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The L.A. County supervisors: The Five Little Queens

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
Clockwise from left, Los Angeles County supervisors Hilda L. Solis, Kathryn Barger, Holly J. Mitchell, Lindsey P. Horvath and Janice Hahn, photographed at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 10.

On any given Tuesday, the five women who run L.A. County are moving millions.

Take the last Tuesday of July 2023. The five county supervisors debated spending $50 million on tenant protections. They put $4 million toward initiatives to advance racial equity. Then they voted to make phone calls free in all county jails — even if they didn’t know exactly how much that would cost. Maybe $12 million. Maybe double that. It didn’t matter.

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“The numbers are all over the place ... but the point is we want to do this. This is, I believe, the will of the board,” Supervisor Janice Hahn, 72, told the staff that stands at the politicians’ beck and call each meeting. “We want you to find that money. “

It was a Tuesday meeting like any other — massive sums of money moving around, without the public paying much attention at all.

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In the minds of most Angelenos, L.A. County government occupies a political relevance somewhere below their school board and above their sanitation district. Ask your average county resident to name their supervisor — or any county supervisor — and they will, almost certainly, come up short.

Their names are Hilda L. Solis, 66; Holly J. Mitchell, 59; Lindsey P. Horvath, 42; Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger, 64. They are, arguably, the most powerful, least-recognized politicians in Los Angeles.

Dubbed the Five Little Queens, the supervisors hold the reins of a kingdom astounding in its scope by any metric. They represent more people than all but 10 U.S. governors. This year, they will spend roughly as much money as the states of Rhode Island, Delaware and Kansas combined. They employ almost as many workers as the city of Berkeley has residents.

‘If you have a good idea, you only need two other people who agree with you and it becomes law.’

— L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn

It’s why so many politicians in more prestigious positions — state legislators, U.S. representatives and senators — would actually very much like to be county supervisors: You can move fast.

“If you have a good idea, you only need two other people who agree with you and it becomes law,” said Hahn, who in 2016 resigned as a congresswoman for California’s 44th Congressional District to run for county supervisor. In the minority in Congress, Hahn said the pinnacle of her five-year tenure in Washington was naming a North Long Beach post office after former California Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald.

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And yet, the power the five women wield has always been oddly invisible to their constituents.

The day-to-day issues they tackle are not glamorous. It is, as former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky puts it, a “poor people’s government” — meant to catch people with no health insurance or no home, no parents or no money.

When the five supervisors use their power wisely to strengthen the safety net — bolstering medical care for the indigent, spearheading a guaranteed income program, expanding street outreach teams — the region’s better for it. And when they fail — as they have for years with the deadly Men’s Central Jail and deteriorating juvenile halls — the county’s most vulnerable people suffer. What happens is up to these five women.

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