Power Centers

Rep. Jane Harman, Democratic Centrist, Spy Expert, Eyes Exit

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA). i

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA). Lauren Victoria Burke/ASSOCIATED PRESS hide caption

itoggle caption Lauren Victoria Burke/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA).

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA).

Lauren Victoria Burke/ASSOCIATED PRESS

With the expected departure of Rep. Jane Harman, a centrist Democrat and one of the House's top experts on U.S. spy agencies, the minority party will lose another of its more conservative members.

Harman said Monday she would probably leave Congress to become president of one of Washington, D.C.'s most respected think tanks, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.

Harman told constituents in an e-mail Monday that she was letting them know about her negotiations with the think tank because they had reached an advanced stage.

From the e-mail:

"I send this note because a decision is imminent and I wanted you to hear the news from me first. 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, 65, is an eight-term member of Congress and the second wealthiest according to financial disclosure form. She is married to Sidney Harmon, a philanthropist who made his fortune in the stereo electronics industry. He most recently made news for buying Newsweek and merging it into the Daily Beast.

Harman, a long-time member of the House Intelligence Committee, has sometimes been embroiled in controversy.

In 2006, she said she was falsely accused after Time magazine reported she was being investigated for allegedly agreeing to try to help two American Israel Political Action Committee or AIPAC officials charged with espionage. In return, she allegedly asked AIPAC to support her bid to be intelligence committee chair.

No official charges were ever lodged against her and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, no Harman fan, declined to name her intelligence chair.

Harman's expected departure underscores how the fortune's of the House centrist and conservative Democrats have receded. Their numbers were halved after the mid-term election by defeat and retirement. They now have 26 members compared with 54 seats in the last Congress.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Harman's seat is in a safe Democratic district which President Obama won by 30 percentage points. So it's presumably will remain in Democratic hands.

Harman's announcement is likely the start of a lively contest to replace her. The LAT reports:

Within hours, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn said she would be a candidate. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who represented much of the district in the Legislature, let it be known that she was "seriously considering" the idea. Activist Marcy Winograd, who mounted a strong but unsuccessful challenge to the moderate Harman from the left in last year's primary, said she was "exploring the possibility."

And Republican Mattie Fein, who lost to Harman in November, 60% to 35%, said she might run again.

"There will be a lot of people who will be quite interested in this congressional seat," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills).

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