Los Angeles County Supervisors could be first all-female board

Aryn Plax
Politics Editor

State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell announced her campaign to run for the 2nd district seat of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. If she wins the March 2020 election, she will help form the first historic all-female county board of supervisors in California.

Mitchell said that if she were to win the seat, the phenomenon of an all-female county board would be a great subject of study for academics, political scientists, economists and social scientists.

“I’m putting forward and getting passed a number of ballot initiatives and now is the time to transition into how to operationalize many of these new programs,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said she acknowledges the historical impact of such a board, and in earning this seat is also a chance for her to confront issues like homelessness and criminal justice on a local level.

In the 2018-2019 legislative year alone, Mitchell put forward a number of bills addressing housing discrimination, racial discrimination in the workplace, racial disparities in maternal death rates and criminal justice.

Her most recent bill, SB-144, or the Families Over Fees Act, aims to drastically reduce the amount of court-ordered fees imposed on those arrested, prosecuted or convicted.

Mitchell is also a member of the Legislative Women’s Caucus and a commissioner on the California Commission on the Status of Women. The second district, currently represented by Mark Ridley-Thomas, encompasses cities like Compton, Carson, Inglewood and Culver City, as well as unincorporated areas that Mitchell said rely on the board as their “first line of defense.”

“County government is really the safety net,” Mitchell said of the unincorporated communities. “So the policy areas and the programs that I really spend all of my adult professional life working on all work in the realm of the county.”

In 2018, the homeless population in Los Angeles County numbered 52,765 people, with almost 75% of said homeless being unsheltered. In most of the zip codes covered under the 2nd district, a majority of their residents spent over 30% of their income on housing, according to an interactive map on NBC.

Mitchell said one of her primary goals as a potential supervisor is to address Los Angeles’ homelessness problem, which she said is best addressed by combating the issues that contribute to the problem. Such problems include rising rents coupled with stagnating wages, vulnerable women leaving situations of domestic violence and lack of access to mental health services. The latter was partly addressed by the Los Angeles County Board’s vote in February to replace the Men’s Central Jail with the Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility, a move that Mitchell praised.

Mitchell said that in her work as Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, she had to strike a balance between fiscal responsibility and moving forward social programs. This meant addressing a billion dollar cut to California’s budget made in 2008, which impacted programs for early childhood education and rehabilitation services.

“Sometimes when you cut programs, you save a dollar today, but you have to be aware of the longer term impacts that lack of investment will have,” Mitchell said.

“If we cut funding, and don’t fund great entry services, we have to be prepared for a higher recidivism rate. It’ll cost us on the back end when we have more people incarcerated.”

While Los Angeles County would see the first all-female county board, it would not be the first example of an all-female county level body of government in the United States.

Montgomery County, Ohio, saw its first all-female county board of commissioners after Democrat Carolyn Rice won 53% of the vote in November 2018. Bergen County, New Jersey, gained an all-female County Board of Chosen Freeholders this January.

However, research on women leaders at the county level is lacking, said Melissa Deckman, co-author of “Women and Politics: Paths to Power and Political Influence.”

In conducting her research for Chapter 6, “Women in Local Politics and Government,” Deckman said she primarily focused on city governments and school boards. She found that on the sort of policies men and women leaders will pursue on the local level, particularly, research that claims men fiscal responsibility and women prioritize social welfare, is outdated.

“If you have Republican women on a county council, they’re going to vote conservatively on those issues, whereas Democratic men will be more liberal on those issues,” said Deckman, chair of the political science department at Washington College

Julie Dolan, lead author of the book and professor of political science at Macalester, said that women political leaders like Mitchell are more likely to bring women’s issues like maternity death rates and domestic violence to the table because male leaders do not necessarily think of such issues as being in the realm of the legislature.

“The constituency are more comfortable talking to female legislators on city council or what-have-you about these issues, or women’s organizations feel more comfortable approaching them, because they have someone that’s willing to listen to them,” Dolan said.

As for the implications of all-female supervisors on leadership style, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, a commissioner on the California Commission on the Status of Women, said that women leaders tend to be more collaborative, and have the advantage of higher emotional intelligence.

“I think we would see, and are seeing now with a board that is predominantly women, a lot more focus on issues that I consider to be issues of human need,” Jackson said.

Aryn Plax can be reached at aryn.plax@laverne.edu.

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