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Over the course of his 16-year career in Congress, the affable Mike Honda quietly attained positions of authority in the House Democratic Caucus, serving on the party’s Steering and Policy Committee and rising to a seat on the House Appropriations Committee. An advocate of tolerant and inclusive policies, Honda led the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and helped found the LGBT Equality Caucus. According to a political scientist based in Honda’s hometown of San Jose, Honda “really puts the K in ‘Kumbaya.’”1

Mike Honda was born on June 27, 1941, in Walnut Grove, California. His parents, Giichi (Byron) and Fusako Honda, worked on farms in the Bay Area. When Honda was six months old, the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration incarcerated thousands of Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Honda’s family was among 7,000 individuals sent to the Granada War Relocation Center in Colorado.2 Honda remained imprisoned even after his father joined the U.S. Military Intelligence Service (MIS) in 1943 to teach Japanese to American servicemen. Nearly 70 years later, the elder Honda and the MIS received a Congressional Gold Medal for their service during the war.3

After the war, the family returned to the Bay Area and settled in San Jose. Mike Honda graduated from San Jose High School in 1959 and served with the Peace Corps in El Salvador from 1965 to 1967. He graduated in 1968 from San Jose State University with a bachelor’s degree.4 Honda married Jeanne Yoshida in 1967, and they had two children, Mark and Michelle. A longtime educator, Jeanne died in 2004 after battling cancer.5

Honda worked as a teacher and principal in San Jose throughout the 1970s and 1980s, while earning a master’s degree from his alma mater in 1974. In 1971 Honda joined the San Jose planning commission and served for a decade.6 Honda then served on the San Jose school board for the next nine years (1981–1990) before winning election to the Santa Clara county board of supervisors. In 1996 Honda was elected to the California state assembly, representing San Jose.7

In December 1999, after his local Congressman Thomas Campbell opted to run for the Senate, Honda declared his candidacy for the open House seat. Both the national Democratic Party and President William J. (Bill) Clinton offered support.8 After winning the party nomination, Honda—whose campaign platforms included more funding for America’s school systems, improved civil rights protections, and open trade with China—faced off against Republican Jim Cunneen in the general election. Honda won with 54 percent of the vote. For much of his career, Honda won re-election by overwhelming majorities, often taking upwards of 70 percent of the vote.9

Centered in Santa Clara County, California’s 15th District encompassed parts of Silicon Valley, Santa Clara, and San Jose. Although redistricting shifted its boundaries and renumbered it the 17th District, high-tech manufacturing and computer science continued to dominate the local economy. The district had the highest concentration of Asian residents anywhere in mainland America.10

In the House, Honda served on several different committees: Budget (107th Congress [2001–2003] and 112th Congress [2011–2013]); Science (107th through 109th Congresses [2001–2007]); and Transportation and Infrastructure (107th through 109th Congresses [2001–2007]). Starting with the 110th Congress (2007–2009), when Democrats regained the majority, Honda served on the powerful Appropriations Committee for the balance of his career.11 In the 112th Congress, Democrats named him Ranking Member of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee.In the 114th Congress (2015–2017), he served as Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. 

Honda used his committee assignments to pursue the interests of his tech-savvy district and fought for improved support for nanotechnology.12 But with new technology came new security gaps, so Honda pressed for more funding to protect individual identities and guard America’s computer grid, including the Cyber Security Research and Development Act.13

The former teacher also focused on educational opportunities. Honda led the creation of the National Commission on Educational Equity and Excellence to make recommendations for improving education access to the U.S. Department of Education. 

