cuit; I don’t like the chatter; I am not big on
I will never support an Indian American
just because they are Indian American. I will
support a candidate for excellence.
For me, it’s about ideas and excellence and
vision and that’s what the first generation
They built this country through hard work
— through sweat, blood and tears. Not
through back-scratching and political
I want to take their model of entrepreneurship to a model of political entrepreneurship.
I will not play the traditional Washington
game even after I am elected.
I am campaigning on a reform agenda. I
am campaigning on a vision and I will be
true to that when I come to Washington.
Honda’s office recently put out a poll that
voters overwhelmingly support him over you
by 49 to 15 percent. Do these polls bother
The reality is that polls right now are
meaningless because we have still not gone
on to our message. We have not been on television; we have not been in the mail; we
have not had debates; we have not had
newspaper endorsements or coverage.
That will happen next year and till then, he
has a huge name ID advantage and that’s
always going to be reflected in the polls,
much like you often have in Presidential
You have covered these major races for
decades — people who are 2 or 3 percent
when they started and are unknown, and
once the voters get to know them they have
to make their choice.
I am confident that once — based on my
conversations in the district — voters know
who I am and what I stand for, they will pick
my vision and we will then see how they
reflect in the polls.
When they (the polls) will matter is May of
next year or October of next year, a month
from the election. That’s when the polls will
matter, but for now, it’s kind of an academic
exercise. They keep releasing these things
and it only shows name ID.
Do you feel the fact they keep putting out
endorsements and releasing polls is an indi-
cation that the Honda camp is running
I don’t think it’s scared. I believe it’s old
politics. Their view of politics is so divorced
from the 21stcentury view of politics. They
view politics as putting out polls, getting
endorsements, going to traditional groups,
running an inside-the-Beltway campaign.
The new generation of politics is about knocking on doors — which I do three to four
times a week — it’s about going to every community event, it’s about being on Facebook, being on Twitter, and earning every
voter’s confidence at a time of increased cynicism in politics.
Some just have a very, very different vision
about what it means to run a 21st century
campaign. I have been inspired by the
Barack Obama model — of community
organizing, of digital organizing, and going
campaign relying on DC insiders and tradi-
tional endorsements and polls and consult-
ants to win.
I just don’t think that model of politics resonates and it certainly doesn’t inspire.
Several Silicon Valley constituents, particularly the techies, acknowledge that they are
supporting you — about 80 percent of them
— and talk of your progressive priorities with
regard to manufacturing, growing businesses and the tax report you speak of.
If you are elected, surely they aren’t so
naïve to believe that as a junior freshman
lawmaker you can affect change, more so
considering that you have gone against the
How do you expect to be an effective legis-
Isn’t all this idealism, pledges and promis-
es, either naïvete on your part or simply the
usual rhetoric we hear from all those who
run promising change?
It’s not just the Indian-American community that is supporting me — it’s Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) and Marissa Mayer
(Yahoo! CEO) and Sean Parker (Napster co-founder) and Mark Benioff (Sales Force’s
CEO) and a hundred of the top Silicon Valley
People thought they were naïve when they
said Facebook could transform the world,
people thought they were naïve when they
said Google would transform the world.
They are just awakening and they will change. We will change Washington politics.
Washington has no idea what’s coming
when people of this caliber and talent and
idealism are starting to mobilize. I will go to
Washington representing hundreds of these
job creators and entrepreneurs that have
been responsible for America’s innovation
People in Washington will have to listen
when I say I am speaking for the people
who are responsible for our innovation
and job creation.
I will have the backing — financial backing, intellectual backing — of some of the
leading innovators of our time and that will
make me and the district I represent — that
has Apple, Intel, Yahoo!, Google, Cisco, Tesla
— different from almost any other member
of Congress, which will make talk of a rookie, junior and freshman Congressman meaningless.
In today’s day and age, what matters is not
your time in Washington, what matters is
what ideas are you standing for, who can you
mobilize outside Washington, what is your
ability to communicate the message.
I will be one of the most impactful players
in Washington from day one because of the
constituency I represent, which I honestly
believe is the greatest, most influential constituency in the country, in the world.
The only majority Asian district, with a
huge Chinese American and Indian
American population in a world which is
going to be dominated by the United States,
China and India — the heart of the high tech
I would have had the overwhelming support of those folks who say, ‘ This person gets
entrepreneurship, he gets what America
needs to do, he gets our relationship with
Asia, and people in Washington will listen’ as
is evidenced by the fact that Time magazine,
and BusinessWeek, and The Wall Street
Journal, and Politico and all of the mainstream publications are covering the race.
When is the last time they have covered a
member of Congress, let alone a Senator in
this way, and they are not covering it because
they are enamored with Ro Khanna, they are
enamored by that constituency.
So, if we are generating that kind of national interest, not even having won, imagine
the impact we will have, once we win.
This is beyond a race simply for Congress.
This is a race to represent the innovation
economy, to represent the only Asian major-
ity district in the US, and the Indian-Ame-
To represent this district is an extraordinary honor, an extraordinary privilege, and if
someone of Indian origin, who’s proud of
their heritage, happens to be given that privilege, that is an extraordinary moment in the
South Asian-American community’s political empowerment.
How many debates do you think Honda
should engage in with you?
Debates are the ideas of conversation of
the future of the country, and I’d love to have
those conversations with Congressman Honda. I will have those conversations after we
win the elections with whoever I run against.
I would encourage such conversations.
One thing I believe is that we should have
contested elections, we should have debates.
I would always debate folks and I would love
to have substantive conversations with the
Congressman about the direction of the
country because I believe that’s good and healthy for democracy — not as some gimmick.
You have raised over five times the money
Honda has in his campaign coffers. With
such a war chest is your strategy to overwhelm him just before the primary with a
media blitz in television, radio, print, etc?
It’s a case of our message resonating. We’ve
both had our messages out there. He’s a
seven-term incumbent and he should be
He has all the advantages and perks of the
institution. He has relationships and yet
we’ve been getting far more support.
Why? Because of our message of taking
PAC (Political Action Committee) money out
of politics, taking federal lobbyists money
out of politics, having transparency and
using technology to improve government
and making it more user-friendly.
Having the right type of tax and regulatory
reforms that encourage entrepreneurship.
The message is resonating and the money is
to just be a proxy for evaluating the support
of the message and ultimately it will allow us
to get the message out in the district.
What would you say to cynics who may say,
‘He’s just got the Romesh Wadhwanis and
India Abroad November 29, 2013
THE MAGAZINE M9
‘For me,politics is about
a currency of ideas’
Ro Khanna canvasses in
California’s 17th district.
COUR TESY: RO KHANNA