the Newby Island Landfill in San Jose and the noise of airplanes flying directly over some South Bay neighborhoods to and from San Francisco International Airport.
He also promised voters he would be widely accessible in the district.
While acknowledging that his office doesn’t send out press releases about odor issues and airplane noise because those things “don’t get the attention of the Washington Post or The New York Times,” Khanna says he feels he’s keeping promises to locals.
“I think I’ve met each and every one very strongly,” Khanna said, noting he has held a town hall in a district city each month since February.
His district office director, Chris Moylan, said he encouraged the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to buy two new pieces of equipment to pinpoint the source of trash or compost odors.
That should help end the finger pointing about who is to blame for the stench, although it’s still unclear how the problem can be resolved, Moylan said.
Khanna said he has collaborated with U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo to ensure his constituents have a strong voice in planned roundtable discussions about airplane noise issues.
His first bill that passed will help veterans use their G.I. Bill funding to more easily pay for a variety of tech job training courses, Khanna says.
One of the major issues affecting Fremont residents is traffic congestion on local streets, freeways and connectors.
Khanna said while he advocates for his district in dealings with the Department of Transportation, the major projects that could alleviate some traffic issues often depend on federal funding and he doesn’t want to over promise what can be done under the current administration.
Asked if he aspires to higher office in the near future, Khanna deflected the question while noting he’s running for re-election next year. He said he feels he still has “a long way to go” to become the progressive thought leader he wants to be.
He said he recognizes that his big ideas — like a $1.5 trillion boost to the earned income tax credit for people earning less than $75,000 — won’t happen overnight, but serve “to shape the thinking of the party and the country.”
With his party in the minority, Khanna said media outlets and citizens are looking for big voices to fill a “vacuum” of leadership he thinks exists right now for Democrats, and that his local constituents want him to fill that role.
“I think this is a very educated district,” he said. “Yes they care about the local issues … but they also want someone to show leadership on the progressive vision for the nation.”