Janice Hahn, perhaps the most accomplished member of an accomplished Southern California political dynasty, carved out an extensive career as a public official at local, state, and national levels.1 Elected to the United States House of Representatives in a 2011 special election, Hahn was forced to go up against a powerful incumbent only a year later after California officials redrew the state’s congressional districts. But Hahn won and remained in the House. The frustrations of being a junior member of the minority party on the Hill, however, led her to leave Washington for county government.
Janice Hahn was born on March 30, 1952, in Los Angeles, California, to Kenneth and Ramona Hahn. Her father served on the Los Angeles city council before being elected to the powerful county board of supervisors—an office he held for four decades. Her mother, the daughter of missionaries, passed on to Hahn a deep piousness. Hahn’s parents raised her brother, James, to carry on the family’s political tradition, and James went on to become Los Angeles city attorney and later mayor.2 “I think they probably wanted to keep me from it as long as possible, knowing the very difficult nature [of politics],” Hahn said about her parents.3 But in many ways, politics fit her more naturally than anyone else. “Jim would tell you he never loved it as much as I do.”4
She graduated from Los Angeles Lutheran High School in 1970, and briefly attended Pepperdine University. She transferred to Abilene Christian University in Texas where she graduated in 1974 with a degree in education. She taught at a private religious school from 1974 to 1978. Hahn married Gary Don Baucum, and they had three children: Danny, Katy, and Mark. The marriage ended in divorce. In the mid-1990s, she became a public affairs regional manager for Southern California Edison Company and later a vice president for Prudential Securities.5
Beginning in the 1990s, Hahn began building a political career in local government. Her first campaign for the Los Angeles city council in 1993 was unsuccessful, but she was elected to the city charter reform commission in 1997. A year later, she challenged incumbent Republican Congressman Steven T. Kuykendall for a seat in the House, narrowly losing to him, 49 percent to 47 percent.6 In 2000 Hahn won election to the Los Angeles city council, representing Watts and San Pedro. During her 10-year career on the council, she gained a reputation as a defender of worker rights, the environment, and an advocate for the poor. She also developed an expertise in transportation infrastructure as the head of the council’s committees overseeing the Port of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles International Airport. “Janice has great instincts as a street politician,” a colleague said in 2005.7 Term limits on the council led Hahn to run for state office in 2010. Considered the early front-runner for lieutenant governor, she lost when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made a late entry into the race. Hahn was mulling a vacant state senate seat when Representative Jane Harman announced her resignation from Congress to become the head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in early 2011.8
Harman’s district, the Thirty-Sixth, included diverse and predominantly Democratic communities along the Pacific coast. The special election to fill Harman’s seat was one of the first held under California’s open-primary system. Under the new election rules, every candidate ran in the primary regardless of party and the top two vote-getters would square off in the general election. Harman had telephoned Hahn with the news of her resignation before going public with it, and just hours after Harman’s announcement, Hahn opened her campaign.9 Eighteen candidates filed for Harman’s seat, but Hahn’s main competition was California’s Democratic secretary of state Debra Bowen. Hahn led in the May primary with 25 percent of the vote, but website publisher Craig Huey, a Tea Party-endorsed Republican who ran a self-financed campaign, unexpectedly edged out Bowen with 22 percent.10
The election turned negative when an outside organization, Turn Right USA, released a vile campaign ad attacking Hahn. While Huey immediately denounced the video as racist and sexist, he echoed part of the video that charged Hahn with corruption. Hahn responded in June with ads arguing that Huey represented an “extremist right-wing agenda.” On July 12, Hahn won the special election with 55 percent of the vote.11 But the victory was bittersweet. Hahn’s mother, Ramona, died suddenly the day before. “It was a wonderful victory and profound loss for me,” Hahn said. “This is the first accomplishment I haven’t been able to share with her.”12
Hahn arrived in Washington ready to work. “I actually think experience is a good thing,” she said. “There is a new perception that an experienced politician is a bad thing, but I think experience serves you well.”13 In a separate interview, Hahn laid out her approach to lawmaking. “I liked sitting everybody at the same table and saying, ‘Let’s see what we can find in common to solve this,’” she said. “Hopefully, some of that will work this time as well.”14
