Cardinal for Congress: Stanford MBA Peter Ohtaki on Republican candidacy

Jan. 17, 2024, 1:31 a.m.

This interview is part of a series with candidates for California’s 16th Congressional District.

Peter Ohtaki MBA ’87 is a businessman who has served as Menlo Park’s mayor. A moderate Republican, he is running in the crowded open primary to replace Democrat Anna Eshoo, who has represented the district, which includes Stanford, for the past 16 terms. The top two candidates in the March 5 primary will advance to a Nov. 5 general election.

The Daily spoke with Ohtaki about his candidacy and career. Ohtaki emphasized his commitment to bipartisanship, saying if elected, he would support more federal funding for police departments, incentives over mandates to address climate change and some common sense gun laws.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Why are you running for Congress?

Peter Ohtaki (PO): I’m running because I want to stop the madness in Congress. Congress is polarized. Half are Republicans and half are Democrats. They’re both pulled to their extremes, whether it’s the House Freedom Caucus or the House Progressive Caucus. They’re spending more time trying to make the other party look bad than actually working on solutions to the major problems that are facing the country.

I have prior experience working as a mayor of Menlo Park and on the Menlo Park City Council, working with Democrats on solutions that helped my community. I’m certainly more socially moderate than most Republicans, but I also have a very strong financial and analytical background due to going to Stanford.

TSD: Can you tell me more about your time on the city council? What are some achievements that you’re proud of?

PO: I’m most proud of rezoning and reshaping Menlo Park from a sleepy suburb into a center of innovation as well as a nice place to raise a family. I rezoned the whole section on El Camino Real. In addition to that, we rezoned 550 acres on the bayside for innovation — everything from biotech labs to Facebook and startups, along with housing.

TSD: Apart from the local concerns you’ve talked about, what federal policies do you most want to address?

PO: In terms of supporting our police department in Menlo Park, we used federal COPS (Community Oriented Policing Solutions) grants. That program allowed us to equip our police with non-lethal tasers and body cameras. Those COPS grants should be expanded to help communities across the country deal with the rise in crime, including violence against Asian Americans, which is not covered well by the general media and has continued since the pandemic.

TSD: Your campaign website notes your support for “common sense gun laws.” What specific gun safety measures would you support? Does that put you at odds with your party?

PO: It’s strengthening background checks to make sure they apply to gun shows. It’s outlawing bump stocks. Various ghost gun provisions need to be strengthened. Those are the kinds of gun laws that should be implemented, but also the ability for local jurisdictions to strengthen their provisions.

TSD: You’re running as a Republican in a district historically represented by mostly Democrats. How do you see your path to victory?

PO: I believe it’s a much more moderate district than the registration numbers show. Independent voters are roughly 30%, double the Republican voters. That’s a key area. The sensible middle is unrepresented in Congress. Being a leader with bipartisan experience can resonate within this district.

TSD: What sets you apart from the other candidates?

PO: The Democrats running, most of them are career politicians that haven’t worked with Republicans at all. They’ve been in a supermajority in the state legislature, for example. So they don’t have any background working with Republicans.

I’ve always believed that Silicon Valley thrives because we reinvent ourselves and we don’t let ideology block good solutions. That same frame of mind has to be taken to Congress to break the gridlock.

TSD: You ran against Rep. Eshoo two years ago and received around 12% of the vote. Is this a different race now that she’s not running? What would you say is her legacy?

PO: It’s a different race. I respect Congresswoman Eshoo’s service to our district for 30 years. But I believe she should have stepped down years ago. I don’t believe she has had any name-recognition bills or substantive impact. It’s been time for a change in representation for at least ten years.

TSD: You might have to confront some fundamental challenges to democracy if you’re elected to Congress, as we saw on Jan. 6. What’s your opinion of former President Donald Trump?

PO: I think the biggest challenge to our democracy right now is this issue of polarization in Congress. Jan. 6 is a good example of that. I find that Jan. 6 was reprehensible. All of the participants who stormed the Capitol are going through the justice process and will serve their time. I certainly do not condone Trump’s encouragement of Jan. 6. Let me put it this way: I’m supporting Nikki Haley right now.

TSD: What policies do you support to address climate change?

PO: I believe climate change is real. It is an existential threat. I’m not a climate denier, and climate change incentives are more powerful than mandates … So why ban gas appliances and simply replace that with electricity generated by gas power plants? You’ve got to get our grid converted to renewable sources as quickly as possible. That’s where incentives come in to help encourage that transition.

TSD: Can you share any memories from your time as a student in business school at Stanford? Did anyone in particular influence you?

PO: I had a great two years at the GSB. I was a few years before Rishi Sunak, the Conservative prime minister of the UK. Professor [James] Van Horne in finance was probably my favorite professor at the GSB. The analytical background and training that I had from the GSB have helped me come up with smarter and more innovative solutions, even in politics.

TSD: What do you have to say to the Stanford community? Why should voters on this campus support your candidacy?

PO: Students should not be satisfied with a Congress that doesn’t get its job done. There are so many major issues facing our country. We need a congressional representative who is willing to work with both parties in coming up with sensible, bipartisan solutions. Otherwise, gridlock will continue. We can’t afford another 20 years of nothing getting done in Congress. If any students would like to volunteer on my campaign, I would greatly appreciate anyone interested.

George Porteous ’27 is a news staff writer. He is from New York, NY, loves acting, and plans to study History and Creative Writing. Find him on X @georgedporteous. Contact George at gporteous 'at' stanforddaily.com

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