Dan Walters

Opinion: Los Angeles politicians play musical chairs

Four of the five county supervisors in Los Angeles are former state legislators, including the two newest members elected last year, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis (pictured), the latter also a former member of Congress.
Four of the five county supervisors in Los Angeles are former state legislators, including the two newest members elected last year, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis (pictured), the latter also a former member of Congress. AP

Remember the old parlor game of musical chairs?

Players would march to music around a group of chairs, and when it stopped, all would try to sit down, but there was always one fewer chair than players. The standing player would drop out, a chair would be removed and the game would continue until someone claimed the last chair.

A political version is being played in Los Angeles County which, with 10 million residents, is home to more than a quarter of the state’s population.

The county has fewer than 100 high-profile, high-salary elective offices, including one Board of Equalization position, five county supervisors, district attorney, sheriff, Los Angeles mayor, 15 Los Angeles City Council seats, city attorney, city controller, 15 congressional seats, 23 Assembly seats, 11 state Senate seats, and a handful of lesser city and county offices.

But at any given moment, there are more than 100 professional politicians who want one, so local politics are in a constant state of agitation, sorting out who gets which job and who’s left out, at least until the next election.

Four of the five county supervisors, for instance, are former state legislators, including the two newest members elected last year, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, the latter also a former member of Congress. Seven of the 15 Los Angeles City Council members are also former legislators, as are 12 of the county’s 15 congressional members.

The syndrome was illustrated in this month’s Los Angeles city elections.

Gloria Molina, who had to give up her seat on the county Board of Supervisors because of term limits after 23 years, didn’t want to retire from politics. So the former state Assembly and Los Angeles City Council member decided to return to the latter by challenging Councilman Jose Huizar.

Meanwhile, Cindy Montañez, who gave up her seat in the Assembly in 2006 for an unsuccessful state Senate run, was trying to oust another council member, Nury Martinez, whom she had faced previously in a 2011 special election.

After losing her state Senate bid in 2006, Montañez marked time for a while with a position on the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, a frequent resting place for out-of-office politicians.

Both challenges failed, but the music is still playing.

Two county supervisor seats are open next year and hopefuls are quickly lining up. One is Janice Hahn, whose father served on the board for 40 years. She was a City Council member, lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 2010, then won a congressional seat in 2011.

Meanwhile, Isadore Hall, a former Compton city councilman and assemblyman who moved to the state Senate just three months ago, is seeking Hahn’s congressional seat.

Hall is favored and as he runs in 2016, there will be another scramble among local politicians for his Senate seat.

Editor’s note: This column was updated from print and online versions to remove references to a special election to replace Isadore Hall. If Hall wins a congressional seat, his Senate successor would be determined in the 2016 regular election.

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

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