National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Big names vie for L.A. County supervisors’ seats

By Charles Taylor


Folks in Los Angeles County are used to seeing big names on movie marquees — and even on statewide ballots (See: Schwarzenegger). But in a local race for county supervisor?

Such is the case in that rarest of occurrences: two open seats on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, due to term-limited retirements.

The candidates — Bobby Shriver, a scion of the Kennedy clan and former mayor of Santa Monica; Sheila Kuehl, a Harvard-trained lawyer and longtime state lawmaker who once played Zelda Gilroy on the Dobie Gillis TV sitcom; and Hilda Solis, President Obama’s first labor secretary and a former member of Congress.

It’s a roster of candidates that one could find perhaps only in a county more populous (9.8 million residents) than 42 U.S. states.

SR_LACounty.pngSolis won her June 3 primary race — and hence the seat — outright with more than 70 percent of the vote. In California’s nonpartisan, top-two system, a candidate with a clear majority wins. Kuehl and Shriver however, came in first (36.2 percent) and second (28.8 percent) in a field of eight candidates; and must face each other in November. As the race heats up, so too should campaign fundraising and spending.

“[Shriver] has his own money and has raised a lot of money,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University-Los Angeles. “He has more money on hand than Sheila Kuehl does, however, we don’t know if other groups will weigh in on her behalf now that she’s finished first. She may find her fundraising going through the roof.”

There will also be a runoff for L.A. County sheriff, between the top two finishers in a field of seven. Because it’s an open seat, Sonenshein said it’s one of the most competitive races in 80 or 90 years.

“Usually, the Sheriff’s Department in L.A. operates like a hereditary monarchy,” he said. “The sheriff serves for maybe 20 years or so, grooms his successor, steps aside and eases the path for the successor who then serves another 20 years. So this is like the dynastic line running out of heirs.”

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell almost squeaked to a clear win with 49.1 percent of the vote, but he’s favored to beat the second-place candidate, who polled only 15 percent of the vote. If so, it would be the first time in a century that a sheriff was elected from outside the department, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Beyond L.A., statewide ballots included Propositions 41 and 42. Prop 42, according to California, requires local government agencies, including counties, to comply with the state laws providing for public access to meetings of local government bodies and records of government officials.

It would also eliminate the current requirement that the state reimburse local governments for compliance with these specified laws.

Prop 42 passed with 61 percent of the vote.

The California State Association of Counties took no position on it, despite the fact that cities, counties, and school and special districts stood to lose “tens of millions of dollars annually” statewide, according to Jean Hurst, a CSAC lobbyist. L.A. County, the state’s largest county, neither supported nor opposed it.

Proponents included the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the First Amendment Coalition and the League of Women Voters. Referred to the ballot by the Legislature, the measure had received unanimous support in the Assembly and Senate.

“There was a great concern about being viewed as against transparency and open government,” Hurst said. “It’s a very nuanced position to say, actually we’re for that, we just want to get paid for it….”

While county boards remained silent, the state’s association for county clerks strongly opposed the measure.

“The proponents of Prop 42 claim that the bill is about transparency. It’s not. It’s about money,” the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials wrote in an analysis of the law’s effects. “It’s about shifting the cost of implementing state legislation to local governments and nothing more.”

Sonenshein called it a “motherhood and apple pie issue.” “It’s not worth the trouble,” he added, given how little money local governments actually received from the state.

CSAC did endorse Proposition 41, also referred from the Legislature, the Veterans Housing and Homeless Prevention Bond Act of 2014, which cruised to victory with 61.5 percent of the vote. It authorizes $600 million in bonds to provide multifamily housing to low-income veterans and supportive housing for homeless vets.

Other election highlights included measures in three northern California counties on creating the breakaway State of Jefferson from rural counties who feel their interests are unrepresented in Sacramento.

Of the counties with Jefferson measures on the ballot, only voters in Tehama County approved Measure A, 56 percent to 44 percent, supporting the formation of the State of Jefferson. Del Norte’s similar Measure A was voted down.

Siskiyou County’s electorate faced a related but different question — an ordinance establishing the Republic of Jefferson Territory within Siskiyou County, it failed 56 percent to 44 percent.

Like similar movements in Colorado and Oregon, chances of creating a new state are slim, as it requires state legislative and federal approval.

Steve Boilard, a Cal State-Sacramento political analyst, said that while the movement stems from a “reasonable and legitimate” concern that the region has little political clout in Sacramento, “there is virtually no chance that the movement will succeed.”

“The ‘Jefferson’ counties cover a very large amount of California’s territory…but not a lot of its population,” he wrote in an email to County News.

But the Jefferson movement — or something like it — may not have breathed its last. A Silicon Valley “gazillionaire” venture capitalist, Tim Draper, is largely bankrolling an effort to get a question on the Nov. 6 ballot that would divide California into six states, Hurst said.

She wonders if the lukewarm reception in the heart of Jefferson movement counties will dissuade Draper from moving forward with what will be a heavy lift: gathering more than 800,000 signatures by sometime in July to get the six-state question on the ballot.