Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum's surprise decision to walk away from political life recalls a similar move 11 years ago by Supervisor James A. Hayes. Hayes' resignation allowed, at least for a year, a black woman, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, to break into the all-white, all-male supervisors club. Now Schabarum's resignation increases the chance for a Latino to join the board--this time for a more permanent seating.
The county's Latino leadership is naturally chomping at the bit for a crack at the seat held for 18 years by the combative Schabarum. But with the anticipation comes some anxiety, because Latino leaders know that even without an incumbent, the 44% Latino district population in no way ensures a Latino's election. So some leaders will urge the supervisors today to redraw district boundaries and settle a lawsuit designed to force the county to increase Latino political representation. The judge has indicated that a settlement is unlikely, and the trial should be over soon, anyway. But if the issue could be resolved even sooner, so much the better.
Veteran Latino politicians recognize the tremendous opportunity that the Schabarum resignation drops into their laps. The meeting Sunday of several ambitious Latino elected officials is a good signal that leaders are working hard to avoid divisiveness. Competition between candidates of different stances is healthy; but little good would be served if several high-profile Latinos of similar political persuasion were to run for one seat and damage the election chances for any Latino. The fight for fair representation has been too tough, and has come too far, for political rivalries to tear it apart.
As for Schabarum, a self-styled last angry man, his legacy includes a landmark conservative domination of the board and a trail of both liberals and conservatives he managed to infuriate. By catching Democrats off-guard and giving Republicans virtually no time to field a potential successor, his withdrawal is one last thumb of the nose at conventional expectations. But he apparently will leave without fully acknowledging that after nearly two decades, a changing population was demanding, as Schabarum would say, its own "fair shot" at county political power.