Janice Hahn makes a lengthy commute to work every day in her blue Honda Civic Hybrid. She calls in graffiti, downed trees and potholes during her 40-minute drive to work every day after stopping for a cup of coffee. However, Hahn isn’t your typical L.A. resident; she is one of 15 city council members representing the nation’s second-largest city.
Hahn speaks with a degree of intensity and energy as strong as the city she represents. She is confident and to the point with what she has to say.
For Hahn, the road to political notoriety in the Golden State traveled through Abilene. The 58-year-old Los Angeles City Councilwoman and former candidate for California Lieutenant Governor won’t deny she’s a Californian through and through. However, the Long Beach, Calif., native says some of her most formative years were spent on the plains of West Texas and not the beaches of Southern California.
Hahn attended ACU from 1970-74 to study speech and physical education – hoping to one day become a gym teacher. Her career took a drastically different path.
Hahn grew up in the Churches of Christ, but never had any intention of attending ACU. She and one of her friends, Marilyn Young, attended ACU together after daring each other to go to school in Texas – even though Young’s father, M. Norvel Young, was president of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., at the time.
“My time at ACU was absolutely positive,” Hahn said. “I went there on a dare with a friend, only intending to stay a short while. I stayed the whole time.”
Hahn said she had never been to Texas before enrolling at ACU, and her time in Abilene opened her eyes to a world she had never seen.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Hahn said. “It was good for a Southern California girl to experience Abilene, Texas. It broadened my horizons.”
Hahn was an active student. She was a member of the women’s social club Sigma Theta Chi and also holds the distinction of being the very first Willie the Wildcat mascot.
“I tried out for varsity cheerleader and lost. It was more devastating than any political battle I’ve ever lost,” Hahn joked. “I talked to the basketball coach about being the mascot. My friends made me a costume. I just remember it being furry and hot – but it was worth it.”
Hahn viewed her time in historically conservative West Texas as a challenge.
“Everybody wrote me off as that Janice Hahn from L.A.,” Hahn said. “I was born and raised a Democrat and I always tried to move people that way.”
Hahn said she received an excellent education from ACU, but it was the Bible classes that most helped shape her into the person she is today.
“The Bible classes were important for me to have a good foundation,” she said. “When I left ACU it was my faith and not my parents’ faith.”
Hahn said her favorite teacher at ACU was Dr. Tony Ash. Ash, a professor of Bible, Missions and Ministry, said he fondly remembers Hahn as a diligent student. He said he knew she would one day make something of herself.
“I remember Jan as a good student, full of life and energy,” Ash said
Ash said Hahn possessed a fresh attitude for her classes. He said she had the mentality it would take to be successful as a politician or whatever she wanted to be, even during her time at ACU.
“She is definitely not a shrinking violet,” Ash said. “She isn’t intimidated by anyone, she possesses a great deal of political savvy.”
Los Angeles City Council
After graduating from ACU in 1974 Hahn entered the corporate world, working in a wide array of industries ranging from energy to banking.
She was elected as the representative for the City of Los Angeles’ 15th district in 2001 and has served in that capacity ever since. Her district alone has more than 250,000 residents and includes several neighborhoods in Southern Los Angeles.
However, while she represents a major world city, she said her job is no different than any other city council member or citizen.
“Even though it’s the nation’s second-largest city, we deal with the same things all cities have,” Hahn said. “Everyone wants to live in a clean, safe city.”
She said problems that affect Los Angeles affect all cities, but she said the main difference is everyone watches to see what L.A. does. She said even the mundane things she does every day can have far-reaching-impacts.
“I’m in the big leagues. The issues and money we deal with are huge,” Hahn said. “The issues we deal with every day are far-reaching; people watch us.”
In May, Hahn and her fellow council members grabbed national headlines when the city of Los Angeles boycotted the state of Arizona over its immigration policies. The boycott called for the city to end all contracts with Arizona-based companies. Hahn and Councilman Ed Reyes co-authored the resolution to boycott Arizona. The vote passed by a 13-1 vote, with Republican Greig Smith as the lone dissenter.
“I have always opposed using the Los Angeles City Council to weigh in on non-related social issues that are not within the purview of Los Angeles,” Smith said in a public statement after the vote.
Hahn said she believed immigration should be dealt with at the federal level.
“It was an overwhelming vote on the City Council. We voted to boycott Arizona,” Hahn said. “We believed very strongly that this is a constitutional issue, and the right path for addressing it is through Congress.”
She said the government needs to secure the borders and provide a way for illegal immigrants already here to get citizenship after paying a fine. She also said she was worried that American citizens of Hispanic descent and legal immigrants could be the target of what she calls a discriminatory policy.
“To me this law could end up targeting American citizens who would be subject to this discrimination,” Hahn said.
Hahn said her biggest surprise in response to the City Council’s vote was the resentment people showed towards her. Hahn said she received hate mail and even some death threats after the vote.
“It’s amazing how hateful some people can be, and how fearful others are,” Hahn said.
“I got the most negative response of anything I have ever done. We kept all the hate mail, emails and faxes and printed them out. We stacked them up and they went pretty tall,” she said.
Her favorite negative response involved her routine morning coffee stop. She said she always parked her car at a veterinary supply store to walk over for her coffee, but after the vote to boycott Arizona she was told she could no longer park there.
“It really stirred up a lot of emotions in Americans,” Hahn said. “However, I would stand up against the law again, even knowing the response.”
Run For Lieutenant Governor
Last December, Â Hahn attempted to jump to statewide office when she ran in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor of California. She eventually lost to San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom in the primary who received 55.5 percent of the vote to Hahn’s 33.3 percent.
If she had won the primary and the election, Hahn would have been the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor in California, a state that has also never had a woman serve as governor.
“It was clearly something all women hold in our hearts, as we look at glass ceilings yet to be broken and would like to be the one to smash them,” Hahn said.
Hahn said her biggest platforms in the race were improving California’s university system by lowering tuition and cleaning up the state’s ports.
Hahn said she was disappointed by the loss, but knew it would be an uphill battle once Newsom entered the race.
“In politics you have to keep moving forward,” Hahn said. “I was disappointed; I thought I would have been a great lieutenant governor for California.”
Hahn is running for a seat in Congress, vacated by Democrat Jane Harman who announced she was resigning in February to become CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Hahn said a Congressional run was the next logical step in her political career.
“I do think this makes perfect sense,” Hahn said. “My experiences working in Los Angeles position me perfectly to represent the district.”
Hahn said she likes her chances in the Congressional election. She said everything seems to be moving in the right direction.
“The momentum is different than when I ran for lieutenant governor,” Hahn said. ” Everything is flowing better. It just feels right.”
The democratic primary is May 17.