California Democrat Jane Harman plans to step down from Congress

February 7, 2011

Democrat Jane Harman plans to resign from her congressional seat representing California’s 36th district if she is named to head a Washington think tank.

USA/In a letter to constituents, Harman said she had filed paperwork notifying the House that she is in discussions to succeed Lee Hamilton as president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “I send this note because a decision is imminent and I wanted you to hear the news from me first,” Harman writes.

“This is an excruciating decision because the distinction of representing the smartest constituents on earth will never be surpassed – nor will my relationships with my exceptional staff and colleagues in Congress.  But shaping and leading the Wilson Center is a thrilling new challenge,” Harman writes.

The reason it is not quite a done deal, is because the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Board of Trustees is meeting Tuesday to formally decide on the new president to replace Hamilton who stepped down at the end of November.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he was unaware of whether President Barack Obama was personally informed of Harman’s decision. “I think some people may have known that she was interested in that position,” he said.

A vacancy left by Harman would have to be filled by a special election, called by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, in a district that is considered reliably Democrat — Obama won by 30 points in 2008 and John Kerry beat George W. Bush  by 19 points in the 2004 presidential election.

The Washington Post reports that the California election code mandates the election be held between 112 and 126 days after the vacancy is declared. It would be the first major test of the state’s new non-partisan “jungle primary” law where all candidates run  regardless of party, and the top two move on to a special general election.

The Post reports that  potential Democratic candidates are Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, State Controller John Chiang and Secretary of State Debora Bowen.

Harman’s audio equipment tycoon husband Sidney bought Newsweek magazine for $1.

Photo credit: Reuters/Mike Theiler (Rep. Jane Harman and husband Sidney at Kennedy Center, Dec. 6, 2009)

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