The sudden and unexpected vacancy in California's 36th Congressional District, the result of longtime incumbent Jane Harman's resignation in February, has created a scramble to succeed her. Although tilted toward liberal Democrats, the field vying for the seat ranges from a drug-legalization libertarian to a stridently antiwar Democrat, with a host of other candidates scattered across the spectrum in between. Many lack either experience or ideas worthy of this contest, but a handful deserve serious consideration. Of those, The Times opts for Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and endorses her for the 36th Congressional District.
Hahn is a familiar figure in the district, part of which she has represented in the City Council since being elected to that body in 2001. She came to the council on the heels of her work with the elected Charter Reform Commission, which rewrote the city's governing constitution. And she is heir to one of Los Angeles' great political names: Her father, Kenneth, was a legendary county supervisor, and her brother, James, served as mayor.
As a councilwoman, Hahn has been an energetic and passionate advocate for her district. She's effective and well liked by her often-fractious colleagues. We haven't always seen eye to eye with her — she votes in lockstep with labor on matters involving the Port of Los Angeles and has intervened on behalf of constituents in instances when the city's interests might have argued for a different approach.
Now in her third term on the council — and thus confronting the term limit for that office — she has shown some signs of the restlessness that often afflicts the men and women of California politics who approach the end of their allowed tenures: She ran for lieutenant governor in the last election cycle but lost handily to the better known Gavin Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco. The congressional seat, however, is one she has long coveted and has sought before.
Even Hahn's critics acknowledge her passion for the communities she serves and for the issues she champions. Charismatic and tough, she is a stalwart environmentalist (she supported the port's controversial Clean Truck Program, which has mandated new rules on vehicles to clean up the air in the region), an ardent advocate for the poor (she supported efforts to use city power to unionize private hotels) and a forceful fighter for jobs (she led the push for modernization of Los Angeles International Airport, in part because it is expected to generate 39,000 jobs). In this race, she enjoys the support of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and a number of the members of Congress she seeks to join in Washington.
Hahn's principal competitor is California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, another capable elected official, also with deep roots in the district and with nearly identical politics as Hahn. Both are mainstream Democrats who supported healthcare reform and who, if elected to Congress, could be counted on to support same-sex marriage and to humanely revamp the nation's immigration laws. As secretary of state, Bowen has managed the serious and important business of upgrading the security of California elections, a cause she undertook with characteristic intelligence. Before that, she represented much of the 36th, first as a member of the Assembly and then as a state senator.
The field drops a bit after those two, but it still includes at least two more credible contenders. Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin is part of that rare breed in today's politics — a liberal Republican, committed to fiscal responsibility but untethered to the party's narrower social views (Gin not only supports gay marriage; he is himself gay and married). And there is Marcy Winograd, whose name will be familiar to many voters from her challenges to Harman. Her appeal may be diminished in this campaign, however, as she previously ran as an antiwar alternative to the incumbent. In a field populated with opponents of the Iraq and Afghan wars, Winograd's singularity is less noticeable.
The rest of the field is a grab bag of contenders drawn to the prospect of a short, crowded race for an attractive office. Most have little relevant experience, and would enter Congress unprepared for its challenges or for defending the interests of the district.
By contrast, Hahn and Bowen — and even Gin — would make able members of Congress and thoughtfully represent their constituents. Of those, we see special promise for Hahn to emerge as a charismatic deal-maker with the ability to advance the district's priorities. The Times supports Hahn for Congress.