Rep. Mike Honda (D)
California 15th District
A few decades ago, the broad valley of Santa Clara County around San Jose was mostly orchards and vineyards. Sheltered by mountains from the chilly ocean fogs, with soil incredibly fertile once it was irrigated, this valley produced peaches, plums, prunes, apricots, and grapes and made San Jose the nation’s biggest fruit-packing center. Today, subdivisions, shopping centers, and office buildings have replaced the orchards, and Santa Clara County has a population of 1.7 million. San Jose, with a growing downtown, an arena for its National Hockey League team, and 940,000 people, has become a major American city. In 2005, it replaced Detroit on the list of the nation’s 10 largest cities. But this has not been a family-friendly increase: a shortage of students has led to the closing of several schools. Despite price declines triggered by the recession, real estate prices in the San Jose metropolitan area were the highest in the nation in 2008.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 15th Congressional District consists of the central slice of still-growing Santa Clara County, which is the sixth biggest in the state and has large numbers of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Mexican immigrants. Nearly half of the district’s population is in San Jose, and the majority of those residents live in the city’s affluent neighborhoods. West of San Jose, the district includes the cities of Santa Clara and Cupertino, where Steve Jobs started Apple in a garage in the 1970s and where the company is still headquartered. The district also includes the salt flats of San Jose, now the site of a Great America theme park; the heavily Asian city of Milpitas; and, far to the south, connected by a swath of mountains, Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world. Outside of Hawaii, this district has the highest percentage of Asians in the nation, 34%. In Cupertino, where Asians are nearly a majority, their influence has made them a political force. This area was once marginal political territory but is now heavily Democratic. John Kerry got 63% of the vote here in 2004, and Barack Obama got 68% in 2008.
Rep. Mike Honda (D)
Elected: 2000, 5th term.
Born: June 27, 1941, Walnut Creek .
Home: San Jose.
Education: San Jose St. U., B.S. 1969, B.A. 1970, M.A. 1973.
Family: Widowed; 2 children.
Elected office: San Jose Unified Sch. Bd., 1981-90; Santa Clara Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 1990-96; CA Assembly, 1996-2000.
Professional Career: Peace Corps, 1965-67; Elem. schl. principal, 1978-90.
The congressman from the 15th District is Mike Honda, a Democrat first elected in 2000. Honda’s grandparents came to the United States from Japan’s Kumamoto Prefecture, which served as the primary battleground for the Seinan Civil War in the 1870s (memorialized in the film The Last Samurai). Honda was born in Walnut Creek and spent 14 months during his childhood in a World War II internment camp in Colorado. His wife, Jeanne, who died of cancer in 2004, was born in Hiroshima and survived the atomic attack before immigrating to the United States several years later. Honda received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from San Jose State University and served two years in the Peace Corps in El Salvador, where he became fluent in Spanish and gained a passion for teaching.
|Mike Honda (D)||170,977||(72%)||($833,894)|
|Joyce Stoer Cordi (R)||55,489||(23%)|
|Peter Myers (Green)||12,123||(5%)|
|Mike Honda (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (72%), 2004 (72%), 2002 (66%), 2000 (54%)
In 1971, San Jose Mayor Norman Mineta appointed him to the city Planning Commission. Honda worked as a science teacher, and then was a principal at two area elementary schools from 1978 to 1986; during that period, he served on the San Jose Unified School Board. He was then elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. In 1996, he was elected to the California Assembly, where he worked to reduce classroom sizes and increase teacher benefits. He also tried to secure an apology from Japan for its wartime atrocities against other Asian nations.
In 2000, Republican Rep. Tom Campbell decided to run against Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. At first Honda was reluctant to run for the House, but persuasive telephone calls from several leading House Democrats and, finally, from President Clinton, changed his mind. Honda won the primary over Bill Peacock, a venture capitalist, 67% to 24%. His Republican opponent was Assemblyman Jim Cunneen, a Campbell protégé who was strongly supported by national GOP leaders and many Silicon Valley capitalists. Cunneen favored liberal positions on cultural issues, and he tried to depict the contest as a referendum on the old economy versus the new. Honda, despite his close ties to unions, supported normal trade relations with China, a position strongly backed by the high-tech industry. He won 54%-42%.
Honda has been among the most liberal members of the House. He chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, which advocates for underrepresented groups on issues such as immigration and expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. He helped to enact a cyber-security law that funds training and programs to protect computer data and networks. He was a major architect of the Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003 to encourage the development of networked facilities, which involve the manipulation of matter at the atomic level. This has become a booming technology in the Bay Area.
In 2007, with help from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he got a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, which controls the government purse strings. He has focused on trying to win full funding for education programs, many of which are financed at levels well below what is called for in the enabling legislation.
Honda has also continued his quest to prompt apologies from Japan, publicizing the cause of American POWs in World War II who were transported on “hell ships” to work as slave laborers in Japan. More recently, Honda in 2007 won House passage of a resolution calling on Tokyo to apologize for forcing as many as 200,000 women into sexual slavery during the war. His efforts have generated controversy in Japan, and The New York Times referred to Honda as “one of the most famous American congressmen in his ancestral land.” In September 2008, Honda called the comments of Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah “offensive and embarrassing to all Americans” when Chaffetz called for the detention of illegal immigrants in tent cities as part of his campaign for the House.
Honda cast one of the three votes against a resolution condemning a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that found the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. He sponsored a bill stating that military recruiters must have parents’ consent to contact their children. Another of his passions is addressing low voter turnout in national elections, a situation he calls a “serious illness.” He has a bill to reschedule federal elections for the first full weekend in November. As vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2008 campaign, Honda criss-crossed the nation to try to spark more participation by Asian-Americans in the election. Larry Gerston, a political scientist at San Jose State University, told the San Jose Mercury News that rather than take high-profile leadership roles, Honda prefers to put together coalitions for causes that might not otherwise get attention. “He really puts the K in ‘Kumbaya,’ ” Gerston said.