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Honda recalled Japanese-American internment and warned against renewed racial profiling.14 In 2002 he voted against the authorization for the use of military force against Iraq and later worked to improve security at the U.S. Capitol.15

As a leader in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Honda disagreed with President Barack Obama’s administration on its combat policy in Afghanistan and later chaired the Progressive Caucus’s Budget Task Force.16

Honda overcame an early fear of public speaking by singing karaoke, and he continued to sing in Washington. “It is a great leveler,” he said. “Everyone makes themselves vulnerable.”17 On the Hill he developed a reputation as a coalition builder, serving as the chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, where he worked on immigration policy. Honda championed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights while in Congress. He created the Anti-Bullying Caucus and the Transgender Equality Task Force in his fight to protect those who faced discrimination, such as his transgender grandchild. He also helped found the LGBT Equality Caucus.18

But changes back home to both California’s primary system and to the makeup of Honda’s constituency combined to make him electorally vulnerable. Numerous young Democrats in the Bay Area had become restive over the lack of turnover among an aging group of leaders. In 2011 the state of California replaced its closed primary system with a nonpartisan open primary that pitted the top two contenders against each other in the fall, regardless of party affiliation. In 2012 a young Democrat, Eric Swalwell, defeated longtime Democratic Representative Pete Stark under these new rules.19

During this time, Honda’s district had become increasingly diverse. The Asian-Indian and Filipino-American population in the district had quadrupled, and the Chinese- and Vietnamese-American population had tripled. “Asian-American politics is a lot different than other ethno-American politics,” Professor Melissa Michelson of Menlo College said. “It’s a much weaker pan-ethnicity because there are so many different languages, different religions.” Honda, in his early 70s, now faced a challenge from a younger Asian-Indian Democrat, Ro Khanna.20 Khanna had worked in President Obama’s Commerce Department from 2009 to 2011 and was the highest-ranking Asian Indian American in the U.S. government.21

Honda won the June 3, 2014, primary with 49 percent of the vote (Khanna took 27 percent), but because neither candidate captured a majority, the two faced off again in the general election that November. Election forecasters expected Khanna to pick up both Republican votes and support from the other Democratic candidates.22 In late September, the Khanna campaign filed a complaint with the House Ethics Committee against Honda for using his official staff for campaign purposes.23 Nevertheless, Honda won re-election in a close race that was not decided until the Friday morning after Election Day.24

When Honda announced his candidacy for re-election in June 2015, Khanna had already made it clear that he intended to challenge Honda again.25 In late July, however, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct announced that it would look into the 2014 complaint made by Khanna because of findings made by the Office of Congressional Ethics, its independent investigatory arm.26 After edging out Honda in the June 2016 primary, Khanna beat Honda in the fall general election with 61 percent of the vote.27


1Almanac of American Politics, 2016 (Bethesda, MD: Columbia Books & Information Services, 2015): 215.

2Politics in America, 2006 (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2005): 100; “My Story,” Representative Mike Honda’s official website, accessed 20 November 2015, (site discontinued); Rep. Mike Honda, “Honda Marks 70th Anniversary of Closing of Amache Internment Camp,” press release, 15 October 2015, (site discontinued); Zachary Coile, “Tears of Joy and Hard Memories: Japanese American Memorial Opens,” 30 June 2001, San Francisco Chronicle: A3; Mary Anne Ostrom, Edwin Garcia, and Hallye Jordan, “Honda Lauds Diversity, Attention to Education,” 17 August 2000, San Jose Mercury News: A16.

3Rep. Mike Honda, “Honoring the Unsung Heroes of World War II,” 10 November 2011, San Jose Mercury News: n.p.; Peter Delevett, “In San Jose’s Japantown, Vigil Commemorates 70th Anniversary of FDR’s Internment Order,” 19 February 2012, San Jose Mercury News: n.p.

4“My Story”; Politics in America, 2006: 101.

5Ryan Kim, “Jeanne Yoshida Honda—Wife of Congressman,” 18 February 2004, San Francisco Chronicle: A15; Barbara Feder Ostrov, “Jeanne Honda, Legislator’s Wife, Dies,” 17 February 2004, San Jose Mercury News: B1.

6Almanac of American Politics, 2002 (Washington, DC: National Journal, Inc., 2001): 198.

