The last time there was nobody by the name of Hahn in L.A. politics, there was a man by the name of Truman in the White House. Now Janice Hahn moves her political game from the Los Angeles City Council to a place down the road from the executive mansion: Congress. Daughter of legendary county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, sister of former Mayor James Hahn, the Democrat won the special election to replace Jane Harman in the coastal/South Bay 36th Congressional District. I talked to her en route from the airport into Washington, less than 48 hours before her swearing-in. She's been to Washington before, but she was seeing it with different eyes: "Mr. Smith" eyes. At one point, she exclaimed, "I'm looking at the Washington Monument right this second; oh, there's the White House! Oh very cool!" Can she keep her cool in the overheated climate of Capitol Hill -- and keep her seat next year?
What an emotional roller-coaster for you: In eight days' time, your mother dies, you're elected to Congress, you resign from the City Council and get sworn in by House Speaker John Boehner.
They wanted to fly me [to Washington] last Wednesday [the day after the election] and get sworn in on Thursday. I said I had to lay my mother to rest. Emotionally, I could not even focus on what this meant, to go to Congress. Now it feels like a reality, and I'm ready.
President Obama's grandmother died two days before he was elected president; did he call you?
He has not called me, although to be honest, I've given everybody a pass because my voice mail kept filling up every hour. I hope he wasn't one of those who got "voice mail full."
The City Council is nonpartisan; Congress is a two-party knife fight you're getting into.
That's true. On the City Council, it was not partisan, but I certainly was able to develop my style of governing, which is trying to find common ground with very competing interests. [At times] you had the Chamber of Commerce on one side, sometimes the environmentalists on another side, the unions and labor, community activists. I liked sitting everybody at the same table and saying, "Let's see what we can find in common to solve this." Hopefully, some of that will work this time as well.
There's an 18-point Democratic-registration advantage in the 36th Congressional District, but you only won by nine points. What does this tell you?
First, that 18-point margin only works in a presidential, large-turnout election. That really shrank once you got to a special election.
It told me people are divided and this country's divided. On one hand, many people were very concerned about Social Security and Medicare and wanted me to protect them, but I've got a lot of people who felt spending was out of control and we needed to get a handle on it and on the deficit. Clearly there are people who have competing interests, even in the 36th district.
Why did "tea party"-backed Republican Craig Huey do as well against you as he did?
Certainly his message of spending cuts resonated with people.
So will you be parting company with liberal Democrats and aligning more with Blue Dog Democrats? Have you mapped yourself out?
I haven't really mapped myself out, but I was pretty clear in the campaign that one of my focuses is bringing our troops home and reinvesting that money in our local communities and helping [create] green energy technology jobs. I also talked about veterans and how they've been treated so poorly. Those are issues that I can stand firm on.
What about Medicare or Social Security -- changing, even cutting those programs?
There are so many other places that we can cut spending before we have to go after Social Security or Medicare. These programs could last until 2036 with absolutely no change. They're not on life support by any means.
You have to run again in a primary less than a year from now -- in a district that probably won't have the same boundaries, once the lines are redrawn. At least one draft map cut out the more Democratic Venice and included the more Republican Palos Verdes peninsula.
There've been about nine [draft] maps that I've seen, and each one changes pretty significantly from the one before.