Palo Alto Councilman Greg Tanaka faces an uphill battle in race for Silicon Valley seat
Politics was the last place anyone expected Greg Tanaka to end up.
A self-proclaimed nerd who grew up in a low-income home in Los Angeles, Tanaka started coding at age six and won his first coding contest at age seven. His passion and skills for computers got him accepted into Caltech. It also prompted his high school classmates to name him “most likely not to get elected office.”
Now he is running for Congress in California’s 18th congressional district, which includes parts of Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and the entire Stanford campus.
Fighting her way into politics has been an uphill battle for Tanaka throughout her life. Tanaka’s father, a survivor of US World War II internment camps for Japanese Americans, dissuaded his son from entering politics, believing instead that he should “keep his head down and not cause trouble,” as Tanaka recalls. Tanaka, a two-time Palo Alto city councilman and candidate for Congress from California, didn’t take his father’s advice.
Tanaka, a Democrat, now faces another challenge as he vies to unseat incumbent Anna Eshoo, who has served in the House of Representatives since 1993. Eshoo is the clear frontrunner heading into the June 7 primary and has garnered more than 10 times more money than Tanaka as of December 31.
Despite the odds, Tanaka’s team are optimistic about their chances – “we’re aiming [the] win,” Tanaka’s campaign manager Bing Wei told The Daily.
His campaign argues that the representative from Silicon Valley must be “a digital-age legislator.” Four-time startup founder Tanaka is a stark contrast to his 79-year-old opponent.
As part of his platform for legislation for the digital age, Tanaka is not shy about proposing big changes for the future. Armed with a series of charts, the councilman described inflation as a “regressive tax” that ranks among the biggest threats to the nation’s future.
His solution: “I think we should allow Bitcoin to be legal tender” in the United States
Tanaka, founder and CEO of a crypto trading startup, says cryptocurrencies are “aligned with our democratic ideals.” Tanaka describes them as “race-blind” and “socio-economic blind,” which he says is lacking in our current banking system. As proof of Bitcoin’s potential, he cites El Salvador, which began recognizing Bitcoin as legal tender as of September 2021.
Some, however, look to El Salvador and cast doubt on Bitcoin’s ability to succeed. Low business adoption rates, along with cryptocurrency volatility and frequent digital infrastructure outages plagued Salvadorans after the change.
“If there are lessons to be learned from this monetary experiment, El Salvador is a good example of how not to adopt a cryptocurrency as legal tender,” wrote two Georgetown professors, Alvaro Trigueros-Argüello and Marjorie. Chorro de Trigueros.
Tanaka also favors the temporary removal of taxes on profits from cryptocurrency investments to foster the growth of the technology. Identifying the parallels between cryptocurrencies and e-commerce, Tanaka argues that taxes on emerging technologies should be limited in the same way initial e-commerce was untaxed.
Outside observers doubt Tanaka’s chances of unseating a well-established incumbent, especially with his unorthodox political stances and low recognition outside of Palo Alto.
“I think the odds of him winning are basically nil,” said Joe Nation, a public policy professor. “He’s probably trying to create some name identification, trying to make sure more people know who he is and know a little bit more about him, in anticipation that maybe [Eshoo] will leave in the next term.
Even in Palo Alto, some voters are unhappy with the councilman’s voting record. After Tanaka was the only one to vote against an emergency ordinance to expand tenant relocation assistance, Palo Alto Tenants Association community organizer Christian Beauvoir felt disappointed.
“It was disappointing to see Council Member Tanaka so strongly opposed to tenant protections, implying that evictions are not a big issue in Palo Alto and discounting the stories and presentations given by community members and city staff on the need for this ordinance,” Beauvoir wrote.
However, endorsements from key political leaders like former California state senator Jerry Hill could help boost Tanaka’s chances of victory. This public support gives California voters like Sebastian Strawser ’24 comfort in supporting Tanaka.
“Although Tanaka was not elected by the more coastal parts of the district, Senator Hill’s decades of service speak for themselves,” Strawser said. “His endorsement of a candidate is quite an assurance regarding Councilman Tanaka.”
Wei, Tanaka’s campaign manager, said even without a win over Eshoo, Tanaka’s campaign can still show future generations that politics is not just about funding, but about having an impact.
Wei herself was so inspired and impressed by Tanaka that she left her past career in transnational business consulting to manage a campaign for the first time. The two first worked together on a Stop Asian Hate rally in May 2021, shortly before Wei asked to be Tanaka’s campaign manager soon after.
Wei describes Tanaka as a Stop Asian Hate activist with “21st century solutions for 21st century problems” who can represent younger generations in ways that “DC’s dinosaurs” cannot. She also views Tanaka as a type of politician rarely seen in American politics, which she says is a selling point.
“[A lack of Asian representation] that’s why we need to speak up, why we need to have a voice – we need to be represented,” Tanaka said. “My father always feels like we are guests in this country; we’ve been here since 1880, over 100 years. How can we be guests in this country? If we are guests in this country, what about everyone else? »
In a neighborhood that is more than a quarter Asian, Tanaka hopes to give voice to a group currently underrepresented on Capitol Hill.