Mudslinging is nothing new in local politics, but a slew of new ads against a Silicon Valley politician is demonizing him by falsely linking him to Donald Trump.
Johnny Khamis, a former San Jose councilmember running for county Board of Supervisors District 1, said he’s disgusted by recent mailers sent by his opponent and her political allies. He is facing off against San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas for the District 1 seat to replace Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who is terming out at the end of the year.
Mailers sent by Arenas’ campaign and the South Bay Labor Council liken Khamis to former President Trump, claim he used taxpayer dollars to travel abroad several times, is supported by far-right Republicans and is more pro-life than mainstream Republicans. Khamis says the ads are slander, noting he publicly left the Republican Party because of Trump’s administration.
“To be put side by side with Trump and to put a MAGA hat almost physically on my head was very deceptive and exactly the opposite of what I expected from Sylvia,” Khamis told San José Spotlight, noting they agreed to avoid ad hominem attacks. “This isn’t stretching the truth, these are direct lies and character assassination. Why can’t we just focus on our policy differences?”
Jean Cohen, executive director of the labor council, defended the mailers and said they let voters know the truth about Khamis and his affiliation with “far right elements of the Republican Party.”
“Khamis speaks like a Republican, holds views like a Republican and is chummy with pro-Trump organizations,” Cohen told San José Spotlight. “He’s more a Republican than an independent.”
Patrick McGarrity, Arenas’ chief of staff, said Khamis’ move away from the Republican Party “was just a campaign maneuver to hide right-wing identity.”
“Voters need to know that the biggest MAGA Trumpers in the county are on a crusade to elect Johnny Khamis to gain power over health care decisions and public health policy,” he said.
Claim 1: Is Khamis a MAGA Republican?
Though Khamis has been a Republican most of his adult life, it was Trump’s views on immigration and the party’s conservative view of social issues that turned him away, he said. In 2018, he formally left the party and publicly denounced Trump several times. He is an independent.
Arenas’ campaign said it didn’t claim Khamis was a MAGA Republican, but that MAGA voters support Khamis. The mailers don’t clearly make that distinction. They point to Khamis’ former chief of staff —Shane Patrick Connolly— who lead local efforts to reelect Trump as chair of the Santa Clara County Republican Party.
“Does Sylvia support everything every Democratic has ever done?” Connolly told San José Spotlight. “The Democratic Party passed the Jim Crow laws so should we call her ‘Jim Crow Arenas?’ That is absurd.”
Arenas’ campaign mailer also claims Khamis is supported by the Proud Boys—a far-right, white nationalist group linked to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol—and local Republican groups. There is no evidence Khamis has ties to the Proud Boys. Khamis received an endorsement from the Santa Clara County Republican Party and the Silicon Valley’s Association of Republican Women.
However, Khamis said he did not seek their endorsements and even asked them to remove him.
Claim 2: Taxpayer travels
Arenas’ campaign mailer claims Khamis spent $20,000 while on the San Jose City Council to travel with Connolly to Ireland, which was unrelated to city business. While the city did spend an estimated $20,000 on the trip, that number includes travel costs for eight other city officials—not just Khamis.
The trip was to a sister city, a long-term partnership between foreign cities created to foster peace and promote tourism and cultural exchanges. San Jose has at least eight sister cities including Okayama, Japan and Dublin, Ireland. The purpose of the trip was for economic development training.
The mailer also claims Khamis went on five other taxpayer-funded trips to the East Coast, Europe and Asia. While he’s traveled on official city business, Khamis paid for all international trips through personal funds or scholarships — except the one to Dublin.
Claim 3: Abortion stance
In a text ad, a volunteer with Arenas’ campaign claims Khamis is pro-life and “supports a ban on abortions even more extreme than the ban Republicans in DC are proposing.”
Khamis says this is untrue—noting he supports the right to abortion up until the third trimester. In 2016, Khamis said in a survey he supports abortion only until 12 weeks.
“People’s views change as they learn more,” Khamis said. “I’ve stated this at many forums, so these are just misleading lies.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.