California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, mingling with legislators… (Max Whittaker / Reuters )
California Secretary of State Debra Bowen on Tuesday jumped into the race to succeed retiring Rep. Jane Harman of Venice, setting up what is expected to be a lively contest between two prominent Democratic women for the largely coastal congressional district.
"This was not an easy decision," said Bowen, who in November was elected to a second four-year term as the state's top elections official. "I spent the past week discussing a potential run with my family and close friends, and thinking how I can best serve the public," she said in a statement announcing her candidacy.
Once Harman resigns her seat to take a job leading a Washington think tank, expected Feb. 28, the governor will have 14 days to call an election, probably in June, with a special primary to be held eight weeks earlier.
Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn launched her candidacy to succeed Harman within hours of the congresswoman's announcement last week that she would be giving up her seat in the strongly Democratic 36th Congressional District. Hahn has been lining up dozens of endorsements, including those of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and several local labor groups.
At least three other, largely unknown Democrats have declared that they will run, and several Republicans have said they are considering entering the race.
In announcing her candidacy, Bowen touted her accomplishments as secretary of state, including improving voting systems security. She said that her present job is one "I truly love" but that she wants to take on national challenges, including creating jobs and "jump-starting our struggling economy."
Congressional seats are not subject to term limits. State limits would force Bowen from her current post in 2014; local limits would require Hahn to give up her City Council seat in 2013.
Bowen served 14 years in the state Legislature, in districts that overlapped much of the congressional district, so she is well known locally. Hahn's San Pedro home is in the southern part of the district, but she has run for the congressional seat before and has made a point of appearing at events in communities throughout the district.
If Bowen won the congressional seat, the governor would appoint someone to fill the secretary of state post, subject to confirmation by both houses of the Legislature; no special election would be required. If Hahn won, the L.A. City Council might be able to appoint a successor, depending on the timing of the election, or call a special election, according to the City Charter.