Santa Clara’s Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA-17) sees his job very simply.
“When I step into the Congress every day, my first duty is to get the most I can for my constituents,” said Khanna. “And if that means being putting on a good face and being polite to people I fundamentally disagree with, and it’s going to help our community, going to help our district, I do that.”
Now in his second term, he appears to succeed. In June, Khanna won a 2019 award for constituent services from the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), a non-partisan group that rates lawmakers on their responsiveness and effectiveness handling constituents’ questions and problems.
Khanna represents the only Asian-American majority district in the country, and much of the office’s work relates to immigration.
“[The CMF] cited our accessibility to local community our monthly town halls, our fluency in multiple languages,” he said. “I am very, very proud of that recognition for our local team and legal staff and to be singled out as providing the best constituency services in the entire country.”
If you doubt his effectiveness, you can visit his office where you’ll see two full walls covered with messages of thanks from constituents.
Immigration is hardly the only thing on Khanna’s plate. He serves on the Armed Services, Budget and Oversight committees as well as almost 50 congressional task forces — including some unfamiliar ones like Animal Protection and Rare Diseases.
Tackling Local Challenges
Some of the local issues he’s working on include airplane noise, the South Bay odor problem, housing and traffic.
“We’ve been working to support efforts to reduce traffic by bringing more funding in for public transport,” he said, “and ultimately the extension of BART to the Diridon Station.
“I’ve made the argument to Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Transportation and to others, that, if you want to support the innovation economy, if you want America to continue to grow, you’ve got to give us the infrastructure here,” he continued.
“You’ve got to give us dollars for the extension of BART, for the extension of highways that we need in this area, on 237 and 880. I’m hoping we get the funding for the extension of BART,” he added, “That’s nonpolitical.”
Khanna has also taken the lead on issues of concern to Santa Clara’s sizable Portuguese community. He’s advocating for a bill that will allow the Portuguese to make investments into the United States.
“Right now,” he explained, “they don’t have any ability to make direct investments here because they don’t have that kind of treaty with the U.S.”
Veteran’s issues are high on the Congressman’s list, and there’s a veteran on his staff to lead these programs.
“My first bill that passed was to increase apprenticeships for veterans,” Khanna said. He’s currently working on a veterans bill to increase funding for outreach about the apprenticeships.
Khanna recently introduced a bill to help veterans get disability benefits for neck and back injuries related to their active duty service that emerge after that time. “A lot of times the disabilities come 10, 20 years later,” he explained. “But they’re not diagnosed at the time.”
National Investment Needed For Local Impact
Unsurprisingly for a Congressman representing Silicon Valley, Khanna speaks a lot about making the right investments.
“I believe we have to reinvest in American communities, in our in our cities, in our smaller cities, in our rural communities,” he said. “We’ve got to invest in our housing, in our infrastructure and our education. We’ve got to invest in getting people health care.
“We’ve got to invest in childcare,” he continued. “The number of people in our district who …are working a job, two jobs and a third or a half of their income is going into childcare. Why don’t we have universal accessible child care?”
Khanna lays out what this kind of community investment looks like on the ground. A hundred million dollars of federal funding for affordable housing grants to cities, for example, would supply the wherewithal for Santa Clara to execute on its affordable housing intentions.
“What I hear the most from people in town halls is that they can’t afford to live here, their kids can’t afford to live here,” he said. “This is not just affordable housing for people who are homeless. This is housing for our teachers, our nurses, our mechanics and machinists.”
But Khanna is realistic about the likelihood of this kind of investment happening soon.
“I know that things happen slowly at the federal level, but realistically, I think it’s I think it’s going to require a new president,” he said
“This president believes that we give tax cuts to corporate executives and Wall Street. I believe we have to reinvest in American communities, in our in our cities, in our smaller cities, in our rural communities.
“When I grew up, there was a plumber on our street, an air conditioning mechanic, an corporate executive, a nurse, a schoolteacher,” he continued. “I grew up in a very diverse community in terms of jobs and economics. We all played on the same Little League team. We all played street hockey together.”
Khanna doesn’t want communities to lose that varied fabric, he said. “It would be very boring if the only people who could afford to live here were Apple and Facebook engineers.”