Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives


Jane Harman first won election to the House of Representatives in 1992, the breakthrough “Year of the Woman,” and became a leading figure in Congress on defense issues as a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In 2001, after leaving Congress for a term to run, unsuccessfully, for California governor, Harman reclaimed her former seat. “The quality of life in Congress stinks,” Harman said during her re–election bid in 2000. “On the other side of the ledger is the future of public policy in this country. And I’m a policy addict.”1 During her second period of service in the House, she served on the intelligence panel and on the newly–created Committee on Homeland Security.

Jane Margaret Lakes was born in New York City on June 28, 1945, to Adolph N. and Lucille (Geier) Lakes. Raised in Los Angeles, she graduated from University High School in 1962. After earning a B.A. in government from Smith College in 1966, she received her law degree from Harvard three years later.2 Jane Lakes married Richard Frank in 1969, and they had two children, Brian and Hilary. She worked for two years at a Washington, D.C., law firm before joining the staff of California U.S. Senator John V. Tunney in 1972. In 1975, she became chief counsel and staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on constitutional rights. She served as deputy secretary to the Cabinet of President Jimmy Carter in 1977 and as a special counsel to the Department of Defense. Frank and she divorced in 1978. And two years later, she married Sidney Harman, the founder of an audio and electronics company. Jane and Sidney Harman were married until his death in April 2011.3 Through the 1980s, Jane Harman worked as a corporate lawyer and as a director of her husband’s company. The Harmans had two children, Daniel and Justine.4

Harman first pursued elected office in 1992, when she ran for a newly–drawn congressional seat that ran along the coast of southern California from Venice to Long Beach. In one of the few woman–against–woman primaries during the 1992 election cycle, Harman easily defeated Ada Unruh, who had charged that Harman would not represent California interests in Washington, by 30 percentage points.5 In the general election, Harman faced Republican Joan Milke Flores, a Los Angeles city councilwoman, and three candidates from other parties. Harman spent $2.5 million, much of it her own money, during the Democratic primary and general election campaign, and ran on a socially liberal but fiscally conservative platform. She defeated Flores by six percentage points.6 In 1994, running in one of the most competitive districts in the country and in an election that propelled the GOP into the House majority for the first time in 40 years, Harman managed a mere 812–vote win against her Republican opponent Susan Brooks. When Harman faced Brooks again in 1996, she won by more than 19,000 votes (8.56 percent).7

In Congress, Harman supported the high–tech defense industry in her district. From her seat on the Armed Services Committee from the 103rd–105th Congresses (1993–1999), she kept the Los Angeles Air Force Base off the list of post–Cold War closings.8 Despite a sharp decline in defense spending, Harman steered defense projects into her district. She also prodded the industry at home to retool for a peacetime economy. As a member of the Science Committee, with a seat on the Subcommittee for Space and Aeronautics, she brought work to companies looking for non–military projects. “I have viewed it as a major part of my job to help my district transition from defense–dependence, which was a dead–end strategy, to the robust diverse economy which it now enjoys,” Harman said.9

Harman’s centrist record in the House reflected her district’s preferences. She joined the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats. While Harman favored President Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget that increased spending and taxes, by 1996, she advocated spending cuts, the balanced budget amendment, and the line–item veto. In 1995, Harman co–authored the “Deficit Reduction Lockbox,” which required that spending cuts be applied to the deficit. She voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but backed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). On social issues, Harman supported pro–choice measures, a partial ban on semi–automatic weapons, and the death penalty.

