U.S. Rep. Mike Honda cheers Coulomb, Better Place and risks GOP assault

If you’re looking for another sign that Silicon Valley is different from many parts of the country, consider U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-Silicon Valley (OK, D-Campbell, Calif.) taking to the National Journal to defend electric car technology at a time when clean tech has become a political punching bag.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other Republicans have been feasting this election season on the failures of federal backing of companies like belly-up Solyndra and even taking on companies that have yet to fail — and might not.

Romney, during his first debate with President Barack Obama on Oct. 3, unleashed this memorable quote, which couldn’t have gone over well at Tesla’s Silicon Valley headquarters:

“But don’t forget, you put $90 billion, like 50 years’ worth of breaks, into—into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don’t just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers, all right?”

Ouch. Sure, Tesla has hit a few bumps in the road on its proposed path to redefine the driving experience, but it’s far from road kill at this point. And last week with much fanfare, OK with a little fanfare, the company opened its first Supercharging station in Silicon Valley.

Despite the GOP assault and the bankruptcy last week of electric car battery A123 Honda jumped in to say that the federal government should continue to provide financial incentives to consumers who buy electric cars and to companies that are building and deploying the charging stations to keep the cars running.

He also said something shockingly candid for a politician. Honda acknowledged that a previous shift in transportation policy was based in large part on horse manure. He wrote on the National Journal’s website:

“One of the reasons the automobile surpassed horse drawn vehicles in the early 20th century was that manure pollution had grown to the point that it was considered a public health hazard.”

Honda’s bigger point was that as citizens of the Earth realize that global warming is changing our weather patterns and threatening the environment, they will react in a way similar to their auto-adopting great, great-grandparents and turn in their gas guzzling cars for electric models.

OK, it should be noted that while Honda might have opened himself up to a beating from GOP politicians railing against the Obama Administration’s energy policies, he’s also scoring big points at home in Silicon Valley, where companies like Tesla, Coulomb Technologies and Better Place are working to build the electric car future. (Honda in his piece even gave a shout out to Coulomb and Better Place, which are producing charging technology.)

Beyond the shout outs, Honda’s main thrust was this: Big changes take time and this one will, too.

It’s a good point, but patience in politics seems as long gone as the horse-drawn buggies that so inspired the move to cars in the first place.

Mike Cassidy Mike Cassidy (173 Posts)

I write about the culture of Silicon Valley for the San Jose Mercury News.