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Gov. Jerry Brown sets special election to replace Rep. Jane Harman -- but nothing on tax extensions

March 14, 2011 |  2:19 pm

In a move that has implications for the state's budget woes, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday called a special election to replace former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice). The move signals the official start of an already crowded contest that for all practical purposes has been underway for weeks.

The special primary will be May 17; if no candidate wins a majority during that balloting, the top two finishers -- regardless of political affiliation -- will meet in a July 12 runoff.

Budget watchers had been looking to the special-election date as a clue to how Brown's negotiations with Republicans in the Legislature were going. Brown was hoping to have reached a deal with GOP lawmakers by now, which would have allowed him to call a special election on tax extensions in June. The governor could have then consolidated the congressional race with the statewide election. That fusion could have saved Los Angeles County the hassle and expense associated with an additional election.

Monday was the deadline for Brown to call the special congressional election.

Brown's special election plans appear, for now at least, to be on the ropes as talks between a group of five Republican state senators and the governor have stalled, at least temporarily. Calling the runoff congressional election for July is a tacit admission that no budget accord will be reached Monday.

The largely coastal, South Bay-based 36th Congressional District was drawn to strongly favor a Democrat, so it is likely that a runoff, if there is one, would be between two members of that party, many observers believe at this early stage of the race. It would mark the first time that two members of the same party would compete in a runoff since state voters approved a new "top two" elections system last year.

Harman's announcement early last month that she was giving up her seat to run the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars prompted more than half a dozen people to say they'll seek to replace her.

They include Secretary of State Debra Bowen and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, both Democrats and the presumed early front-runners, as well as antiwar activist Marcy Winograd, who twice challenged the moderate Harman in Democratic primaries, winning 41% of the primary vote last year. All three have set up campaigns and opened headquarters in Torrance, the district's largest city. (The district also includes parts of Los Angeles, including Hahn's San Pedro home.)

Bowen through her Twitter account put out the word about the special-election dates before the governor's office could issue the formal announcement.

Hahn, who jumped into the race the day Harman said she was quitting, and Bowen also have begun raising money and publicizing endorsements. A handful of other, lesser known Democrats also have said they're running.

On the Republican side, three local elected officials have declared: Mayor Mike Gin and City Atty. Mike Webb, both of Redondo Beach, and Hermosa Beach City Councilman Patrick "Kit" Bobko. The Republican who once held the seat, Steven T. Kuykendall, considered running but said last week he had decided against it.

Several other potential candidates, including other Democrats, Republicans and members of minor parties, also are considering making the race. One is "coffee party" member Michael Chamness, who has filed suit over the new election rules, which require those not affiliated with a political group recognized by the state to list themselves on the ballot as having "no party preference."

Los Angeles County election officials earlier this month took the unusual step of starting the nominating process even before the governor had  called the election. They allowed potential candidates to begin collecting signatures from district voters, which can be used in place of paying filing fees.

-- Jean Merl in Los Angeles and Anthony York in Sacramento