A national, union-funded political action committee is attacking a Democrat and promoting a Republican in Silicon Valley's hotly contested 17th Congressional District race.

What gives? It's all part of a plan to help union-backed Democratic incumbent Rep. Mike Honda fend off a serious challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, a former Obama administration official and tech industry darling.

The Working for Us PAC has spent more than $66,000 on campaign mail opposing Khanna and backing Vanila Singh, one of two GOP candidates in the June 3 primary. The top two finishers compete in a November runoff, regardless of their party affiliation.

While the labor PAC doesn't really want a Republican to win the seat, it wants to help Honda have an easier contest in November. Discouraging Democrats from voting for Khanna and redirecting Republican voters who might see Khanna as a more moderate alternative to the liberal Honda in the Democratic-leaning district could make Khanna appear less viable and worthy of campaign money in November's race.

"Our primary goal here is to try to ensure the re-election of Mike Honda," said the PAC's president, veteran strategist Steve Rosenthal, adding that they "wanted to make sure Republicans know who the real Republican is" by reminding them of Singh, whom polling suggests is a long shot for the runoff.


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Khanna campaign manager Leah Cowan called it "a desperate move by people who claim to be progressive champions," and said Honda should denounce what she called "the worst type of old-style politics."

Honda's camp said it had nothing to do with the independent PAC campaign. Joel VanLandingham, the other Republican in the race, called the PAC's action "extremely disturbing."

A lot of green coming in for Measure AAIt may not be the most high-profile item on Tuesday's Bay Area ballot, but Measure AA, a $300 million bond measure that aims to save redwoods and fund open space, new trails and other parks goodies in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, is a green cause attracting real greenbacks.

Campaign spending reports show that through May 17, the Yes on AA campaign had raised $827,817. Of that, 73 percent was coming from three environmental groups: The Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) in Palo Alto gave $405,722. The Sempervirens Fund, a Los Altos group that saves redwoods, donated $149,980. And the Save the Redwoods League, in San Francisco, ponied up $50,000.

The measure, which would raise property taxes by $3.18 per $100,000 of assessed value -- think $19 a year on a house worth $600,000 -- needs a two-thirds majority to pass. Backers say it would enable its sponsor, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, to open thousands of acres of its land to the public, including the top of Mount Umunhum near Los Gatos.

Among the donors are a number of flush Silicon Valley tech types. Andrew Bosworth, director of advertising for Facebook, gave $50,000. Christopher Espinosa, a manager at Apple, gave $15,000. And Patty Quillin, wife Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, wrote a check for $50,000.

Opponents, who include the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, have not raised money or mounted a formal campaign.

J.T. Snow speaks up for ice rink

A group of citizens trying to save a San Mateo ice rink from the wrecking ball got some celebrity help last week from former San Francisco Giants first baseman J.T. Snow. The owner of Bridgepointe Shopping Center, where the rink is located, wants to replace the venue with more profitable retail stores.

Snow's son Shane used to play ice hockey at the rink with the son of Julie McAuliffe, a leader of the pro-rink contingent. Snow couldn't make it to Tuesday's night's San Mateo Planning Commission meeting, but he sent an email that McAuliffe's son Ryan read to the commission.

"I think it would be a terrible mistake to close the rink," Snow said in the email. "My son played there for four years, and we need to give kids opportunities to have a safe place to go and be a part of a team, make friends, work hard, exercise, and feel an sense of accomplishment."

Snow said Shane, now a high school sophomore and golfer, still talks about his days as a member of the California Cougars.

"His coach says that playing hockey is probably one of the best sports he could have played to make him a better golfer," Snow wrote, adding that his son still stays in contact with some of the boys he played with on the Cougars. "In a day and age when kids are getting lazier and lazier, playing video games in their house all day, we need a place for them to go."

As it turned out, the save-the-rink contingent didn't need much star power. The Planning Commission last week tore into Bridgepointe owner SPI Holdings, unanimously opposing its preliminary proposal to ditch the rink, which has been shuttered since last June.

Snow is the second big name in Bay Area sports to weigh in on the controversy. Last year figure-skating star Kristi Yamaguchi, who grew up in Fremont and trained at the San Mateo rink for several years, provided a statement through her husband, former professional hockey player Bret Hedican.

"I'm saddened by the thought that a place where so many dreams are pursued and realized, including my own, is shutting its doors," said the 1992 Olympic gold-medal winner. "I sincerely hope the city changes their mind."

A case of not so full disclosure

California law tries to ensure that government conducts the public's business in public, and where it allows exceptions, reports any action taken in closed session.

But San Jose's tiny Luther Burbank School District has other ideas. In April, the 600-student district parted ways with its former superintendent, Jan Kaay. But nowhere in the board minutes (which it resumed posting online after we pointed out that they were missing) does it say that the trustees approved a golden parachute awarding Kaay a year's salary through next April for going away and dropping any claims she might have against the district.

Board attorney Richard Noake explained the board approved the agreement during a closed session allowed for "potential litigation." And because the agreement wasn't final until Kaay approved it after the board adjourned, the board didn't have to report anything in public when it reconvened in open session.

Noack told us the state's open-meeting law allows that once the settlement becomes final, the district must disclose it "upon inquiry," which he insists it did -- but only in response to our request last month.

Why not just report the agreement publicly?

"I think Mr. Noack has already explained that to you," Superintendent Richard Rodriguez said.

Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Josh Richman, Paul Rogers, Aaron Kinney and Sharon Noguchi. Send tips to internalaffairs@mercurynews.com, or call 408-920-5782.