Progressive challenges powerful Dem Harman in CA congressional race

Miriam Raftery
Published: Friday April 28, 2006

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Profile: Progressive activist raises stakes in California race, putting veteran Democrat on defensive

Powerful California Congresswoman Jane Harman (CA-36th) is facing a rare and surprisingly successful primary challenge, RAW STORY has learned. The Democratic powerhouse is set to face off this term with Marcy Winograd, a teacher, newscaster, peace activist and outspoken advocate for election reform.

"This is a primary to recapture the soul of the Democratic party of Bobby Kennedy and the Civil Rights movement," said Marcy Winograd, president of Progressive Democrats in Los Angeles.

In a startling upset, Winograd supporters blocked California Democratic Party endorsement of Harman, a six-term incumbent, at a pre-primary endorsement meeting. Winograd got 35 percent of the delegates' votes, enough to prevent Harman from gaining the 70 percent needed for an automatic party endorsement. A floor fight is anticipated at the state convention April 28, where either candidate could win the state party endorsement by capturing a 60 percent margin.

"I decided to run for office after watching Jane Harman on Meet the Press," Winograd told RAW STORY. "I found her interview very disturbing. She was a lawyer, yet she didn't know the law concerning the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)."

As the ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, Harman was briefed by the Bush administration on warrantless wiretaps.

"Yet she never voiced any objections, never asked any questions, and then when the story was revealed by the New York Times, she tells [NBC's] Tim Russert that it was horrible the information was ever leaked," Winograd says.

On the February 12 edition of Meet the Press, Harman told Russert:

I couldn't talk to anyone about this program, and did not until the president disclosed its existence. It's not the leak to The New York Times that triggered things--and by the way, I deplore that leak--but the day after that, President Bush disclosed the fact that the program existed, at which point I consulted constitutional experts, the former general counsel of the CIA, some of the excellent staff on the House Intelligence Committee, and then I learned, although I'm a trained lawyer, about some of the serious legal issues that I have been raising ever since. I still support the program, but it needs to be on a sounder legal footing, and I think the Gang of Eight process violates the National Security Act of 1947, which requires that, unless it's a covert action program—Congress, that means the two Intelligence Committees—have to be fully and completely briefed.

Roy Behr, a consultant for the California Democrat's campaign, disputed Winograd's assertion. RAW STORY repeatedly sought comment from Behr to comment on other points in the article; Behr did not respond to followup emails.

"Marcy has been consistent in misrepresenting the Congresswoman's positions," Behr said. "Congresswoman Harman has repeatedly said that she opposes any wiretapping program that violates the Constitution."

Winograd also faults Harman for voting for the Patriot Act three times and for supporting secret detentions, development of new nuclear weapons, and what she calls a "war based on lies."

"Right now in this country we have an incredible gulf, a chasm between the leadership and the people—a complete disconnect," Winograd says. "A majority of Americans, Democrats and Republicans, want the U.S. to end its occupation of Iraq. They want the troops to come home."

Harman, whose district includes large defense contractors, has accepted over a quarter million dollars ($259,634) from the defense and aerospace industry since 1989, including $253,749 from Northrop Grumman. Northrop is her second highest contributor after Emily's List.

In the 1995-96 election cycle, Harman was the fourth top recipient in the House for arms exporting firms' political action committees, according to a report prepared by the Arms Trade Resource Center.

Harman led a fight in the House to defeat efforts to strip a government-backed loan guarantee fund for arms exports out of the 1996 defense authorization bill, the report says. The loan fund, which became law, provided up to $25 billion in taxpayer-backed guaranteed loans for arms sales to three dozen nations. Harman has also supported Star Wars missile defense funding and other projects favorable to the defense industry.

Asked about Harman's contributions from and support for defense contractors, Behr said Winograd didn't understand the dynamics of her district.