7Melody Petersen, “Health High on Honda’s Agenda,” 11 January 1995, San Jose Mercury News: B1; De Tran, “District 23 Success Depends on Who Can Turn Out Voters,” 11 February 1996, San Jose Mercury News: B1.

8Mary Anne Ostrom, “Honda Touted for House Seat,” 7 December 1999, San Jose Mercury News: B1; Mark Simon, “Assembly Democrat to Seek Campbell’s Seat,” 8 December 1999, San Francisco Chronicle: A3; Mary Anne Ostrom and Moan Levey, “Honda Enters Race for House,” 8 December 1999, San Jose Mercury News: B1; Lori Aratani, “Demo Leaders Spur Honda’s Campaign,” 24 February 2000, San Jose Mercury News: B1.

9Carolyne Zinko and Mark Simon, “Party Favorites Cunneen, Honda Lead in 15th District Primary,” 8 March 2000, San Francisco Chronicle: A8; Mark Simon, “Muscle Flex Pays Off for Honda,” 9 March 2000, San Francisco Chronicle: A15; Lori Aratani, “Honda, Cunneen Gear Up for House Contest,” 9 March 2000, San Jose Mercury News: B1; Lori Aratani, “Debate Opens in 15th District,” 7 September 2000, San Jose Mercury News: B1; Lori Aratani, “Cunneen, Honda Debate,” 14 September 2000, San Jose Mercury News: B4; Editorial, “Vote For Cunneen In 15th District As A Moderate Republican,” 15 October 2000, San Jose Mercury News: C6; Hallye Jordan and Lori Aratani, “Mike Honda: Regular Guy with Warmth, Experience,” 24 October 2000, San Jose Mercury News: A12; Almanac of American Politics, 2002: 198–199; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,”

10Politics in America, 2002 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 2001): 95; Almanac of American Politics, 2004 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2003): 205; Politics in America, 2014 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2013): 102.

11Josh Richman, “Bay Area Representatives to Join Powerful Panel,” 14 December 2006, Contra Costa Times: F4; “Mike Honda Named to Powerful Appropriations,” 22–26 December 2006, AsianWeek: 9.

12Politics in America, 2002: 95; Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 2003): 96; Politics in America, 2006: 100.

13Almanac of American Politics, 2006: 207; Public Law 107-305, 116 Stat. 2367 (2002).

14Politics in America, 2004: 96.

15Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 2007): 100; Politics in America, 2010 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 2009): 99–100.

16Politics in America, 2012: 93.

17Mark Leibovich, “The Karaoke Congressman Has the Floor,” 12 June 2002, Washington Post: C01.

18Almanac of American Politics, 2010: 183; Politics in America, 2006: 100.

19Almanac of American Politics, 2014 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013): 185.

20Josh Richman, “With Demographic Shifting, Congressman Mike Honda Faces Political Challenge of His Life,” 17 May 2014, Oakland Tribune: n.p.

21Sunita Sohrabji, “The Biennial Question: Is Ro Running for Congress?,” 1 February 2013, India-West (San Leandro, CA): A21; Josh Richman, “Rep. Mike Honda Digs In against Potential Challenger Ro Khanna,” 3 February 2013, Oakland Tribune: n.p.

22Josh Richman, “Congressional District 17: Honda Easily Finishes First, Will Face Khanna in November Showdown,” 3 June 2014, Oakland Tribune: n.p.; Ritu Jha, “Honda Triumphs, Khanna Lives to Fight Another Day,” 13 June 2014, India Abroad (New York): A6.

23Josh Richman, “Ro Khanna Supporters File Ethics Complaint against Mike Honda,” 26 September 2014, Oakland Tribune: n.p.; Josh Richman, “Rep. Mike Honda Email Leaker Revealed as Former Aide Arrested for Death Threats,” 3 October 2014, Oakland Tribune: n.p.