In Washington, DC, she initially shared an apartment with Representative Karen Lorraine Jacqueline (Jackie) Speier of California but flew home every weekend.15 Hahn was assigned briefly to one of her predecessor’s committees—Homeland Security—where she focused on closing security gaps at port facilities around the country. Hahn also received an assignment to the Small Business Committee where she served on the Health and Technology Subcommittee and championed streamlining loan processing in the Small Business Association.16
Hahn’s special election to Congress came just 14 months before the 2012 election. The upcoming election to the full term also featured new district borders. A special state commission had redrawn California’s election map to reflect the results of the 2010 Census, and in the process, divvied up Hahn’s district between Henry Arnold Waxman’s and Laura Richardson’s. A 36-year veteran of the House, Waxman was one of the most powerful figures in Southern California. Richardson, an African-American Congresswoman running for her fourth term, was under an ethics investigation, and her legal fees had drained her campaign funds.17
Hahn’s decision to challenge Richardson dismayed some local Democratic activists. The new blue-collar district was remarkably diverse: nearly 71 percent of its residents were Hispanic or Latino, and another 15 percent were African American.18 Neighborhood leaders feared that by electing Hahn, a white woman, minority politicians from the area would miss an opportunity to serve in Congress.19 But she pointed to her father’s civil rights record in the city. “My family’s history in this community,” she said, “made me realize that certainly a Hahn can represent a minority community in a way that is effective.”20 She rounded up a series of endorsements from labor unions, community leaders, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and the Los Angeles Times.21 Hahn won the June primary with 60 percent of the vote against Richardson’s 40 percent. Hahn went on to win the general election with 60 percent of the vote again.22 Hahn easily won re-election in 2014 with 87 percent of the vote.23
When Hahn first arrived at the Capitol in July 2011, she had pushed for a seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, hoping to use her extensive experience with the shipping industry and airports from her time on the Los Angeles city council.24 Having joined the House midway through the 112th Congress (2011– 2013), Hahn did not receive her preferred seat, but after being sworn into the full term in 2013, Hahn traded her assignment on the Homeland Security Committee for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where she served on three subcommittees: Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation; Highways and Transit; and Water Resources and Environment.25
In the House, Hahn joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus and voted with the liberal wing of her party. She supported labor unions and promised to work toward reducing U.S. military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hahn also wanted to see an immigration reform package that included a path to citizenship for undocumented residents.26 In 2013 she invited the Reverend E. Winford Bell, whose child had died from gun violence, to the State of the Union Address. “We have the chance to talk about this important issue,” she told the press about strengthening gun control, “but people in my communities have been waiting for this conversation for decades.”27
When she first arrived in Congress, Hahn was enthusiastic about legislating and making a difference. “Americans want us to put aside extreme party politics and work together to solve problems for our country,” she said in 2011.28 She looked forward to building seniority and gaining influence. “You have to be somewhere for a while to make things happen,” she said. “You just watch me when I’m in the majority.”29 But the negativity that had enveloped her first campaign in 2011 reflected the polarization Hahn found in Washington.30 “I don’t enjoy this kind of brinkmanship,” she said. “I think it’s a bad way to govern. It’s crisis to crisis.”31 As part of the House minority, Hahn also lamented not having a stronger voice in the legislative process. “It’s hard sometimes to be prepared,” she admitted. “It’s not as methodical or thoughtful a process.”32
Frustrated with the gridlock, Hahn ran for an open seat on the Los Angeles county board of supervisors in 2016. A position on the county board would give Hahn a remarkable amount of power overseeing one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Hahn’s father had been a longtime supervisor—the board met in a building named after him—and combined with her experience on the city council and in Washington, she emerged as the early front-runner.33 Hahn won election to the board and resigned from the House on December 4, 2016. “With so much brinkmanship in Washington,” she said, “I am confident that I can get more done for our region back here at home, serving in local government.”34
1Richard Simon, “Hahn Proudly Touts Family Ties,” 21 July 2013, Los Angeles Times: A10.
2Almanac of American Politics, 2014 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2013): 262; Politics in America, 2014 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, 2013): 149–150; Bobby Ross Jr., “America’s Newest Congresswoman Is a Church of Christ Member,” 19 August 2011, Christian Chronicle: n.p.
3“Patt Morrison Asks,” 23 July 2011, Los Angeles Times: A19.
4Simon, “Hahn Proudly Touts Family Ties.”
5Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 261–262; Politics in America, 2014: 149; “Daughter of Supervisor Married,” 20 September 1973, Los Angeles Times: F3; Brandon Brooks, “Rep. Janice Hahn Sworn-In,” 21 July 2011, Los Angeles Sentinel: A18.
6Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present."
7Politics in America, 2014: 149.
8Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 261–263; Politics in America, 2014: 149–150.
9Alice Walton, “Lure of Local Office Reaches Washington,” 18 October 2015, Los Angeles Times: B1; Jean Merl and Richard Simon, “Several Interested in Run for Rep. Harman’s Seat,” 9 February 2011, Los Angeles Times: AA3; Almanac of American Politics, 2012 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011): 234–235; Jean Merl, “18 File to Run for Harman’s Seat,” 26 March 2011, Los Angeles Times: AA4; Danny J. Bakewell, “Janice Hahn Announces Run for Congress,” 10 February 2011, Los Angeles Sentinel: A20.
10Merl, “18 File to Run for Harman’s Seat”; Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 263; Thomas Watkins, “Tea Partyer Makes Calif. Congressional Runoff,” 20 May 2011, Washington Post: A2; Jean Merl, “Bowen Conceded in 36th District Race,” 20 May 2011, Los Angeles Times: AA3. The Tea Party movement favored limited government and reduced taxes. In the beginning, Tea Party candidates challenged Republican officeholders in party primaries and caucuses, managing to defeat several long-time Republican leaders. See Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
11James Oliphant, “Hahn Files Federal Complaint over Campaign Video,” 18 June 2011, Los Angeles Times: AA3; Ian Lovett, “Democrat Wins House Race,” 14 July 2011, New York Times: A17; Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 263; Politics in America, 2014: 149; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present."
12“Ramona Hahn,” 14 July 2011, Los Angeles Times: AA6; Jean Merl, “New Race Looms for Hahn,” 14 July 2011, Los Angeles Times: AA1; Brooks, “Rep. Janice Hahn Sworn-In."
13Brandon Brooks, “Rep. Janice Hahn Sworn-In.”
14“Patt Morrison Asks.”
15Walton, “Lure of Local Office Reaches Washington.”
16Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 263; Politics in America, 2014: 149.
17Jean Merl, “44th Offers Complex Clash,” 30 October 2012, Los Angeles Times: A1; Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 262.
18Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 261.
19Jean Merl and Richard Simon, “Hahn Tests Ties to Black Community,” 21 November 2011, Los Angeles Times: A1; Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 261–262.
20Merl and Simon, “Hahn Tests Ties to Black Community.”
21Merl and Simon, “Hahn Tests Ties to Black Community”; “Elections 2012,” 9 May 2012, Los Angeles Times: n.p; Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 263.
22Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 261, 263; Politics in America, 2014: 149; Merl and Simon, “Hahn Tests Ties to Black Community”; Ben Pershing, “Panel: Rep. Richardson Violated Law,” 2 August 2012, Washington Post: n.p.; “The House Reprimands One of Its Own,” 4 August 2012, New York Times: A16; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
23“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
24Patt Morrison, “Janice Hahn,” 23 July 2011, Los Angeles Times: A19.
25Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 261.
26Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 263; Politics in America, 2014: 149–150; Thandisizwe Chimurenga, “Hahn Vows to Serve the Total Community,” 15–21 November 2012, Los Angeles Sentinel: A1.
27“Local Pastor Affected by Gun Violence to Join Congresswoman Hahn at the State of the Union,” 14–20 February 2013, Los Angeles Sentinel: A5.
28Merl, “New Race Looms for Hahn."
29Simon, “Hahn Proudly Touts Family Ties.”
30Al Kamen, “Don’t Cry for Him, Venezuela,” 20 July 2011, Washington Post: A15.
31Walton, “Lure of Local Office Reaches Washington.”
32Walton, “Lure of Local Office Reaches Washington.”
33Seema Mehta, “Rep. Janice Hahn Mulls County Run,” 5 February 2015, Los Angeles Times: B3; Walton, “Lure of Local Office Reaches Washington.”
34Almanac of American Politics, 2016 (Bethesda, MD: Columbia Books & Information Services, 2015): 295; Adam Elmahrek, “L.A. County Sees a Change at the Helm,” 10 November 2016, Los Angeles Times: A1.