Voters are in an angry mood in 1992--so angry that from Washington to Sacramento some pretty powerful politicians are worried about losing their jobs. Sadly that concern doesn't seem to extend to a level of government where the need for change is especially great: Los Angeles County. Even as incumbents elsewhere scramble to survive, polls indicate that the two supervisors running for reelection--Deane Dana, who represents the coastal 4th District, and Mike Antonovich, whose 5th District covers the northern valleys and deserts--are running ahead of their challengers. That's remarkable, given the county board's abysmal record.
In the last two years, as much-needed county services like public health care and aid to the homeless were being slashed, the supervisors:
-- Used an obscure state law to dramatically increase county pensions, including their own, to the tune of $256 million.
-- Allowed developers who contributed to their reelection campaigns to renew long leases on prime county real estate in Marina del Rey for far less than they are worth.
-- Spent almost $33 million on their office, staff and travel budgets. The perks include a $74,000 armored car for Dana, $47,000 worth of security features for Antonovich's car and even bulletproof desk blotters.
-- Allowed County Administrative Officer Richard B. Dixon to spend $3.4 million to remodel his offices and to hand out $3 million in bonuses to officials with no oversight.
-- Voted themselves a 4% pay raise disguised as a "professional development allowance."
That last vote was reversed, but only after Supervisor Gloria Molina raised a fuss about it. Molina was elected only last year in a special election that the supervisors resisted, wasting $6 million fighting a federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit. She has already provided a breath of fresh air in county government. But she's a lonely voice for change, and voters need to send her a little help.
They surely will in the 2nd District, which covers South-Central and southwest Los Angeles. There longtime incumbent Kenneth Hahn is retiring because of health problems.
The two leading candidates to replace him are both outstanding leaders of Los Angeles' African-American community, State Sen. Diane Watson and attorney Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, a former member of Congress who served a brief appointed term on the county board in 1979-80. As women and members of a minority group, both would bring a fresh perspective to the cozy Anglo, male club that still dominates county government.
We choose to endorse Watson in what is expected to be a tight race. The energetic Watson, who has represented much of this district for 13 years, has been consistently active and knowledgeable about the vital issues of the inner city. Like Molina, her style can be abrasive and confrontational; indeed, over time, we hope Watson will prove as successful working with people as she is at raising people's consciousness on issues. But sometimes a little noisemaking is required to wake up county government. Maybe, over time, Watson and Molina won't need to raise so much hell.
As for Dana and Antonovich, we cannot in good conscience endorse their reelection. Both face a handful of challengers, some credible and some not. None of their opponents has the financial resources to match the massive advantage county incumbents have.
But money isn't, or shouldn't be, everything. So we urge the many voters in the 4th and 5th Districts who are unhappy with county government to cast protest ballots in the county supervisors' races. Find the challenger most acceptable to you and vote for him or her.
If nothing else, a big protest vote against Dana and Antonovich might help change the way they conduct county business. It may prod them to become part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.