California Representative Jane Harman to leave Congress

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Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) hears testimony from Obama Administration cabinet members during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill April 22, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Democrat Jane Harman, one of California’s longest serving members of Congress, will leave politics to head a prestigious research center.

In an e-mail, Harman says that she wanted constituents of the 36th district “to hear the news” from her first, and that she’s “in discussions” to become the new director of the prestigious Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Harman was first elected to Congress in 1992. She gave up her seat six years later to run for California governor. When she lost to Gray Davis, she took back her seat in 2000. Harman’s Capitol Hill legacy is as an intelligence expert – she served for several years as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and was just named ranking member of the Counterterrorism and Intelligence subcommittee on Energy and Commerce.

The Woodrow Wilson Center is part of the Smithsonian, a place where scholars like former L.A. Times writer Robin Wright pursue research and share ideas with policymakers on Capitol Hill and the White House. It's named for the president who said “scholarship, in a country like ours, is a branch of statesmanship.”

Harman would replace another former member of Congress – longtime Democrat Lee Hamilton. Its board of trustees is expected to name its new director on Tuesday.

If the board picks her, Harman would have to resign from Congress. Her departure would create a political opportunity: an open congressional seat. Gov. Jerry Brown would then have 14 days to call a special election, probably in June.

Los Angeles city councilwoman Janice Hahn said in a statement on Monday that she'll run for the seat. The 58-year-old Hahn, a Democrat, is the sister of former Los Angeles mayor James Hahn and the daughter of Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who died in 1997. She ran unsuccessfully for the House seat in 1998, and was a candidate for lieutenant governor last year.

The 36th district is moderate - like Harman - so that could invite a strong Republican contender. In her email, Harman describes her decision as "excruciating," and says that representing what she calls “the smartest constituents on earth will never be surpassed.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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