The election is more than a year away, but Rep. Jane Harman (D-Marina del Rey) and would-be Republican challenger Susan Brooks, mayor of Rancho Palos Verdes, are already battling over taxes, free trade and local representation.
Brooks, 43, said Friday she will officially announce she's seeking the GOP nomination for the 36th Congressional District seat at a Sept. 27 fund-raising lunch. Lyn Nofziger, a former aide to Presidents Reagan and Nixon, will give a speech to kick off her campaign.
Harman might be hard to beat in the 36th District, which stretches from San Pedro to Marina Del Rey, says H. Eric Schockman, a political science professor at the University of Southern California. The district has been hit hard by cutbacks in defense spending, he says, and Harman has skillfully positioned herself in Congress to help ease the pain.
"She's been a formidable member (of Congress), even as a freshman," he said. "She got on the armed services and (science, space) and technology committees. What two better committees to deliver to that district?"
Even so, Brooks, a former marketing consultant who was elected to the council in 1991, forecasts a public backlash to Harman's vote for President Clinton's budget package. The new budget, she said, will raise taxes without reducing the deficit.
"Jane rode in on a vote of disenchantment with the economic situation," Brooks said. "The failure of the Clinton program will be her ticket out of town."
But Harman says Clinton's package was backed by executives at some of the South Bay's major employers, including Arco, TRW and Hughes Aircraft, on the grounds that it would promote economic growth by reducing the federal deficit.
"An awful lot of Republican business people supported the vote," Harman said. " . . . Voters will measure me on how I build highly skilled, high-wage jobs for the economy."
Harman and Brooks are also tangling on the North American Free Trade Agreement, the landmark pact the would lift trade barriers among the United States, Mexico and Canada over a 15-year period.
The pact could have a dramatic impact on the South Bay's economy, which is tied to aerospace and other highly skilled manufacturing jobs, as well as employment related to the Port of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles International Airport. Whether that impact would help or hurt the economy, however, is the subject of much debate.
Harman, who opposes the pact, held an anti-NAFTA rally last month that was attended by a mix of labor leaders, elected officials and members of United We Stand, the grass-roots organization born in Ross Perot's 1992 presidential bid.
"In the short term, (NAFTA) will destabilize the job-building that is going on in the economy," Harman said Friday.
Brooks co-authored a study for the Southern California Assn. of Governments used in its decision to support the pact. She said that the agreement will increase trade and jobs among all three nations and the Pacific Rim.
"(Harman's) position on NAFTA is a reactionary position she has taken to pander to Ross Perot," Brooks said Friday.
Responds Harman: "I'm not going to dignify that (with a) comment."
A third issue dividing the pair is whether Harman ought to live in the 36th District. In her successful 1992 campaign for Congress, Harman, an attorney and deputy secretary to the Cabinet in the Carter Administration, was attacked by Republican opponent Joan Milke Flores as being a Washington insider and carpetbagger.
Brooks apparently plans to pick up where Flores left off. In a press release announcing her Sept. 27 fund-raiser, Brooks describes herself as "uniquely qualified to reclaim the 36th Congressional District from Jane Harman, the Washington, D.C., carpetbagger."
"She had her family here for one year and then she moved them back home," Brooks said, referring to Harman's recent announcement that she moved her children back to Washington.
Harman, pointing out that she was raised in Southern California and has made it home on the weekends, said she moved her children back to the nation's capital so she could spend more time with them.
"It was a very tough decision for me," she said. "But I can't do my job by being at home on weekends and being a part-time mother. It's unfair to them."