I’m about to be without Congressional representation. Jane Harman will announce tomorrow that she will leave Congress to head up the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington formerly chaired by former Congressman Lee Hamilton. In a note to supporters, Harman says that she would “remain in Congress for some weeks,” but would have to resign her seat before long, triggering a special election.
I have been hearing rumors of Harman’s resignation for the past several years. Her husband, Sidney Harman, who recently bought Newsweek, has basically been living in Washington. Her presence in the district is, in a word, sparse. She has represented the Woodrow Wilson Center as much as the communities in the district over the past few years, so this is a natural transition.
Harman has been criticized for her muscular foreign policy and her apparent counsel to the New York Times not to print a controversial article about warrantless wiretapping in the George W. Bush Administration until after the 2004 Presidential election. For this, she has been challenged twice in a Democratic primary by antiwar candidate Marcy Winograd. Winograd earned 38% and 41% of the vote in 2006 and 2010, respectively.
Winograd may be a candidate again, but I would imagine that several elected officials would be attracted to a rare open seat in the Congress. LA City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, a prior candidate for the seat in the year that Harman resigned to run for Governor, is almost certain to run. Former State Assemblyman Ted Lieu would have also been an option, but he’s in the midst of a State Senate race right now to replace a Sen. Jenny Oropeza, who died during her re-election campaign last year. A couple statewide elected officials, including Secretary of State Debra Bowen and State Controller John Chiang, also come from the district.
Because of the State Senate special election and a Los Angeles city election, this Congressional special election will be the third for voters in the district in a matter of months in 2011. Depending on the timing it could be combined with an expected statewide special election on the California budget.
California now features a “top-two” primary, where all candidates run in the first round and the top two go to a runoff if nobody gets 50%. For that reason, I could see a consensus candidate emerge among the local Democratic establishment, with the possibility that someone who takes up the Winograd voters from the last primary – potentially Winograd herself – following that consensus Democrat into the runoff. There may be enough Republican support in the south of the district – where Harman barely beat her underfunded Republican challenger in 2010 – for a Republican to break into the top two as well.
UPDATE: The Sacramento Bee reports that Debra Bowen, the Secretary of State, is eyeing the race. Bowen’s husband works in Washington at the USDA. She has won statewide twice, is a tech-savvy progressive leader in the state and would instantly upgrade the representation in the district. It’s a no-brainer, but for the fact that it would take her out of the running of much more attractive seats like the US Senate or Governor for the next few cycles.