Nine-term Rep. Jane Harman (D) of California announced her resignation Monday, a move that is being seen by some experts as a sign that the centrist was chafing under a more limited role in newly Republican House.
She is leaving to take over as president of Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a think tank that tries to connect the world of research with public policy.
“It is evident that she has long wanted to have a larger impact on the state and the nation than she has been afforded in the House,” says Lara Brown, a political scientist at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, noting that Ms. Harman ran for governor in 1998. [Editor's note: Professor Brown's name was incorrect in the original version.]
With the diminished influence of moderate Democratic Blue Dogs in the new Congress, "it is not altogether surprising that she is considering a position that, while outside of the government, can have a substantial impact on the policy choices of the government,” adds Professor Brown.
The seat held by Harman is considered safely Democratic, with Harman's most serious challenges recently coming in Democratic primaries. That dynamic, however, will change in the special election to fill the seat, the date of which will be announced within 14 days after Harman leaves office. Under a new California law, all candidates regardless of party will be put on a single primary ballot, with the top two vote-getters proceeding to the general election. Under this "top two" system, both candidates in the general election could be from the same party.
“The special election could be the first test for the top-two system that California voters approved last year,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “It is possible that two Democrats might face each other in the runoff.”
One potential candidate is California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who has said she is considering a run. Other names being mentioned include Marcy Winograd, a progressive who challenged Harman in the 2008 and 2010 primaries, as well as Los Angeles City Councilmember Janice Hahn.
Harman has already left the House once. She resigned her seat in 1998 to run for governor of California. She lost a three-way primary to Gray Davis, with millionaire Al Checchi finishing second. She then reclaimed her former House seat in the 2000 election.
As the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee during the Bush administration, she helped win bipartisan support for post-9/11 intelligence reforms, such as the overhaul of the national intelligence structure.
“I have always believed that the best solutions to tough problems require a bipartisan approach,” Harman said in an e-mail to constituents Monday. “And bi-partisanship is the center’s brand.”
Harman is the second-richest member of the House with more than $160 million in assets. Her husband, industrialist Sidney Harman, recently completed deals to buy Newsweek and combine it with The Daily Beast.