On Tuesday, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), announced that they were finally breaking with the Blue Dog Democrats and supporting a public option in the health care bill. I'm certain it was a big step for them to break from their group, and as such were expecting both praise and criticism.
I'm just not sure if they were expecting criticism from someone who agrees with them.
To be clear, I completely understand Rep. Sanchez's former position. She represents a district in Orange County which has long been a deeply conservative area. Yet she's shown a strong voice on many issues, and in fact was one of the few elected officials in California who came to the picket lines during the last Writers Guild strike, to support the writers against the multi-national conglomerates. So, if she's a Blue Dog Democrat in a conservative district, I understand. And her new position stated in her Huffington Post piece with Jane Harman is all the more noteworthy.
What I don't understand is Jane Harman.
You see -- I live in the district Jane Harman represents. And this is the first time I ever knew she wasn't supporting the public option.
I read the mailers she sends out. Maybe I missed that she didn't support the public option. Probably not. But that's not the issue. No, the far bigger question is - Why in the world is she a Blue Dog Democrat?!
You see, Jane Harman represents California's 36th District. This is probably one of the most liberal in the entire United States.
And Jane Harman is a Blue Dog Democrat??! And Jane Harman, up to the eve of the health care vote, wasn't for a public option??! For goodness sake - WHY?!
Here's how liberal the 36th District is. She represents part of West Los Angeles (which sits smack between Beverly Hills and Brentwood), most of Santa Monica (so liberal that it's referred to as "The People's Republic of Santa Monica"), Venice (whose boardwalk is so alternative that it makes San Francisco look quaint), Manhattan Beach (where people still refer to you as "Dude") and more. She won her last election with almost 69% of the vote. Politicians dream of so safe a seat.
This is who Jane Harman represents. And she's a Blue Dog Democrat?
I admit to liking some things about Jane Harman, and some not. She's smart, and has been fairly strong on various social issues. But the "not" part of the equation has been galling. This came to my attention right after 9/11 when I started getting flyers from Rep. Harman that made her look like she was Dick Cheney's BFF. At a time when liberals were being pounded for merely questioning the Republican president, there were pictures of Ms. Harman wrapping herself in the flag. Making defense pronouncements that seemed out of the Republican Talking Points Memo. Playing manipulatively to the public's fear. At a time when somebody in one of the safest liberal districts in America should have been standing up for those more at risk, she was letting all her liberal constituents know they were on their own. It was sort of creepy.
Later, when it was safe, when George Bush's popularity was plummeting into the 20s, when Democrats had won back the Congress, Rep. Harman did find her voice and was critical of the White House. But it was oh-so much easier then, and five years too late.
That she was a strong supporter of the Iraq War, an equally strong defender of warrantless wiretapping, voted with Republicans against the estate tax, that she introduced HR 1955 which has been criticized for setting limitations on free speech - all of these have made me wonder what district she has been representing? Made me wonder if the concept of who lives in her district has all that much of an impact on her?
I understand that representatives often have to - and should - vote their conscience on issues. But I think we tend to expect, more often than not, that representatives will represent their districts. Just like Loretta Sanchez represents hers. It would be so nice if Jane Harman did the same.
And while I admire her breaking with her Blue Dog Democrats, and her strongly expressed reasons for doing so, I nonetheless wonder if her split wouldn't have happened without her having to deal with a personal matter. She describes a family member losing his insurance in August. Without that, would all of her reasons meant anything? In fairness, maybe. But maybe not. Yet it's still taken her two months to recognize how screwed up the current health care system is. She's only supporting the public option now??
To be clear, I'm glad to know that Reps. Harman and Sanchez have joined the growing call for a public option. I especially admire Loretta Sanchez taking such a stand in the midst of so conservative a district.
But for the life of me, I do not understand what took Jane Harman so long. And why in the world she too often is an aggressive conservative in a district as wildly liberal as hers. It's painful.
I want to like Jane Harman a lot. But more, I want to have reason to.