Endorsement: Holly Mitchell for Los Angeles County supervisor
The size, scope and duties of Los Angeles County government are hard to fathom. With a budget of nearly $35 billion and a payroll of 100,000, the county operates the nation’s largest local criminal justice and welfare systems and is responsible for caring for more people dealing with homelessness, mental illness, poverty, family breakdown and, yes, COVID-19 than most states. The county encompasses huge swaths of forest and chaparral that give rise to some of the nation’s worst wildfires, so its government necessarily operates a huge complex of emergency response services.
Vacancies on the five-member Board of Supervisors are rare, and the choices voters make to fill those seats are crucial and, generally, long-lasting. For the 2 million people living in the county’s 2nd District, the best choice is state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles).
The county badly needs a leader with vision, independence and a record of achievement. Mitchell can be that leader. Voters should judge her by the assignments she has accepted, including the chair of the Senate’s budget committee and with it, a key role in determining what to fund and what to cut in order to keep state finances intact while providing the services so desperately needed by so many. Voters should judge her as well by the legislation she has authored and steered to passage, including numerous bills to correct inequities in government, including the justice system, healthcare programs and foster care services, and to address police use of force — not just this year, when public attention has become attuned to structural racism and its deadly consequences, but consistently over her legislative tenure.
And voters should judge her by her experience. Before she began her political career, Mitchell led Crystal Stairs, a well-regarded early-childhood education and parental support organization. Earlier she led the Black Women’s Health Project, was a legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty and was a policy analyst for then-state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). She knows her way around human services and legislation. She knows how to lead.
Her record and her talents fit in well with the current reform efforts of the Board of Supervisors, which has begun remaking county government into what it should be: a provider of help and hope to people in crisis, and not merely their prosecutor or the administrator of their penalties.
Continuing on this path requires an ability to listen to and work in partnership with non-government organizations that advocate for and serve many of the same people under the county’s purview. Mitchell’s background in both nonprofit service and legislation make her the right person for the job, at the right time.
Her runoff rival is Councilman Herb Wesson, a former state Assembly speaker who served for eight years as president of the Los Angeles City Council.
Wesson likes to say that he’s a guy who brings people together to get things done, which is fine, depending on which people are brought together and what it is they want to get done. He ran the non-partisan council much as a speaker runs the partisan and caucus-driven Assembly, limiting public debate, working things out in committee and behind the scenes, and serving his colleagues as a prodigious fundraiser. Nearly a decade ago he presided over a redistricting process that gave an illusion of independence but ended up penalizing council members who had opposed his leadership and rewarding his most loyal supporters, including Jose Huizar, who is currently under indictment for alleged corruption in connection with building projects in parts of town that redistricting transferred to his district.
In 2017, Wesson pushed through a charter amendment requested by the local police union that weakened the disciplinary system for officers accused of dishonesty, excessive use of force and other offenses, and he failed to follow up on promises to conduct citywide hearings on police discipline, oversight and reform. He vowed, admirably, to address racism, but his program of private dinners and discussions fell far short of the mark then, and even further short of what is needed now.
Today, as public attention has turned more forcefully to policing and racism, Wesson has become somewhat of a born-again reformer, pushing programs to beef up human services, address racial and economic inequity and curb abusive policing. These moves show Wesson at both his best and his worst: He hears what the public wants and he responds — but not until the problem is unavoidable.
Mitchell is different. She has been working in issues of equity and reform for her entire career. She displays the moral and policy compass Los Angeles needs in a county supervisor. The Times again endorses Mitchell unreservedly.
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