Expounding on her visions for her new position at the Woodrow Wilson International School for Scholars as well as past remembrances of nine terms on Capitol Hill, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) took part in a question-and-answer session with a group of local reporters at her El Segundo office Feb. 10, two days after announcing her abrupt departure from the U.S. House of Representatives.
In one of her last interviews with the local press representing the 36th Congressional District, Harman touched on her time in Washington, the reasons why she is leaving Congress to take an executive position at the Wilson Center and what she hopes her successor will work on or continue.
“This was an excruciating decision for me,” Harman said of her choice to leave Congress. She called the opportunity to become the president and chief executive officer at the center a “new challenge” that she was looking forward to and said that was her sole reason in accepting the position.
Last month, the opportunity presented itself when Wilson Center officials were conducting a nationwide search to replace a former House colleague of Harman’s from Ohio, Lee Hamilton, and she decided to take the position earlier this month.
“I had a very hard time (with the decision to leave Congress,)” she said.
Since her announcement Feb. 8, rumors had surfaced that Harman was vacating her seat because of the highly partisan nature of Washington.
“While no one would miss the fact that being in the minority is less fun that being in the majority, I’ve been in the minority before and I’ve felt quite productive there,” she told reporters at the roundtable.
Harman called the Wilson Center “a center of excellence, both in scholarship and policy” and called Hamilton a mentor. “Succeeding him will be a great honor,” she added.
Wilson Center officials said they are thrilled to have Harman on board.
“We on the board of trustees are thrilled to introduce Rep. Jane Harman as president, CEO and director of the Wilson Center,” Chairman of the Board Ambassador Joseph Gildenhorn said in a statement. “Harman brings an extraordinarily high level of leadership and knowledge to the center that will propel this great institution to even higher standards of excellence.”
The center is a nonpartisan institute, which Harman says will be of great relief to her. “It’s a big candy store,” she said after touring the center and meeting many of its scholars. “My hope is that I can help shape it for the future.”
Harman said that after speaking with Gov. Jerry Brown, it was decided that she would resign Feb. 28.
“This will enable him to schedule the special election in June,” she explained. “This would allow my replacement to get in position sooner, which I very much want to happen, assuming that someone wins on the first ballot.”
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn became the first candidate who entered the race to succeed Harman, officially announcing her plans hours after the news that the congresswoman was leaving office.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who previously represented the coastal areas of the Westside and the South Bay in the Assembly and state Senate, officially declared her candidacy Feb. 15.
Marcy Winograd, a teacher and peace advocate who challenged Harman in last year’s Democratic primary, is also mulling over another run.
Marina del Rey businessman Theodore “Ted” Crissel and veterans advocate Mervin Evans have also announced their intentions to enter the race. On the Republican side, Mattie Fein, a Venice native who lost to Harman in November, is also rumored to be considering running in the special election.
Harman said she had spoken to both Hahn and Bowen since announcing her resignation and stated categorically that she would not be endorsing anyone in the special election.
“I will remain a member of the Democratic Party and an active voter in this district. But I will not be endorsing anyone in the election,” she reiterated.
Harman believes it will be critical for whomever represents the 36th Congressional District to continue supporting the “30-10” plan that she strongly advocated for, as well as resident concerns regarding Los Angeles International Airport and Santa Monica Airport.
The idea behind the “30-10” transportation initiative is to use the long-term revenue from Measure R sales tax as collateral for long-term bonds and a federal loan which will allow Metro to build 12 key mass transit projects in 10 years instead of 30.
“It’s huge,” Harman said. “I’ve talked about this with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and we’ve talked about how to hand off (the ‘30-10′ transit project) to my successor. He’s getting real traction in Washington on this.”
Harman noted that with Republicans in charge of the House, transit funding could be greatly reduced.
“Obviously, federal funding across the board is likely to be cut back, at least in the House,” she acknowledged. “But there are options that need to be explored, like public private partnerships.”
The congresswoman made clear that she and her husband Sidney will continue to reside in Venice and that she will remain a loyal constituent of the 36th District.
“The Harmans are not going anywhere,” she asserted.
Two of her Westside House colleagues have expressed admiration for the former congresswoman in light of her departure.
“This month, the Congress will lose a sharp mind and dedicated public servant,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, who worked with Harman on safety and environmental matters at the Santa Monica Airport.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Westchester), whose district includes LAX, spoke of her colleague’s work on the House Committee of Homeland Security and the subcommittee on intelligence, as well as on transportation issues.
“Rep. Jane Harman is recognized for her considerable body of work on national security and foreign policy issues. However, she has been just as diligent on issues that improve the quality of life for her constituents. This includes the work both of us have prioritized to ensure safety at LAX and protect adjacent communities from airport expansion into their neighborhoods,” Waters noted.
“I wish Jane the best in her new role at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.”
Harman said that she has no plans to run for public office again.
“My plan is to make the most of this huge opportunity and to watch as others take on the challenges that this present and enormous honor permits,” she said.
The lawmaker, who left her congressional seat in 1998 to run for governor and lost in the primary to Gray Davis, regained her seat in 2000.
Waxman said that Congress and the 36th District will miss Harman’s experience.
“It has been a pleasure to serve in the House of Representatives with Rep. Jane Harman,” he said. “Rep. Harman has always been a strong voice for the issues that matter most to the people of Los Angeles, California, and the nation.”
Harman said she will miss certain things about political office, but she is now looking toward another adventure.
“Life has chapters,” Harman concluded. “I didn’t expect to have a second chapter in Congress when I left in 1998. I didn’t plan to come back, but I was talked into it by (former House Majority Leader) Dick Gephart.
“But I don’t anticipate that happening in the near term. I wish my successor the long career that I’ve had here.”