A lot of folks are going to find it shocking that Gloria Negrete McLeod is retiring from the US House of Representatives to run for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. But it actually makes a lot of sense. The media neglects local government in general, and people in the northeast often neglect county government because it tends to be less important here compared to city government.
But in the south and the west, a lot of power is concentrated in the hands of county officials. And in southern California, in particular, counties tend to be enormous.
San Bernardino County, for example, has just over 2 million residents and just five supervisors. So a member of the County Board is representing over 400,000 people. A San Bernardino County supervisor can probably make a bigger difference in terms of policy outcomes than a backbench member of the House minority.
An even more extreme example arose two years ago when former Rep. Hilda Solis stepped down as Secretary of Labor to run for the LA County Board of Supervisors. LA County is a ridiculous juggernaut, with 9.8 million residents and five supervisors. That means Solis' district contains more people than Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, DC, Vermont, or Wyoming. And obviously nobody thinks it's odd when House members or cabinet secretaries run for governor.
One takeaway here is that people should take county government more seriously.
Another takeaway is that some of these enormous counties should probably be split up. County boundaries in the "greater southwest" ranging from Texas up to Southern California were generally drawn back when these were sparsely populated frontier areas. You could slice an Orange County or Riverside County in half with no problem. Or in a place like Maricopa County, Arizona you could turn the City of Phoenix into its own city-that's-also-a-county (like San Francisco or Baltimore) and then have one (or two!) suburban counties.
But major structural reform of local government is unlikely. So it's great to see federal officials recognize that taking a leadership role in big local governments is a step up rather than a step down.