Perhaps not since 1994 have incumbents in Congress faced such an uncertain future. Primary and special election results this year have shown most races to be won by the candidate that can show a better grasp of local issues, and it would appear that the same rules will largely apply to the June 8th Democratic primary in the 36th Congressional District as well.
Rep. Jane Harman has held that seat since 1992. A resident of Venice, Harman is facing a challenger for the second time in four years and with anti-incumbent winds blowing across the nation, she appears to be taking the mood of the electorate seriously.
The eight-term congresswoman, who was in Los Angeles to attend a May 17th rally for the Measure R “30-10” transportation plan that would jumpstart several mass transit projects, including the Metro Green and Expo lines, compared the warm reception she received at the ceremony to the current atmosphere in Washington, D.C.
“It’s much more fun to be here than in Washington,” Harman, who represents the Venice area, quipped. “Here, we get things done.”
In a wide ranging interview following the transportation rally, Harman, who days earlier was at Los Angeles International Airport to review an airport passenger security operation, discussed local as well as national matters.
“I am quite reassured that when the secure program that we are putting online is fully operational, it will be a huge improvement over our present screening program,” Harman, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, told The Argonaut.
Harman said the Senate has not moved fast enough on a variety of important topics, including the position of director of the Transportation Security Administration, for which LAX Assistant Police Chief Errol Southers was a candidate.
Harman said Southers brought a lot of intellectual and practical skills as a nominee.
“Unfortunately, that process unraveled,” she lamented. “Washington… is a tough place.”
The incumbent said the planned extension of the Green Line to Lot C in Westchester is a sound plan, even though some local lawmakers have advocated for the light rail train to enter the airport grounds.
“LAX is the top terror target in the country,” she said. “I don’t think that we want a train in the middle of this vulnerable horseshoe.”
Harman also discussed the proposed change in flight patterns at Santa Monica Airport, where residents have complained since the Federal Aviation Administration began a test program in December.
“It’s a very complicated issue. I’ve been working on it a long time, and I’m not satisfied with where we are,” said the congresswoman, whose constituents in Venice and Mar Vista have been among the most vocal. “I’m hoping to get the Environmental Protection Agency director to come out to talk to the residents about air pollution testing that it’s recently done.”
Harman said the FAA did not notify her about the flight change rules, and she said she has advocated altering the angle of take-off between Santa Monica Airport and LAX to more than three miles. If that were to occur, the departures would not need to be controlled by the larger airport’s tower, she said.
“If there is more than a three-mile radius, Santa Monica can control its own flights and reduce the idling time of the aircraft, which is a big factor in the air pollution around the airport,” the congresswoman explained.
Marcy Winograd, who is challenging Harman, spearheaded a “no jets” campaign that has been endorsed by neighborhoods near the airport, where lawmakers and contenders for public office have been asked not to fly in or out of Santa Monica. The congresswoman pledged in April not to use the city-owned airport for personal travel, and reiterated her position during the interview.
“I do not use it for any personal transportation,” she stated.
Asked about recent legal actions regarding federally subsidized housing, Harman said she was concerned about any attempt by landlords and property owners to jeopardize public-assistance housing by prepaying their mortgages, such as in the case at Breezes del Mar in Venice.
She co-authored a letter with Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2008 asking then Housing and Development Secretary Steven Preston to deny the building owner’s request, which could release them from their low-income assistance obligations.
“(The letter) was a no-brainer for me,” she said. “I want to do everything that we possibly can to protect affordable housing in my district.”
The incumbent mentioned her opponent only once during the interview, where she referenced a parade for military veterans that she attended in Torrance last month.
“While I was there, I understand that my primary opponent Marcy Winograd was conducting anti-war rallies around the district,” Harman said. “The irony of that struck me.
“I support veterans and I support our men and women in uniform. That support is fundamental, it seems to me, for the people who live here,” she continued. “I feel that’s an essential part of my job to respect the people who live (in the district) on the traditions and occupations that they hold.”
Winograd, a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who challenged Harman in 2006, has repeatedly attacked the congresswoman for her positions on war, torture, and wiretapping. She has also accused Harman of being too cozy with the disgraced investment banking and securities firm Goldman Sachs, where the congresswoman has personal investments.
Recently, Harman also began airing a television commercial drawing a contrast between hers and Winograd’s views. The commercial suggests that Winograd is “living in a bubble” regarding national defense.
Members of Congress often are required to strike a balance on national security matters between the nation’s interests and the wishes of their constituents, and Harman said she realizes that they are not always mutually exclusive.
“I’m sensitive to that. I don’t support open-ended involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq or anywhere,” Harman said, adding that she opposed the troop surges in Afghanistan and Iraq. “But America should be there for a short period of time to make sure that terror groups that may attack us are removed.”
Last month, Harman’s name surfaced as a possible replacement for Dennis Blair, the former national intelligence director who resigned last month.
“Rep. Harman is actively pursuing her reelection,” John Hess, the congresswoman’s chief of staff, wrote in an e—mail response to an Argonaut query regarding her interest in the cabinet position.
Harman realizes that it is a tough year for incumbents, but she believes that recent election races have a “mixed message” regarding the state of national politics.
“Mark Critz’s victory in Pennsylvania shows that a senior staffer of a former incumbent can get elected,” she said.
Critz is a former staffer to the late Rep. John Murtha, who died in February.
Asked what events have been the low points of her current term, Harman cited the soldiers who have died in the two wars where the United States is engaged.
“Seeing the faces of the fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq have been the hardest thing for me,” the congresswoman said.
The ongoing environmental disaster caused by the explosion of an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico has reactivated the debate on offshore drilling and protecting California’s coastline and ocean from pollution.
“During my eight terms in Congress, my votes have been consistently against offshore oil drilling,” said Harman, who lives near the beach in Venice. “I’m for a permanent ban on offshore oil drilling in California. I can’t think of a resource more precious out here.”
Despite an atmosphere in the nation’s capital that could spell trouble for incumbent officeholders, Harman has her sights on a ninth term in Congress.