The first resignation of the 112th Congress:
California Rep. Jane Harman (D) will resign from Congress, according to two senior Democratic leadership aides, a surprise announcement that will set off a special election in her 36th district.
NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who broke the news of Harman’s resignation, has reported that the California Congresswoman will take over as director of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. That job is currently held by former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton (D).
This district went for Obama 64-34 and Kerry 59-40, almost identical to the numbers in CA-10, which saw a special election last year to replace the departing Ellen Tauscher. In that race at the other end of the state, Dems held on with a closer-than-desirable 10% (but for 2010, I’ll take it). In recent years, Harman had twice faced primary challenges from the left from liberal activist Marcy Winograd, but Winograd never came close – Harman’s unbelievable personal wealth (worth something like $200 million) and good connections kept her safe.
Harman also faced a pretty hefty scandal last year – she was accused of offering to help reduce espionage charges against politically-connected lobbyists in exchange for assistance in lobbying Nancy Pelosi for the top spot on the intelligence committee. Pelosi never did appoint Harman to the post, an incident cited as evidence of the frosty relationship between the two. I’m willing to speculate that that – being on the outs with House leadership – combined with being deep in the minority and not knowing what your district will look like in a year’s time, was the motivating factor in Harman’s departure.
L.A. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (who lost the Lt. Gov. Dem primary to Gavin Newsom last year) has in the past told people she’s interested in running for Harman’s seat. Given that Hahn brought this up while Harman was still in office, I wonder if she had any reason to believe Harman would soon be leaving. Anyhow, I’m sure we’ll hear other names soon. Also note that this race will be held under California’s new “top-two” jungle-type primary rules (voted into place by ballot proposition last fall). This means that all candidates face off in a single primary, and the top two vote-getters move on to the second round.
UPDATE: While House vacancies in California usually unleash a torrent of state legislators looking to move up, thanks to the state’s term limits law, but that may not be the case here: the state Senate district that overlaps most of CA-36 is SD-28, currently vacant with the October death of Jenny Oropeza (whom you might remember from losing the CA-37 special election primary to Laura Richardson a few years ago). The two Assembly members in the district are both pretty new (Betsy Butler in AD-53, elected in 2010, and Bonnie Lowenthal in AD-54, elected in 2008), leaving the most prominent local legislator an ex-legislator: Ted Lieu, who just got termed out of AD-53 and is currently running in the special election in SD-28. SoS Debra Bowen also represented SD-28 until 2006, so conceivably she could make a run here, but she may be eyeing something else statewide as her next move. (On the Republican side, most likely we’ll see a candidacy from Tom McClintock.)
Jerry Brown must call the special election for within 112 to 126 days after the vacancy is declared.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Wow, here’s some evidence that Debra Bowen is heading toward this race, post haste: her campaign consultant is already saying that she is “very, very seriously considering running.”
One other interesting consideration we didn’t mention: Harman is a Blue Dog, one of the few from a suburban district and, of all the Blue Dogs, the one with the fourth bluest district (CA-36’s D+12 puts her slightly behind GA-13’s David Scott, CA-29’s Adam Schiff, and CA-43’s Joe Baca). Harman’s departure, on top of the onslaught suffered by Blue Dogs in red southern districts, means that the ranks of the Blue Dogs will be down to 25, down from 54 before the 2010 election.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: And we have our first announced candidate already: it’s Los Angeles city councilor Janice Hahn. Hahn’s been trying to move up for a long time now: she ran for the Lt. Gov. nomination in 2010 (losing to Gavin Newsom), but way back in 1998, when CA-36 was an open seat, she ran and lost against GOPer Steve Kuykendall. (Harman, first elected here in 1992, had vacated to run for Governor; she came back and won her old seat back from Kuykendall in 2000.) Kuykendall may be the GOP’s best bet here if he decides to run (he ran for AD-55 in 2004 and lost, so he may still be looking to get back in the game), but through a mix of boundary-moving in 2002 and bluening of the suburbs, this is a much safer Dem district than it was in 1998.