The Epoch Times sat down with Congressman Mike Honda to talk about several issues important to him as he campaigns for re-election this fall. The eight-term Democratic incumbent feels there is much he still wants to do in service to his country.
Epoch Times: Congressman Honda, it is such a great honor to speak with you.
Representative Mike Honda: It is a pleasure to be here.
Epoch Times: You have had such an admirable career in public service, spanning over half a century since the days when you joined the Peace Corps in 1965. You have served in various capacities throughout the years. Looking back, what is the single accomplishment you are most proud of?
Rep. Honda: I’m probably most proud of growing into an adult that understands the situations people find themselves in, understands and has insight into people’s lives, the struggles they have, and also understands the power structure of governments and institutions. Having that insight has helped me to do my work on a daily basis.
This insight mostly came from my time in El Salvador. While there, I saw different classes based not only on income but also on color, and race. I saw a lot of discrimination, including self-discrimination, that’s embedded in our culture. My ability to understand, recognize, and analyze that, and then apply it to my life has been important.
Epoch Times: In 2007 you authored House Resolution 121, which called on the Japanese government to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as ‘comfort women,’ during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II.”
These so-called comfort women suffered unimaginable physical, emotional, and psychological trauma. Your action was well respected and highly praised in the Chinese community. As a third-generation Japanese-American, why do you think it is important to fight for an apology for something that took place 75 years ago?
Rep. Honda: Government is organic, so if a government does something harmful in the past, they have a responsibility to make amends to the people of this world in the future. The atrocities that the Japanese Imperial Military visited upon girls and women throughout Asia—coercing and kidnapping them into sexual slavery—was a very violent, systematic, savage treatment of women. People will say, “It was in the past,” but that sort of thing is still happening today. Go to any place where there is a natural disaster or human conflicts and women will be violated. That kind of behavior has to stop, and one of the ways we address it is to acknowledge that it happened.
Japan is a democratic government. They have to acknowledge responsibility and unambiguously apologize to the victims. Those women lost their spirit. Two hundred thousand girls and women died without dignity, without the sanctity of a family burial. The predators owe them an apology. We also have victims who are still alive who need that apology so they can have peace.
Epoch Times: China is the third-largest trading partner of the United States, but the current degree of religious and journalistic freedom there, not to mention their human rights record, has been disturbing. When faced with choosing between economic interests or supporting suppressed groups, it seems easy for some Western elected officials to turn a blind eye to the horrific crimes against humanity being committed. How would you balance the intricate relationship between enhancing cooperation between the two great nations and promoting democracy and freedom in China?
Rep. Honda: (laughing) Well, thank you for a very simple question! I’m not a scholar, I’m a simple schoolteacher, but I do understand what you’re asking. President Nixon and Kissinger opened up China to the U.S. on the basis of economic motivation. They saw that China was a marketplace of almost 2 billion people. Labor was also inexpensive and its people were smart and capable, so our companies took advantage of that.
When I was on the special committee that monitors China and its relationship with the U.S., I learned about the human rights violations and how the control of journalism and information there has been pretty heavy-handed.
Now, when I criticize other countries, I understand that we have a responsibility to look at ourselves. We do have some human rights issues in this country. But when we trade with other countries, we should maintain a standard of expectation. That is why I don’t support TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. There are a lot of countries we are looking at who have gross violations of human rights, gross violations of suppressing information and journalists.
Epoch Times: Education is a topic dear to your heart. You have 30 years of tenure as an educator, you were a science teacher, principal of two public schools, a school board member, and you conducted educational research at Stanford University. What is your take on state legislation like AB 1726, AB 1050, and SCA-5 that may impact the admissions of public universities? Should similar bills be brought up at the national level for federal educational funding?
Rep. Honda: SCA-5 was a well-meaning piece of legislation. The motivation behind it was to bring back to the campus a more balanced population, one that would reflect the world. In the fight over SCA-5, we lost sight of what the bill was supposed to do. It became a fight between people who say, “My kid has a 5.0 and you’re letting in kids who got a 4.6 instead.”
I think the real issue is not about what kids get to go to that particular school. We have told every child in California that if they achieve certain grades in high school, or if they graduate from community college with the right grades, they are guaranteed a slot in the system in California.
The problem is not admissions, but capacity. We have built over 20 prisons (since 1980) but only one university campus (Merced) and one state campus (Monterey). Our legislators need to refocus. Rather than have our youngsters compete with each other for the seats, we have to increase capacity because they all deserve to be there; they all qualify.
