For Janice Hahn, the lure of running for elected office seemed inevitable.
The daughter of a powerful and well-respected Los Angeles city councilman and county supervisor and sister of a former city attorney and mayor, Hahn joined the family business of public service after a career in teaching and a stint in the private sector with Southern California Edison before running for the City Council in 2001.
Ten years after her election, she is now seeking a seat with a higher profile, a larger constituency and the opportunity to continue along the path of public service: the United States Congress.
The Democratic councilwoman said her father, the late Kenneth Hahn, taught her and her brother James the importance and the value of public service at an early age, which she says has shaped both her political and personal lives.
“Jim and I grew up with this belief that government was there to help people and that government has the obligation to improve the quality of life of people,” Hahn, 59, told The Argonaut in an interview at her Torrance campaign office. “When I was a little girl, we had constituents knock on our door every day of the week and my dad never turned them away.”
Hahn, who is running for the 36th Congressional District seat against Republican businessman Craig Huey, said she has tried to emulate the lessons that she learned from her father’s 40-plus years in public service.
“I’ve tried to pattern myself after that, and I think you need to have a fundamental understanding, as my dad did, of the role that government can play in people’s lives, in protecting them so that big corporations don’t rip people off or pollute the air,” she said.
Since announcing her intention to run for Congress shortly after former Rep. Jane Harman’s decision to leave the House of Representatives was made public in February, Hahn has racked up an impressive slew of endorsements from environmental, labor, business and women’s organizations, as well as high-ranking elected officials.
The councilwoman has frequently mentioned creating “green jobs” as one of the central tenets of her campaign. “I think that we can have both good jobs and clean air,” Hahn said. On the campaign trail, she often cities her work on the Clean Trucks Program at the Port of Los Angeles, which seeks to cut pollution at the port by 80 percent. Her campaign touts Hahn’s Clean Action Plan, which they say has reduced pollution at the port by 50 percent.
“We’ve spawned new businesses that have been created because of the Clean Action Plan,” said Hahn.
Hahn cited a Harbor City truck company, Balqon Corp, where the owner invented an electric drive system that can haul cargo as an example. “The only reasons that he invested in that is because he knew that there was a market for clean emission trucks, and he just got an order for $30 million from China for buses,” she said proudly.
At a candidates forum at Loyola Marymount University in April, she did not shy away from praising a resolution that she sponsored which gave hotel workers on the Century Boulevard Corridor a living wage, even though some organizations like the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce opposed it.
“I thought that it was not right that these workers were not even making $9 an hour,” Hahn said.
Beach Cities Republican Club President David Hadley says while Huey has been discussing a campaign strategy of less government, fewer regulations and reducing the national debt, Hahn has been engaged in distractions instead of a real campaign platform.
“It seems like she is trying to run an issue-free campaign,” said Hadley, who is not affiliated with Huey’s campaign team. “It seems like Janice Hahn is trying to coast on her name recognition.”
While Huey has rarely discussed the environment thus far in the campaign, Hahn has touted her green credentials at nearly every campaign stop.
Huey’s campaign manager, James Camp, said in a recent interview that protecting the environment might be a secondary concern among Westside voters, given the state of the economy.
“(The environment) appeals to some people, but the fiscal issues are people’s number-one concern,” Camp said. “We’ve got to get our fiscal house in order first.”
Hahn said that indicates Huey’s failure to understand the priorities of residents in the northern region of the district.
“I think this just goes to show his lack of experience,” the councilwoman asserted. “He’s not been in a position like I have to work to protect the environment and to understand the importance of the environment in California and especially for the 36th Congressional District.”
Sherri Akers, a Mar Vista resident who has helped spearhead sustainability initiatives on the Westside, is one voter who considers the environmental platforms of a candidate for office to be very important.
“I threw my support to Janice Hahn within days of her entering the race. I had been very impressed by her accomplishments at the Port of Los Angeles and feel confident that she will give the attention needed to jobs and the economy without disregarding environmental concerns,” said Akers, co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Green Committee. “I think most people I speak with in our community feel that you can’t disregard the environment as you focus on the economy. Janice has demonstrated with the port that you can achieve both.”
The state League of Conservation Voters decided to back Hahn’s candidacy June 9. “Janice Hahn has received the League’s enthusiastic endorsement to become the next California member of Congress,” said Chief Executive Officer Warner Chabot. “(She) is committed to protecting the environment and public health, and to increasing clean energy job opportunities in our recovering economy.”
The election has taken on a heated tone since the beginning of June, when the Hahn campaign began airing ads comparing Huey to former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who polls lower in California than she does nationally.
Shortly thereafter, an online video featuring African-American men dressed as gang bangers and a stripper dancing on a pole was released by Turn Right USA, a so-called “super political action committee.” The video, produced by conservative filmmaker Ladd Ehlinger Jr., seeks to tie Hahn to a program that funneled money to gang members, accusing the councilwoman of providing hard core gang members with city money.
“She even helped them get out of jail so they could rape and kill again,” the video states.
Fox 11 aired the report on the program in 2008 but it was later discovered that gang intervention specialists did not receive any city money.
At the end of the video, Hahn’s face is superimposed on the stripper’s.
Politifact and Factcheck.org have both rated the story and the video as false.
“I’ve seen critical ads my whole life, but this one is over the top,” Hahn said. “It’s vulgar, obscene, racist, sexist and full of lies.
“I think that it shows that my opponent is desperate, so extreme and so out of touch with what the voters in the district want.”
Huey denies any link between the video and has also decried its content, but the Hahn campaign says Turn Right’s official address is the same one used by an organization called Campaign L.A., which is one of Huey’s vendors, according to Federal Election Commission filings. They have also filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
On June 23, Huey supporters began distributing DVDs of the same debunked Fox 11 story in the South Bay.
Hahn feels voters will value someone with government experience at a time of economic uncertainty. “I think someone who has the kind of experience that I have had for the last 10 years will create the type of legislation that people need,” the councilwoman said.
She views her time in office as an asset and sought to turn Huey’s business experience as a direct mail company owner for conservative causes against him. “I’ve helped to govern the second largest city in the country. I wouldn’t want somebody who is inexperienced, or someone who markets ‘questionable’ products like my opponent does,” Hahn asserted. “There’s no training involved (in public service), there are no workshops; you have to hit the ground running. You will be voting on legislation that will affect people throughout the district.”
The councilwoman believes there are distinct differences between the candidates seeking to replace Harman.
“There are very different views on how our country moves forward in the future,” she concluded. “I want to be there representing the residents of the 36th Congressional District, and I think there is a very different and clear choice between me and my opponent.”