Politics & Government

Dan Walters: Open seats on Los Angeles County board generate feeding frenzy

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

A seat in Congress is one of the nation’s most sought-after political prizes, and once elected, a member rarely gives it up voluntarily.

Yet Hilda Solis, after representing a Southern California district for eight years, resigned in 2009 to take one of the few positions higher on the political food chain – President Barack Obama’s secretary of labor.

And then earlier this year, Solis resigned again, apparently to begin campaigning for an office that’s a few notches even above a position in the presidential Cabinet – Los Angeles County supervisor.

There are just five supervisors in a county with 10 million residents, and until Gloria Molina joined the board a couple of decades ago, they were known as the “five little kings” for their immense authority.

Los Angeles supervisors were famous – or infamous – for holding onto their seats for decades, even lifetimes, since it was nearly impossible to unseat them via a direct challenge.

Kenneth Hahn served on the board for 40 years, from 1952 until 1992. Mike Antonovich has been there 31 years.

No longer.

Los Angeles County voters passed a term-limit measure in 2002, limiting supervisors to three consecutive four-year terms.

Beginning next year, current members will begin departing and that is creating something of a political feeding frenzy.

Solis has been designated by the county’s powerful union leader, Maria Elena Durazo, as labor’s anointed successor to outgoing Supervisor Molina from a predominantly Latino district. With that clout behind her, she’s not likely to face major opposition.

The second seat open next year is a different story.

It’s now held by Zev Yaroslavsky and includes the wealthy west side – Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Malibu – plus a chunk of the San Fernando Valley.

For months, it appeared that former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl would be unopposed, but other candidates are beginning to surface. Bobby Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family, is one potential, as is Wendy Greuel, a former city controller who this year lost a hard-fought race for Los Angeles mayor.

As yet, no Jewish candidate has emerged for what has traditionally been a Jewish seat. Kuehl, whose mother was Jewish but was raised as a Catholic, may qualify because, she said, “I feel like both but have attended way more Friday night services than Masses.”

Whoever runs, the race will draw money and attention equal to that of a small state governorship.

And whatever happens in 2014, the board’s only Republicans, Don Knabe and Antonovich, will be termed out in 2016, and the skirmishing is already underway over their seats.

Meanwhile, Latino rights groups are demanding that supervisorial districts be reconfigured to elect another Latino member, and have asked the U.S. Justice Department to intervene as a civil rights case.