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Yes to the incumbents

ENDORSEMENTS 2008: We back -- reluctantly -- two supervisors and the district attorney.

April 28, 2008

Los Angeles County elections generally bring few surprises, few choices and few opportunities, and with one exception, this year's race is no different. Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke's impending retirement created that rarest of phenomena, an open seat on the Board of Supervisors, and later this spring this page will endorse in the race to succeed her. But the elections in which we endorse today -- 4th and 5th District supervisor and district attorney -- feature multi-term incumbents Don Knabe, Michael D. Antonovich and Steve Cooley cruising to reelection with only token opposition. Their portion of the June 3 ballot exemplifies a moribund political culture born of districts too large, a government too closed and detached, and incumbents too powerful to draw challengers who could spark debate or even discussion. Elections of this sort become dismal affairs, undermining the democratic process.

We mused about endorsing a challenger or two just to send a message. We considered sitting these races out. After all, The Times endorses selectively and could easily let an election pass without weighing in, especially if we otherwise would end up simply endorsing the incumbents who exasperate us so much.

But we put ourselves in the shoes of the voters, having before us the same choices the voters have before them. We reject the choice not to vote, seeing it as a cop-out that does more to perpetuate the status quo than backing incumbents does. And we reject the idea of the protest endorsement, holding the act of voting important enough that we endorse only candidates we're ready to see serving in office, whether or not they have a realistic shot at getting elected.

We'd like nothing better than to enthusiastically back a slate of upstart newcomers to bring new life and a new perspective to the Hall of Administration on Temple Street. And while our standards are high, they're sufficiently flexible to permit us to back a candidate with more potential than experience. In that spirit, we carefully examined the challengers, hoping we could support at least one of them.

We can't. We endorse Knabe, Antonovich and Cooley for reelection.

We salute physician Jay Shah for running a second time against Knabe, but he doesn't demonstrate a sufficient grasp of county issues to merit backing. Student and activist Marylou Cabral likewise deserves thanks for putting herself forward as a candidate and trying to spur a debate, and voters might be willing to look past her lack of experience. But Cabral isn't a serious candidate for this office. She is running to carry the banner of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and its agenda of revolutionary Marxism. Thanks, but no thanks.

The same thing goes for Antonovich's sole opponent, warehouse worker and PSL member Stephen Mark Hinze. Hinze's description of the county's ills and his prescription for a cure are both far off base. But at least Cabral's and Hinze's party is running candidates. That's more than we can say for the Democrats, who aren't bothering to engage Republicans Knabe and Antonovich in discussion in this nonpartisan race.

Are Knabe and Antonovich inept? No. Knabe has worked in local government much of his adult life and was elected to his current post in 1996 -- making him, believe it or not, the new kid on the Board of Supervisors. But even before his election, he was running his district as the chief of staff to his predecessor. We're ready for a change, but among Knabe, Shah and Cabral, we go with Knabe.

Same with Antonovich. We are concerned about the rampant development in his district, but we acknowledge that he is a champion of the county's mental health programs and children in foster care. He is the mayor and city councilman to constituents in the unincorporated areas of his district and often excels in that role.

As for Dist. Atty. Cooley, it is noteworthy that he criticized predecessor Gil Garcetti in 2000 for seeking a third term and promised that he would serve only two. This year, he is seeking his third.

It's not the first time a politician has broken a promise, but we recall his rationale -- the office benefits from "fresh eyes" on old problems. It held true then, and it holds true today. Under Cooley, the district attorney's office has done a competent job of handling felony prosecutions, and Cooley deserves credit for his principled stand on third strikes -- agreeing to prosecute them as strikes only when they are violent felonies. But if he stepped down now, as he had promised, other lawyers would be stepping up as candidates to reinvigorate the office.

We're especially concerned about Cooley's stated plan to stick around until he has groomed and selected a successor. That's a power that belongs to voters, not to him.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Ipsen leads the prosecutors' union and details how Cooley's tenure has proved unpopular for the 1,000 lawyers in the office. He may prove a popular leader for the rank and file, but Ipsen lacks the judgment needed to steer the office, as exemplified by his irresponsible campaign to unseat two judges in 2004. Candidate Albert Robles appears to be running to get back at Cooley, whose office filed campaign charges against him.

We're ready to thank Cooley for his eight years of service and wish him well in his future endeavors, but among Ipsen, Robles and Cooley for the next four years, we go with Cooley.

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