National News

‘Tech Needs to Do Better,’ Says Silicon Valley Congressman

Posted May 25, 2018 1:34 p.m. EDT

“The greatest challenge of our time,” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said, “is the concentration of economic opportunity by geography.”

Khanna, a 41-year-old patent lawyer from Fremont, is a first-term congressman representing the state’s 17th District — the heart of Silicon Valley. He’s a self-avowed tech junkie who’s drawn support from the industry’s top players.

Yet he’s joked that his district has some of “the biggest egos known to humankind” and he is adamant that Silicon Valley is too exclusive, hardly diverse enough and benefits far too few.

“Tech needs to do better,” Khanna said Thursday. “The achievements here are staggering, but the question is who is participating. I would argue that a lot of people have been left out: African-Americans and other minorities and people in rural areas of the heartland of our country.”

Khanna is the son of immigrants from India. As political inspiration, he cites his grandfather, a member of Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom movement in the 1940s who was jailed for four years before becoming a parliamentarian.

At the University of Chicago, he worked on the state Senate campaign of Barack Obama and later on Obama’s presidential run. He moved to California in 2001, and in 2003 he ran for Congress.

He lost that election badly and lost to Democratic stalwart Michael Honda in 2014. Critics at the time called him a “Silicon Valley groupie” and a candidate “whose big-money donors are intent on buying Mike’s congressional seat.” Khanna, one of only six members of Congress who does not accept PAC contributions, bristles at those words.

“The Valley doesn’t elect ‘yes’ people,” he said. “It elects people who push back and people who will help it achieve its potential. Independence is what gives me credibility.”

Steve Glickman, co-founder of the Economic Innovation Group, told The Los Angeles Times: “It is rare to see a first-term congressman from Silicon Valley criticizing the tech industry for not doing enough to help Middle America, where he has no skin in the game. But this is the issue of our generation to fix.”

Khanna is expected to win re-election June 5. In its endorsement, The San Jose Mercury News praised his “working knowledge” of the tech industry.

“People in the Valley may not agree with me,” Khanna said, “but they respect me as trying to think about Silicon Valley’s place in America, and making sure everyone is included.”