"Marcy clearly doesn't understand the importance of the aerospace industry to this district," he remarked. "The aerospace industry is one of the leading creators of jobs in the district. The Congresswoman has, from the day she took office, been a strong advocate in helping them diversify, create and preserve jobs. She not only has the support of the companies, she has the support of the employees as a result."

Winograd has pledged not to accept any campaign contributions from defense contractors.

The progressive challenger has also spoken out against the Bush administration's reported plan to drop a nuclear bunker-busting bomb on Iran.

"An attack on Iran could plunge the United States and the Middle East into a world war," Winograd warned in a press release. "It behooves every member of Congress to take a strong stand against a pre-emptive strike on Iran."

While Harman hasn't staked out her military posture on Iran, the ranking Intelligence Committee Democrat has questioned US intelligence on Iran's nuclear program. In April, she warned a panel that some of the intelligence might be "disinformation."

Both Harman and Winograd have criticized the Bush administration for leaking classified Iraq war secrets to the media, including information related to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. "If the disclosure is true, it's breathtaking. The president is revealed as the leaker-in-chief," Harman has said.

Born in New York, Winograd moved with her family in the early 1960s to California, where she participated in Vietnam anti-war marches. After earning a degree in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, she worked with legendary farm labor activist Cesar Chavez as a United Farm Workers Organizer.

She later served as legal assistant to Daniel Ellsberg during his trial for revealing the Pentagon Papers, which revealed suppressed facts about the Vietnam War.

Ellsberg has given a ringing endorsement to Winograd's campaign.

"We, the people of California and of the US—not just the Democrats—need someone to represent us much, much better than a person who believes everything she hears from the intelligence community and arms complex, keeps their secrets of illegal warrantless wiretapping and endorses their crimes when they leak out," Ellsberg said.

Winograd earned her teaching credentials at UCLA. She taught English and coached teachers, focusing on closing the achievement gap. Currently, she is a teacher expert in secondary literacy at Los Angeles Unified School District.

For the past three years, Winograd has been active in the anti-war movement, organizing Congressional lobbying delegations. She wrote an anti-war resolution passed by the California Democratic Party. When she organized peace delegations to visit Harman's office, "her office cancelled these meetings the night before," Winograd told RAW STORY. Harman's campaign did not immediately return requests to confirm this version of events.

Winograd is also a cofounder of the California Election Protection Network, a grassroots group that monitors the certification of electronic voting machines. CEPN successfully lobbied for a law to require a paper trail recount in contested elections involving voting machines. In 2005, she received the Democrat of the Year of Award from the Los Angeles Democratic Party.

The challenger has also racked up endorsements from prominent progressive activists and celebrities, including author Gore Vidal, president of Progressive Democrats of America Mimi Kennedy, and Ron Kovic, cofounder of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

She's even received plaudits from actor Ed Asner. "Jane Harman has made me Republican light-headed, and I can only recover my stability by electing a good, progressive Democrat like Marcy Winograd," Asner told RAW STORY.

If elected, Winograd pledges to call for impeachment hearings and withdrawal of troops from Iraq. She supports universal single-payer healthcare, campaign finance reforms, education initiatives, and a student privacy protection act to prevent military recruiters from accessing students' information. She would also work to pass a constitutional amendment affirming the right to vote, require auditable paper trails for all electronically tabulated voting systems, and end partisan oversight of the electoral process.

A five-term incumbent, Harman left briefly in 1998 to run for Governor, but lost the primary to now ex-Governor Gray Davis. In 2000, she nearly lost her seat, squeaking by with just an 800-vote margin. Since then, the California Legislature has redistricted the 36th district, removing Rolling Hills Estates and Palos Verdes, both Republican strongholds.

"It's much more Democratic," observed Winograd. "A Democrat will take this seat. It will either be a Bush Democrat or a progressive; either Jane Harman or Marcy Winograd."

She concluded, "I want people to understand that this seat is winnable. It can be a victory, not only for the grassroots in Los Angeles, but the grassroots throughout the country."

Clarification: Harman's Washington office could not comment for this article because they are not allowed to discuss campaign matters.