24Josh Richman, “Ro Khanna Concedes Hours after Mike Honda Declares Victory,” 7 November 2014, Oakland Tribune: n.p.; Sunita Sohrabji, “Honda Wins Fierce CA17 Race,” 14 November 2014, India-West (San Leandro, CA): A1.

25Heather Somerville and Josh Richman, “Khanna Launches New Campaign to Oust Congressman Mike Honda,” 30 May 2015, Oakland Tribune: n.p.

26Aaron Kinney, “Ethics Inquiry of Honda Extended,” 21 July 2015, San Jose Mercury News: B3; Ritu Jha, “Office of Congressional Ethics Reviews Mike Honda’s Office,” 24 July 2015, India Abroad (New York): A7; “Rep. Honda under Investigation by House Ethics Committee,” 24 July 2015, India-West: A27.

27Khanna won 51,919 votes (39 percent) to Honda’s 49,720 (37 percent). Eric Kurhi, “Mike Honda vs. Ro Khanna: Rematch Set in District 17 Congressional Race,” 8 June 2016, Oakland Tribune: n.p.; Eric Kurhi, “Dead Heat in Primary to Call,” 9 June 2016, San Jose Mercury News: B1; Giovanni Albanese Jr., “Ro Khanna Edges Out Honda to Win CA Primary,” 17 June 2016, India-West (San Leandro, CA): A1; Eric Kurhi, “Khanna Claims Win; Results Not Final,” 24 June 2016, East Bay Times: B6; Eric Kurhi, “Ro Khanna Defeats Mike Honda,” 9 November 2016, San Jose Mercury News: S3; Eric Kurhi, “Khanna Ousts Honda,” 10 November 2016, San Jose Mercury News: B1; Giovanni Albanese Jr., “Ro Khanna Victorious in CA 17th Congressional Election,” India-West (San Leandro, CA): A1; “General Election—Statement of Vote, November 8, 2016,” Alex Padilla, California secretary of state, accessed 10 January 2017,

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

Library of Congress
Asian Division

Washington, DC
Oral History: 2003-2011, .8 linear feet. The Asian Pacific Americans in Congress oral history collection contains video interviews conducted by the United States Capitol Historical Society. It documents Asian and Pacific Islander service in Congress, discussing work in the House and Senate, as well as significant historical events that shaped those interviewed. In addition to the interview media, the collection includes: interview transcripts, photographs, correspondence, press releases, and research and production files.

San Jose State University Library
Special Collections & Archives

San Jose, CA
Papers: 1942-2016, 11 linear feet. The Mike Honda papers consist of materials that encompass major aspects of Honda’s career as a politician and California House Representative. Subjects include HR 1198: a Honda-sponsored bill requesting the Japanese government to make amends for their role in World War II atrocities involving Prisoners of war (POW), comfort women or sex slave labor, papers documenting legislative issues concerning the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC); the death by friendly fire case files of soldier and former football player Pat Tillman; congressional papers regarding the development of nanotechnology and the NASA Ames research center; the expansion of VTA/BART in the Bay Area, California; the legislative advancement of aviation and airport security after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001; the congressional advancement of climate change and education equity within the United States and the Bay Area; and the clean-up and transformation of San Jose, California’s former Air Force station atop Mt. Umunhum into a historical and environmental park. The collection also contains materials related to various other legislative, political, civil, and international work that Honda was involved in including issues like anti-bullying, transgender equality, the Ethiopian Caucus, and the advancement of education on the disease hepatitis. The material in the collection is primarily paper, booklets, and news and magazine articles. However, there are also some cassettes, CDs, DVDs, books and manuscripts, and digital files that accompany this collection as well. A finding aid is available in the repository and online.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Mike Honda" in Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Congress, 1900-2017. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of the Historian and the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Publishing Office, 2018.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Appropriations
  • House Committee - Budget
  • House Committee - Science
  • House Committee - Science and Technology
  • House Committee - Transportation and Infrastructure
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