In 1998, Harman declined to run for a fourth consecutive term in the House to pursue the Democratic nomination for governor of California. She ran a largely self–financed campaign nomination but was a latecomer to the race. Harman tried to capitalize on her congressional experience and her appeal to women voters. “I am the only one running who has a combination of private sector and public sector experience, and I have a style of leadership which I have demonstrated in the Congress which builds coalitions and gets things done,” she said.10 She placed third in the Democratic primary, behind Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis and airline mogul Al Checchi.11 During her two–year absence from the House, Harman served on the 10–member, congressionally mandated National Council on Terrorism. In 2000, Harman reclaimed her House seat by narrowly defeating the incumbent, Republican Steve Kuykendall. In the next five election cycles, following reapportionment changes that added the city of Wilmington and removed the Palos Verdes Peninsula to make her former district more favorable to Democrats, Harman was able to secure nearly 60 percent or higher against her opponents.12

When she returned to the House in the 107th Congress (2001–2003), Harman received a spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee and was re–seated on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence—a nod to her experience and continued influence. She served as Ranking Member of the Working Group on Terrorism and Homeland Security, a subcommittee of the Intelligence Committee. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, dramatically increased the Intelligence Committee’s duties as well as its profile, and Harman’s expertise was valued on both sides of the aisle. She favored improved funding for the intelligence community as well as the expansion of counter–proliferation programs, and she backed the George W. Bush administration’s case for a pre–emptive strike against Iraq.13 As early as October 2001, Harman pushed for the creation of a cabinet–level homeland security department that would have budgetary and oversight power, as opposed to the executive office that was initially established by the Bush administration.14 Harman sat on the Select Homeland Security Committee when it was established during the 108th Congress (2003–2005). When it was reorganized as a standing committee in the 109th Congress, Harman retained her membership. From the 110th–111th Congresses (2007–2011), Harman chaired the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment.

When Nancy Pelosi of California was elected as Democratic Leader in 2003, Harman was promoted to Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee, leaving the Energy and Commerce Committee. As Ranking Member, Harman worked to maintain a bipartisan atmosphere on the committee with her counterpart, Chairman Porter J. Goss of Florida. Harman and Goss pushed the Bush administration to declassify the majority of the findings of the congressional Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.15 As the war in Iraq progressed, and weapons of mass destruction were not found, Harman questioned the Bush administration’s rationale for war.16 On September 25, 2003, Goss and Harman co–signed a letter to then–CIA Director George J. Tenet that raised concerns about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which many lawmakers used to make their decision to authorize the use of force in Iraq. “As we moved to war, did the claims the policymakers made, were those claims supported by the intelligence?” Harman said after the estimate was made public. “My conclusion is no.”17

When Democrats regained the majority in the 110th Congress (2007–2009), Harman was not named chair of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.18 She left her position on the committee and returned to the Energy and Commerce Committee. In a statement on December 1, 2006, Harman said: “I remain passionate about the issues, and will stay actively involved in security matters on the Homeland Security and Energy and Commerce Committees. . . . I leave this position with incredible respect for the women and men of the Intelligence Community.”19

In 2009, she authored the Reducing Over–Classification Act, which required the Department of Homeland Security to streamline the intelligence classification process, avoiding in part what Harman saw as “classifying information to protect turf or avoid embarrassment” as well as improving the fluidity of intelligence sharing between the local, state, and national levels.20 The legislation passed in the House by a voice vote in the 110th Congress, though it failed to clear the Senate. When re–introduced in the 111th Congress, the bill easily passed both chambers.

Representative Harman won election to the House for her ninth term in 2010 but left Congress soon thereafter. She resigned on February 28, 2011, to serve as president at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, a think tank established by the Smithsonian Institution in 1968. In her farewell speech to the House on February 18, 2011, Harman said: “As a lifelong, passionate, bipartisan–in–my–bones Democrat I have been criticized by both sides. But the center is where, in my view, most Americans are—and where, in many cases, the best policy answers are. I will bring that perspective with me to my new post at the Wilson Center.”21


1Eric Schmitt, “The 2000 Campaign: The House; Former Incumbents Try to Reclaim Seats,” 3 July 2000, New York Times: A11.

2Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 2003): 136.

3Robert D. McFadden, “Sidney Harman, Whose Hi–Fi Success Was Only the Beginning, Dies at 92,” 14 April 2011, New York Times: A25.

4Congressional Directory: 109th Congress (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006).

5Karen Foerstel and Herbert N. Foerstel, Climbing the Hill: Gender Conflict in Congress (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996): 78; “Statement of Vote: Primary Election June 2, 1992,” California Secretary of State, http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/sov/1992–primary/1992–primary–sov.pdf (accessed 1 May 2012).