So, we have to say “Let’s build more universities.” That’s the issue. I want us to refocus to where the fight should be. The legislators and the citizens need to understand that if we want our kids to go to school, we need to build those schools and not more prisons.
I also believe that in terms of funding schools, the federal government has a greater role to fund them. It shouldn’t be dependent on property taxes.
Epoch Times: Earlier this year the city of San Jose, one of the nation’s most expensive cities to live in, lowered the annual rent increase cap from 8 percent to 5 percent for all of the rent-controlled apartments. However, some are still pushing for tighter rent control. Are you for or against that?
Rep. Honda: Neither. We always look for a simple answer to problems like this, and we end up fighting over whether it should be 5 percent or less. People argue over whether it’s fair or not. Well, it’s unfair for people who live on minimum wage and work 40 hours a week to not be able to afford to live in this Valley. That’s insane. And even people who have high-tech jobs can’t afford to live here when apartment rents are $3,000 a month and a home is $6,000 a month.
Epoch Times: What is your plan to solve the housing shortage in Silicon Valley?
Rep. Honda: It’s not a simple thing. But the state and federal governments, the city, county, school districts, and other agencies own property, surplus property. We should inventory our surplus and underutilized lands and ask ourselves if we can use them to create affordable housing. We aren’t doing that.
Developers come with their own property, and they want to get as much money as possible from each square foot of that land. That’s why we should take government lands, property already owned by the taxpayers, and figure out how we can develop affordable housing on it—housing for low-income people, veterans, the homeless, as well as teachers, cops, and firefighters. We need them in the Valley, and it’s too expensive for them to commute.
Epoch Times: Let’s talk about some issues of the upcoming election.
You represent the 17th Congressional District, which is the only Asian-American-majority district in the continental United States. Why do you think you would be a better representative of Silicon Valley than your opponent Mr. Ro Khanna?
Rep. Honda: I think the electorate has to look at our accomplishments, what kind of history and experience we have to bring to the job. If they look at my record, I’ve been able to accomplish a lot of things, like more funding for BART, and funding for rape kit testing. We had half a million rape kits sitting on the shelf not being analyzed, so people were not getting justice. I fight hard for sensible things we need in this country, like gun violence prevention.
I’ve been criticized for ethics things, but it was not a criminal issue, it was breaking House rules, maybe, and the court is still out on that. I would like to say that I have been tried and judged in the media; even though they say “alleged,” it stills leaves a tinge of guilt.
It’s like what they did to Asians before World War II; they used to call Asians unfit to be Americans, say they had funny food and customs, etc. The media has to become more helpful in laying out the issues rather than taking sides.
The electorate has to ask themselves who’s prepared, who has a good history with results, and who is the best suited for this job.
Epoch Times: In his campaign mailer, your opponent called you “Big taxes, Big spending.” What is your response to that?
Rep. Honda: He’s just using jingoism to describe me. What big taxes? What big spending? Isn’t spending $131 million on rape kits so that people get justice a good way of spending money? Is bringing $900 million to this Valley so BART can go from Warm Springs to Berryessa and then finish the next 6 miles, so that after 50 years we complete its construction to Santa Clara, big taxes? We’re asking people to tax themselves to help these projects.
Epoch Times: If re-elected, what would your goals be for the next two years?
Rep. Honda: I don’t consider it the next two years, but into the future. Part of policymaking is having a vision far into the future, for our children. We need to provide them with ways to get equal education from pre-school through college.
For college students, we need to establish a situation where they don’t go into debt. Fear of debt can keep them from going to college. We need to create a system where they can get higher education and not become burdened with debt.
It could be giving them extremely low interests rates for loans, as we do for banks. We say we’re doing that for banks because it’s good for business, but we should also do that for our youngsters because it makes economic sense. Every child that graduates from college provides over a million dollars extra in taxes. That’s good for our economy.
Into the future, we need to look at how we are going to move people from home to work. Gridlock is not only in Congress; it’s also on highways. The good thing is that people are going to work; the bad thing is that they’re stuck on the freeway when they should be home with their kids. We need to find ways to move people out of their cars, develop a better method of what we call “personal rapid transit systems.”
Epoch Times: You’ve been in public service for over half a century. At what point would you consider retirement?
Rep. Honda: My parents taught me that public service doesn’t stop until you stop breathing. Part of immortality is that you touch people’s lives with your own life; whatever you’re able to teach them, they pass that on. So I don’t see the end of the tunnel right now. I’ve got a lot of things left to do.
I’d like to see equity of education completed. I’d like to see a relationship with other areas like Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East achieved through diplomacy and developing trust rather than looking at bombs, bullets, and blood.