From L.A. To D.C. And Back Again: A Political Journey
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis’s journey is a remarkable one and, as a 2011 profile in the Los Angeles Times pointed out, a far cry from the path a high school counselor suggested: skip college and become a secretary.
Ignoring the counselor’s advice, Solis earned not one but two college degrees, including a master’s in public administration from the University of Southern California. She then defined a “secretarial” career in her own way by becoming the first Latina to serve in a U.S. Cabinet as President Barack Obama’s secretary of Labor.
The Cabinet appointment is but one highlight in a more than 30-year career in elected office. Starting with a successful campaign for a community college trustee seat, Solis won elections that moved her to Sacramento, where she served in the California Assembly and later became the first Latina elected to the California State Senate. That was followed by eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives where she focused on labor, immigration and the environment, according to an announcement by her alma mater, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, regarding her 2013 appointment as a scholar in residence.
In 2014, nearly two years after returning to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., Solis became only the second Latino supervisor elected since the 1860s and one of two Latinas who have represented the heavily Latino First District since its formation, following a 1990 landmark voting rights case. One-fifth of the county’s 10 million residents live in the district, which includes 24 cities, 26 unincorporated areas and 16 areas of the City of Los Angeles.
Running a City-State
As one of five supervisors, Solis helps manage a $30 billion budget that funds a staggering range of vital services, including public health and safety, hospitals, transportation and social services for the disadvantaged. Having grown up in the First District community of La Puente, 30 miles east of her downtown Los Angeles office, she knows first-hand the challenges—homelessness, economic development and transportation among them—of serving one of the country’s largest and most diverse counties.
“In today’s political climate, government leaders need to advocate for our most vulnerable communities…and more minority and women leaders step up to the plate for fair representation,” said Solis, one of four women comprising the county’s first women supermajority on the five-member board. “The policies I move forward directly affect the communities I visit on a day-to-day basis. Instead of working to change laws and move legislation at the federal level, I now get to fund community projects, improve the quality of life and ensure public safety in my communities.”
All Politics are Local
Nowhere is that grassroots focus proving more critical than in protecting the 3.5 million immigrants living in the county. Since President Donald Trump’s election, Solis has introduced 11 immigrant-protection motions and helped establish an Immigrant Protection and Advancement Taskforce and Office of Immigrant Affairs, as well as a Countywide Sensitive Locations Policy to protect immigrants attending school or seeking medical attention.
Despite the public criticism that some of those measures have drawn, immigration remains one of several issues where Solis has followed a progressive philosophy instilled by her parents, Nicaraguan and Mexican immigrants who were active in workers’ rights and the union labor movement.
“Whether it’s immigration or healthcare, everyone has an opinion. And, yes, political tensions are high, but that doesn’t mean that our communities should suffer,” she said. “I continue to advocate for health care, legal defense for immigrants and basic women’s services. At the end of the day, I’m focused on creating positive spaces and increasing the quality of life for everyone. That means keeping all residents safe with resources available to them, regardless of their immigration status.”
Working with fellow Democrats forming the board’s liberal majority, Solis has helped launch several initiatives that are addressing critical county issues, including minimum wage standards; housing and support services for the homeless; disadvantaged women and girls; affordable housing; small business development; and the environment. She sponsored a ballot measure that provides $94 million annually for public parks and successfully lobbied the state to earmark $176 million to clean up thousands of lead-contaminated homes in southeast Los Angeles County.
Women and Politics
With women remaining vastly underrepresented in local government throughout California, political representation remains a key concern for Solis.
“Research and the community’s experience tell us that education is the path to opportunity. To get more women in public office, we need to do more to not only get girls into college but through college,” she said. “This means providing specialized support for first-generation students and making scholarships and financial aid available. It also means offering internships and other early work opportunities that enable women and girls to see how they can make a difference.”
“Women, especially women of color, have the power to influence policy. We need more people in government like that.”
Former Labor Secretary to Serve as Scholar-In-Residence. Retrieved from http://polycentric.cpp.edu/2013/12/former-labor-secretary-to-serve-as-scholar-in-residence/#.WRx9SMm1uu5
County of Los Angeles, Chief Executive Office. (2017), 2017-2018 Los Angeles County Budget: Moving Forward with Optimism in Uncertain Times [Press Release] Retrieved from http://ceo.lacounty.gov/pdf/budget/20117-18/Press%20Release%20-2017-2018.pdf
Smith, Dakota. “A $10-million fund will help immigrants fight deportations. But should it help those with violent criminal convictions?” Los Angeles Times, April 17, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-la-justice-fund-20170417-story.html
Sewell, Abby. “This year’s election could usher in liberal ‘supermajority’ on L.A. County supervisors board” Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/local/countygovernment/la-me-county-races-20160403-story.html
The Times Editorial Board. “Endorsement: Despite her shortcomings, Janice Hahn has the best grasp of the county supervisors’ role.” Los Angeles Times. May 11, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/endorsements/la-ed-end-0511-4th-supervisor-20160511-story.html