LA County Seal

Abby Sewell
April 3, 2016

While the contentious presidential contest has drawn most of the spotlight in the lead-up to California’s June primary, the election also marks the next phase of a sea change in Los Angeles County government.

Two conservative, longtime members of the Board of Supervisors are preparing to step down, paving the way for a continued leftward shift on the powerful panel. The election could usher in a liberal “supermajority” on the board for the first time in modern history.

The seats are low-profile but coveted. The county manages a $28-billion budget and runs the nation’s largest jail and foster care systems and second-largest public health system. Political observers sometimes refer to the supervisors as the “five little kings.”

The two Republicans on the officially nonpartisan five-member board, Don Knabe and Michael D. Antonovich, will be forced out in December by term limits passed in 2002, which limited supervisors to three four-year terms. Knabe and Antonovich have been on the board since 1996 and 1980, respectively.

A high-profile and well-funded Democrat, Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), appears to be the favorite to take Knabe’s seat, representing the South Bay and southeast county areas. Hahn, a former Los Angeles city councilwoman and daughter of former longtime county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, is giving up her congressional seat to run for the county position.

She faces a Republican challenger, Knabe aide and former Manhattan Beach Councilman Steve Napolitano; and a lesser-known Democrat, Whittier school board member Ralph Pacheco. But with campaign funds dwarfing her opponents’ and high name recognition, most observers say Hahn is the presumed front-runner.

“I don’t see that she’s going to be seriously challenged,” said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A. “Labor’s going to be backing her big time, as are others sitting on the board right now.”

Knabe, who has endorsed Napolitano, said he believes the race will be competitive, but acknowledged Hahn’s advantage: “The reality is, it’s hers to lose at this point.”

The race to fill the north county seat occupied by Antonovich for the last 36 years is more crowded, but the seat appears likely to remain in Republican hands. The eight contenders include Antonovich’s chief of staff, Kathryn Barger; prosecutor Elan Carr; L.A. Councilman Mitch Englander; state Sen. Bob Huff; and Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian — all Republicans who have sought to establish themselves as champions of public safety and business-friendly initiatives.

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