6"Election Statistics, 1920 to Present."


8The Armed Services Committee was renamed the Committee on National Security from 104th–105th Congresses (1995–1999).

9Paul Jacobs, “Defense Firms Were Key Donors to Harman Races; Gubernatorial Candidate Says She Backed Industry in Congress to Protect Jobs in South Bay,” 11 May 1998, Los Angeles Times: A1.

10Cathleen Decker, “Showdown for Davis, Lungren: Voters Reject Millionaires Checchi and Harman in State’s First Blanket Primary,” 3 June 1998, Los Angeles Times: A1.

11Cathleen Decker and Mark Barabak, “Davis’ 4th–to–1st Comeback ‘Proved Pundits Wrong,’” 5 June 1998, Los Angeles Times: A1.

12Almanac of American Politics, 2004 (Washington, D.C.: National Journal Inc., 2003): 258; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://clerk.house.gov/members/electionInfo/elections.html.

13Congressional Record, House, 107th Congress, 2nd sess. (9 October 2002): H7312–7313.

14“Harman and Gibbons Introduce ‘The Office of Homeland Security Act,’” 4 October 2001, Office of Representative Jane Harman, http://www.house.gov/harman (accessed 24 July 2002); Jane Harman, “Securing American Homeland Requires A Strategy,” 4 June 2002, The Hill: 26.

15Toby Eckert, “Harman, Others Call For Release Of Key Sections Of 9/11 Probe,” 9 May 2003, Copley News Service. The House and Senate probe was separate from the Report of the 9/11 Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

16Bill Nichols and John Diamond, “U.S. Begins To Downplay Hunt For Banned Weapons,” 13 May 2003, USA Today: 11A.

17Dana Priest, “Democrat Disputes Rice on Iraq Claims; Rep. Harman Says Intelligence Review Unearthed Scant Evidence of Weapons,” 30 September 2003, Washington Post: A13.

18Mark Mazzetti and Jeff Zeleny, “Next Chairman For Intelligence Opposed War,” 2 December 2006, New York Times: A1.

19“Harman Statement On Naming Of Rep. Silvestre Reyes As Chair Of House Intelligence Committee,” 1 December 2006, Office of Representative Jane Harman.

20Congressional Record, House, 111th Congress, 1st sess. (3 February 2009): H895.

21Congressional Record, House, 112th Congress, 1st sess. (18 February 2012): E291.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

Smith College
The Sophia Smith Collection

Northampton, MA
Papers: 1960-1998 (ongoing), 110 linear feet. The Jane Harman Papers document the functions and activities of a Congressional office while incorporating facets of Harman's life before she became a member of Congress. There are very few materials regarding her personal life outside of her professional career. Types of materials include correspondence, reports and research materials, speeches, journal and newspaper articles, press releases, photographs, and video and audio tapes. The bulk of the papers date from 1993 to 1998 and focus on Harman's first three terms as a U.S. Representative from the 36th district of California. Major topics found in her political and legislative papers include national defense and the military (including women in the armed forces), the environment, space and technology, California-related issues, the Democratic National Party, health care, abortion and domestic and international economic concerns. Generally, there are more materials available from later in her political and legislative career than from the earlier years. Correspondence comprises at least half of the collection. Also well-represented are background and research materials that her staff used in legislative and political matters. Notable correspondents include: Les Aspin, Samuel Berger, Justice Harry A. Blackmun, Sen. Robert Byrd, President Jimmy Carter, President Bill Clinton, Gloria Feldt and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Vice President Al Gore, Judith L. Lichtman (Women's Legal Defense Fund), Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Ruth J. Simmons (Smith College president, 1995-2001), and Gloria Steinem. An inventory is available in the repository and online.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Jane L. Harman" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Armed Services
  • House Committee - Energy and Commerce
  • House Committee - Homeland Security
    • Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment - Chair
  • House Committee - National Security
  • House Committee - Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
  • House Committee - Science
  • House Committee - Science, Space and Technology
  • House Committee - Select Committee on Homeland Security
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