Dan Walters

Opinion: L.A. County board seats will be hot

It’s obvious that California’s highest-profile political contest next year will be for the U.S. Senate seat that Barbara Boxer will give up after 24 years.

The precise dimensions of the contest have yet to emerge. Attorney General Kamala Harris is the only declared candidate and the early favorite, no matter who else might run.

Everyone’s waiting to see whether former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa takes the plunge, and several congressional members and legislators are mulling it over.

But what, one might wonder, would be the state’s second most important political duel in 2016? It’s a tie – two open seats on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The county has more than a quarter of the state’s population, and its five supervisors, each with 2 million constituents, have clout that impacts the entire state, earning them the cynical sobriquet of “five little kings” when all were men.

Republicans have occupied the two seats being vacated for decades. But Supervisors Mike Antonovich, who has more than half of the county’s territory in his northernmost district, and Don Knabe, in its southernmost district, are being forced out by term limits.

Antonovich’s district is the last bastion of semi-dependable Republican strength in the county, whose politics have shifted markedly leftward over the past two decades because of massive demographic and economic change.

George Runner, who just won his second and last term on the state Board of Equalization, is seen as the most viable candidate to keep Antonovich’s seat in GOP hands. Runner and his wife, Sharon, have been political powers in the county’s Antelope Valley region for years, and she will reclaim a seat in the state Senate next month.

But Knabe’s successor is likely to be a Democrat, given the party’s lopsided voter registration margin. And Congresswoman Janice Hahn, whose father, Kenneth, sat on the county board for an eye-popping 40 years, is first out of the gate.

However, Hahn is white, and southern Los Angeles County, once Republican and white, now has a very large Latino population, creating an opportunity for that community to gain a long-sought second seat.

There’s no shortage of ambitious Latino politicians in the region, including one Republican, Downey City Councilman Mario Guerra, who ran a credible race for the state Senate last year.

Meanwhile, by giving up her seat in Congress, Hahn will touch off a scramble in her 44th Congressional District next year. The state’s redistricting commission saw it as a black seat when it was created four years ago and Isadore Hall, who won a seat in the state Senate just two months ago, has already declared for Congress.

However, Latino voters outnumber blacks by a nearly 2-1 margin in the district so it, too, could become an ethnic crucible.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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