This interview is part of a series with the candidates for California’s 16th Congressional District.
Peter Dixon, an entrepreneur and former Marine, is running as a Democrat in the crowded open primary to replace Rep. Anna Eshoo, who has represented the district including Stanford for the past 16 terms.
Dixon joined the Marine Corps after the terrorist attacks on Sep. 11, 2001. Following his service, he worked at the Pentagon and State Department. Dixon went on to lead Second Front Systems, a cybersecurity company, and also co-founded a nonprofit called With Honor that helps elect veterans to political leadership. Dixon took a month-long course at the Graduate School of Business in 2012.
The top two candidates in the March 5 primary will advance to a general election on Nov. 5.
The Daily sat down with Dixon at Coupa Café to discuss running as a political newcomer, his military background and legislative goals.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): How did you decide to run for Congress?
Peter Dixon (PD): When it feels like we’re at a real crossroads in our country, Silicon Valley needs somebody who has leadership experience and a track record of accomplishing things legislatively on Capitol Hill. Those are things that I bring to the table.
I’m from here. I grew up here. I built my company here and I’m raising my family here. As we look at mitigating the worst [climate] outcomes in the next six years and democracy being on the ballot, that, for me, is a big reason why.
I’ve seen what it looks like overseas when democracy fails. When women are stripped of their rights — particularly in Afghanistan, where women who worked as educators or community leaders are now under house arrest.
I’ve seen what it looks like here in our community as our generations discover that the American dream of homeownership — being able to live here and pursue the Silicon Valley dream — isn’t available to them because of the cost of housing.
TSD: What are one or two achievements that you’re proud of?
PD: I have always been a problem solver. My company was a way for me to continue my service after seeing a problem in the Marine Corps. By building a cybersecurity product, we solved a multibillion-dollar problem that was stopping technology from being successfully transitioned into the federal government.
Working in the Pentagon, I led a team that discovered disruptive technologies in places like Silicon Valley and brought them to the military — to the young men and women that I had been leading in Iraq and Afghanistan. In doing so, we were also delivering tens of millions of dollars to small businesses here in the district.
TSD: You’ve worked in government but never held elected office before, which sets you apart from most candidates in the race. Why should voters trust that you have enough experience to represent them in Congress?
PD: I helped found a nonprofit called With Honor in 2019. We have passed 79 pieces of legislation in a deeply divided Congress. That organization helps elect folks with national security and veteran backgrounds into Congress and then works with them to get legislation done.
That’s been everything from establishing a joint cyber office — which is tackling AI, data security and some of the big technology issues that our community is facing — to passing burn pit legislation increasing screenings for breast cancer for veterans. That group of veterans we helped elect passed the first piece of consequential gun reform in decades with the bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
Uniquely in this race, I have a track record of legislative accomplishment on Capitol Hill, the very place I’m asking the voters to send me so I can continue that work.
TSD: How much can you tangibly affect in Congress given the level of partisanship and dysfunction?
PD: There’s a lot more that unites us than splits us apart. Folks who have a background of military service know that the enemy isn’t the [person] sitting across the political aisle from them. To a certain extent, politics should stop at the water’s edge. I would point to my track record and say, this is something that I have been successful in doing.
TSD: What are your top policy priorities?
PD: Nationally, the most important thing for folks in this community and folks across the country is preserving democracy. I’ve seen what it looks like when that goes sideways, overseas and locally. Democracy is on the line here.
Locally, it’s housing. The state has made it difficult to build housing anywhere and now is trying to push housing everywhere. Any local politician will admit they just haven’t gotten this done. It is hollowing out our communities.
My campaign is working on a plan to put thousands of quality units on Moffett Field. If you look at where the available space is around here, it’s the open space preserves and the 16 military bases that were abandoned 20 or 30 years ago. Leveraging federal resources so that we can build housing is the top thing I’ll be working on in Congress.
TSD: How confident do you feel in your chances of winning the election, and what is your path to victory?
PD: We’ve been extremely gratified by the outpouring of support, both in terms of folks knocking on doors but also in fundraising. In the first three weeks of the campaign, we raised $1.4 million, which [makes me] one of the top contenders from a fundraising perspective in this race. That’s enough to get our message out so that voters can make an informed decision come March 5. We’re very confident in our prospects.
TSD: Rep. Anna Eshoo has been in Congress for 30 years and was elected at a time when there were far fewer women in Congress. What would it mean to you to fill her shoes?
PD: Anna Eshoo is beloved by this community because she has a deep level of caring for the people of this district. She understands both the kitchen table issues that they care about and the tech issues that are the lifeblood of the local economy. It would mean a lot to carry on that legacy.
TSD: How do you plan to represent all of the district’s diverse communities at once?
PD: One thing you see serving in the Marine Corps is that there aren’t any politics in the foxhole. You serve with people from all across the nation, from all backgrounds. My close friends are across the nation and across the political divide. I carry that with me in terms of who I am and being able to represent every constituency in this district.
TSD: What specific policy measures do you support to protect reproductive rights?
PD: This is a deep blue Democratic district — it will be held by a Democrat no matter what.
The question is, are they going to be resting on their laurels? Or are they going to be fundraising for other Democrats in frontline districts?
The best thing we can do to preserve a woman’s right to choose is to maintain the House of Representatives as a bulwark against further erosion of those rights.
[We need] to make sure that whoever’s representing this district does enough to support those other candidates.
TSD: What policies do you support on gun control?
PD: This one’s close to me. My generation of veterans, we signed up after 9/11 to serve overseas. I’ve seen firsthand what an assault rifle can do to a crowd of people. We signed up to bear those mental and physical wounds of war. But who didn’t sign up for that is our children.
Even if a child doesn’t know somebody who suffered from gun violence, every year a school teacher comes into their room and explains to them what they should do if a man shows up with an assault rifle to murder them. We are traumatizing a generation of kids.
If you cannot pass a mental health evaluation, or you cannot pass a no-fly list, you should not have access to a weapon of war. That just has to be the table stakes.
TSD: Why should voters at Stanford support your candidacy?
PD: I have a tremendous amount of love and appreciation for Stanford. When I left the military, it was a business course at Stanford that gave me the skill set to be successful in the next chapter of my life. In terms of being the innovation engine of Silicon Valley, [Stanford] is central to the lifeblood of this region. I’m proud to have an affiliation with the University through that course.
This campaign is taking place lightning fast. We are running a campaign headquarters in Palo Alto that feels like a startup. If any of your readers want to come experience a campaign, I would urge them to come knock on doors with me.