“I believe that California’s 17th district, the heart of Silicon Valley, is the most consequential district in the country. Silicon Valley is the global innovation hub. The technology created here has changed the world time and time again. But dynamic changes in our global economy are leaving people behind. My commitment to working men and women is one of the driving forces behind my decision to enter public service,” says Ro Khanna, in an exclusive interview with Ras Siddiqui for Siliconeer.
Ras Siddiqui (RS) recently spoke to Ro Khanna (RO). Below are excerpts from the interview he gave to Siliconeer.
RS: Since we are conducting this interview mainly for a South-Asian news outlet, let us get to the personal question first. What can you tell us about your family life and your educational background?
RO: I have been very inspired by my grandfather who spent several years in jail for his contributions to Gandhi’s independence movement. He was born in Lahore and moved to India after partition. His stories have driven me to do my part in serving the public good and in standing up for human rights around the world. My father immigrated here in the 1960s to study engineering and my mother came in the 1970s. She worked as a substitute schoolteacher. My parents instilled in me a value for education. I went to the University of Chicago and took out student loans to earn a law degree from Yale.
RS: What do you think about the “Top Two” candidates running for office idea? Both you and your opponent in California’s 17th District are Democrats. What makes you the better candidate?
RO: I’m running for Congress because Silicon Valley needs a Congressman who will bring a different approach to governing – someone who will build bipartisan coalitions to get things done. Someone who will lead on issues, not follow. Someone who will be engaged and show up in the community. Congressman Honda has not delivered in his fourteen years in office. He’s passed one bill – to name a post office.
RS: Frankly, I did not want to make this interview harder than it needs to be, but for many of us in the immigrant community, 14 year incumbent Congressman Mike Honda has been a long-time friend. How do you think that you will be able to safeguard our concerns better than Mike?
RO: My parents are immigrants, and I have been a forceful advocate for commonsense immigration reform. I live in Silicon Valley where the global is local. There is no question that Rep. Honda has been a strong advocate for the Asian American community. But he has not been effective in delivering.
(Above): Ro Khanna
RS: There has been profiling in this country and a number of hate crimes committed, against Muslims and the Sikh community specifically. These are topics important for many other people of color as well. Can you share some of your thoughts on this subject of protection of minorities here?
RO: This is personal to me. I know what it’s like to be raised by immigrants and to be one of the only Indian American students at my school. I will always be a strong advocate for legislation against hate crimes. I will never compromise or remain silent in the face of racial discrimination.
RS: You are considered an authority on the manufacturing sector in America. How do you think that manufacturing can make a comeback in our very own Golden State?
RO: First, we should allow companies to repatriate foreign earnings provided they use that money to invest in either expanding their factories or creating a net number of new jobs. Second, we need to streamline regulations that put U.S. manufactures at a significant disadvantage with the rest of the world. Third, I will focus on building partnerships between manufacturers and community colleges to train skilled workers.
RS: Having worked in the Obama administration, could you tell us how you will utilize that experience for the benefit of the people in your district in case you win in November?
RO: When I served in the Commerce Department I traveled across the country meeting with manufacturers of all sizes. I gained an understanding not only of their challenges but also of the competitive advantages that America has in manufacturing and exporting. When I returned home to Fremont, Calif., I wrote a book called Entrepreneurial Nation. It’s all about how to keep the best jobs and opportunities right here in America.
RS: You have scored some very important endorsements especially from the mainstream media newspapers including the San Jose Mercury News. What do you attribute this support to?
RO: The people supporting me recognize that the 21st century brings great challenges, but also incredible opportunities. Unfortunately, Congressman Honda is not getting the job done. In the San Jose Mercury News’ endorsement, they said that he was “irrelevant” on the most pressing technology and privacy issues and that he is “not effective” in influencing policy.
RS: Working Americans of this generation are competing in a global marketplace today. What measures would you support in Washington that would help protect our jobs and wages in this country?
RO: A strong middle class has always been the cornerstone of our nation’s success. Unfortunately, middle class families are struggling today due to stagnating or decreasing incomes coupled with growing costs of housing, education, and health care – problems exacerbated by misguided government policies. Hardworking parents shouldn’t have to choose between supporting their children and retiring with dignity.
RS: Let us look at a scenario where the President of the United States calls for a vote in Congress asking for “boots on the ground” in a foreign country. What would convince you to vote “Yes” on this call?
RO: The only case where we should commit American troops is when there is an imminent threat to American lives. In that case I believe that Congress should vote on the authorization of force. That is the system of checks and balances that our founding fathers created. But it relies on members of Congress having the courage to take a position instead of sitting on the sidelines and ducking the tough decisions.
RS: What motivates you the most in this run for office?
RO: I believe that California’s 17th district – the heart of Silicon Valley – is the most consequential district in the country. Silicon Valley is the global innovation hub. The technology created here has changed the world time and time again. But dynamic changes in our global economy are leaving people behind. My commitment to working men and women is one of the driving forces behind my decision to enter public service.
RS: Thank you.