3 Incumbent Supervisors Unopposed for Reelection


For the first time in living memory, all three incumbent Los Angeles County supervisors up for reelection next year are running unopposed.

No challengers had filed with the county registrar-recorder by last week’s deadline to oppose Supervisors Mike Antonovich, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and Don Knabe. As a result, all three have now essentially won reelection without even mounting a campaign.

In each election year since 1968--the earliest date county election records are available--at least one incumbent supervisor faced a challenger. Some observers believe that one would have to go back 150 years to the founding of Los Angeles County to find an entirely uncontested supervisorial race without even a longshot gadfly challenging one incumbent.


“I’m almost speechless,” said veteran political consultant Joe Cerrell. “We know there are a lot of people out there who want to get on that board, but we know it’s difficult getting there.”

The lack of competition for three of Los Angeles’ most powerful elected posts representing a total of nearly 6 million people comes as two initiatives are being readied for next year’s ballot purporting to make the positions more competitive.

The first would expand the number of supervisors from five to nine, which advocates say will shrink the population of supervisors’ districts--now greater than those of many U.S. senators--and the expense of mounting a challenge to incumbents. The second is a term limits initiative that would limit the supervisors’ terms in office and also strip them of the power to redraw their districts. Petitions have just begun circulating for the latter initiative.

It has been 20 years since an elected incumbent supervisor was unseated by a challenger, and critics say that the seats are essentially lifetime jobs, complete with $113,000 salaries, stipends from sitting on boards ranging from the Sanitation District to Metropolitan Transportation Authority, hefty-sized staffs and control over the county’s $15-billion budget.

“I’m not in the least bit surprised there aren’t people jumping at the chance to challenge them,” said Christopher Skinnell, the activist circulating the term limits proposal.

But some observers said the lack of challengers this cycle may actually deflate the term limits initiative. “If there was such an outcry that the supervisors were doing such a horrible job, then I think you would see some challengers,” said political consultant Rick Taylor, who attributed the lack of opponents to term limits in the Legislature and Los Angeles City Council.


“With term limits, people who are perennial candidates now have other races they actually have shots at winning,” he said.

And while no one declared the three incumbent supervisors to be model elected officials, observers agree that the trio are energetic and relatively popular. “These people work pretty hard,” Cerrell said. “They’re all over the place.”

Supervisors were elated that they had won their jobs back without a fight, and attributed the lack of challengers to a number of factors, including the expanding economy, the size of their districts and the board’s performance on issues such as the county budget.

“The board is getting a lot better,” said Burke, who added that the size of the districts is also an obvious factor. “People feel this board, conservatives and liberals [are] working together with very little contentiousness.”

The contrast with five years ago is striking, when in the depths of a recession the county tottered on the edge of bankruptcy and supervisors battled furiously over what agencies to cut. Now, after a federal bailout, they are making cautious budget decisions and benefiting from an economic boom that has boosted revenues. As a result, the county has shifted into expansion mode, and financial agencies have upgraded its bond rating.

“You’d really like to think it’s because you did a great job or [provided] visionary leadership,” said Knabe. “We’re the benefactors of a really good economy right now.” And, he added with a chuckle, “we’re not spitting at each other.”


Antonovich credited his staff’s outreach in his district and the board’s record in general. “The board has done an incredible job dealing with an impossible financing system imposed on them by the state,” he said, adding that he would ease off fund raising but keep an eye out for a possible write-in campaign.

The uphill battle that any challenger would have faced is shown by the latest campaign finance reports. As of June 30, Antonovich had more than $600,000 in cash in his campaign account. Burke had $289,000 and says she intends to continue with previously scheduled fund-raisers, donating any surplus money to charity. Knabe, aides say, has raised more than $500,000 and is mulling whether to continue or cancel scheduled fund-raising events.

“It just shows the power of incumbency,” said Arnie Steinberg, another veteran campaign consultant.