No matter who wins today’s special election in Los Angeles County, voters in the 1st District will make history. But they’ll do much more than that by electing Los Angeles City Councilwoman Gloria Molina to the county board.
Both Molina and her opponent, state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) are Mexican-Americans, so one of them will be the first Latino elected to the board in this century. That alone will not correct historic injustices against local Latinos, but it will right a great wrong done by the current Board of Supervisors.
Despite warnings that they were violating federal laws, the supervisors opted in 1981 to protect their own incumbencies by diluting the potential voting strength of the county’s 3 million Latino residents. As a result of that cynical move, they got sued. They fought that lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court--wasting $6 million of taxpayers’ money along the way--and lost.
That is the only reason a special election is being held today--not, as some have suggested, just to put a Latino on the board. That would have happened a while ago except for calculated political maneuvering like that which occurred in 1981.
The current board felt it could get away with such a self-serving move because the five white men on it are often aloof from the concerns of their more than 8 million constituents. The supervisors oversee a massive bureaucracy with an annual budget of almost $10 billion, and each of them represents more people than a member of Congress and even some governors!
Los Angeles County government is so unwieldy and unresponsive because it was designed long before Southern California’s population boom. It needs change badly, and the person best-equipped to make it is Gloria Molina.
Her opponent is capable, but Torres is also a politician known for compromising to get along. There are many jobs in government where that would make him effective, but county supervisor isn’t one of them. A nice guy like Torres could easily get snowed by the bureaucrats, lobbyists, union officials and developers who thrive in a county’s cozy atmosphere of back-room deals.
County government needs more than a breath of fresh air. It needs a strong wind to blow out all the cobwebs. Molina isn’t exactly Hurricane Gloria, but she has a well-earned reputation as a tough politician who fights for her constituents and is loath to wheel and deal. A fighter like Molina is far more likely to shake things up than Torres. In particular, she is more likely to push for streamlining Los Angeles County government by enlarging the Board of Supervisors.
By electing Molina, voters in the 1st District will guarantee better local government for themselves and every resident of the largest county in the nation.