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Editorial: Kathryn Barger for county supervisor

Term limits are forcing Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich from office after a 36-year tenure, and now voters in his far-flung north county district must choose between the veteran supervisor’s chief of staff, Kathryn Barger, and political newcomer Darrell Park. Residents looking for a change of policy or even just a change of pace might be tempted to vote for Park, but he is unprepared and unsuited for the job of representing 2 million people on a board with broad responsibilities ranging from transportation to management of parkland to delivery of vital human services. Barger is a thoughtful and experienced policymaker who would bring a good balance of continuity and new thinking, pragmatism and creativity, to the board. She is the better choice.

Antonovich has often been derided by liberals in and outside of his district as an ultra-conservative out of step with Los Angeles County, a relic of an era in which the Board of Supervisors was dominated by Republican white men. He has indeed stuck by his conservative principles but is also noted for assembling a talented and diverse policy staff that was responsible for some of the board’s best work on child welfare, among other issues. Barger was one of his smartest hires, quickly rising to lead his team.

Her challenge now is to convince voters — in a district that no longer leans as far to the right as it did when Antonovich was first elected — that she would offer more than a mere continuation of her boss’ tenure.

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She would likely work well with the current board majority on the top challenges that currently face the county: homelessness, mental health and child welfare.

In fact it was Barger who for many years coaxed the pragmatic center from Antonovich and helped him form constructive policy alliances with some of the board’s more liberal members. She was not always successful. For example, Antonovich voted to reject federal funding for health care for undocumented immigrants; Barger says she would have taken it. Unlike Antonovich, Barger supports the “housing first” approach to helping ill or addicted homeless people. She favors abortion rights, not that that’s an issue that looms large on the Board of Supervisors.

She would likely work well with the current board majority on the top challenges that currently face the county: homelessness, mental health and child welfare. It is noteworthy that she has strong bipartisan support, with endorsements not just from a host of Republican officials but also from former Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, and current Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, all Democrats. She also has the backing of the county’s large labor organizations.

That’s bad news for Park, who has based much of his campaign on being a Democrat. There is no reason he can’t make the most of his party registration in his quest to win this nonpartisan office, but he was politically clumsy and less than honorable about it when he wrote, in material distributed to voters with their sample ballots, that the county “cannot afford to elect a supervisor who will support Donald Trump’s extreme Republican agenda.”

Barger is in fact a moderate Republican but is not a Trump supporter, and Park’s attempt to link them through innuendo is a bit, well, Trump-like. A judge ordered the statement stricken from the ballot materials.

On policy, Park offers simplistic ideas more suited to a suggestion box or a comment board than a Board of Supervisors. Move the homeless to the desert, for example — fine for people who want to go there but not much of a solution for people who need jobs, mental health treatment or addiction services. Send L.A.’s garbage to Arizona in order to close local landfills — nice for people living near Sunshine Canyon but an environmental nightmare for Arizona, and an irresponsible transfer of problems from one region to another.

Park worked for a decade at the White House Office of Management and Budget and since then has been an entrepreneur, working on solar projects. Many of his ideas for county government, perhaps not surprisingly, revolve around solar energy. When he strays from that subject, he appears out of his depth.

The race offers some noteworthy fodder for pundits. If Park were to win, for example, and Janice Hahn were to win in the Fourth District, all five supervisors would be Democrats for the first time in living memory. If Barger and Hahn were to win, four of the five would be women. And that would mean — well, what, exactly?

Far more important than the partisan lineup on the nonpartisan board, and far more important than the shifting gender balance, is the supervisors’ ability to address the steep challenges — poverty, health, public safety, transportation, homelessness — that face the nation’s most populous county. Of the two candidates in the Fifth District, Barger is the one who is up to the task. The Times urges a vote for Barger.

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