Congresswoman Diane Watson to retire

Diane WatsonRep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., a prominent African-American politician for more than three decades, plans to announce her retirement from Congress on Thursday, opening her seat for a possible run by termed-out California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.

Watson, 76, plans to hold a Los Angeles news conference to announce her plans. A House Democratic leadership aide, speaking on condition that he not be named, confirmed her retirement plans.

A congressional source said Watson was tiring of the cross-country trips and wanted to spend more time with her mother, who recently turned 100.

A Democrat is expected to win the district, which stretches across Los Angeles into Hollywood.

Watson’s retirement would create another rare open California House seat in this year’s midterm elections. Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., also has announced his retirement.

Allan Hoffenblum, a longtime Republican strategist who publishes the nonpartisan California Target Book, which tracks legislative and congressional races, said he expects Bass to run for the seat with Watson’s support.

If elected, “she won’t be your average freshman,” he said Wednesday.

A source close to Bass said she would consider running if Watson retires. Bass declined comment on her political future, opting to wait until Watson’s announcement.

Watson became the first African-American woman elected to the Los Angeles school board in 1975, serving during a period of racial tension over mandatory school busing. In 1978, she was elected to the state Senate, serving until she was forced to give her up seat in 1998 because of term limits. In 1992, she ran unsuccessfully for Los Angeles County supervisor. In 1999, President Bill Clinton appointed her ambassador to Micronesia.

In 2001,Watson won a special congressional election to fill the vacancy created by the death of Rep. Julian Dixon.

(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.