Hilda Solis, who resigned Wednesday as the nation's first Hispanic labor secretary, plans to head back to her native California where, Los Angeles political experts say, she is set to hold one of the most powerful legislative positions in the country.
Solis, 55, is leaving the Obama administration after four years and returning to her native California as a first step to a potential bid for a position on the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles County. The Board, consisting of five members, four men and one female, are nicknamed the four kings and queen. The board is considered the most powerful county legislative body in the United States, representing nearly 10 million people – about five million of them Latino – and an economy that ranks 19th in the world.
"The position is a dream come true for almost any politician," said Jaime Regalado, a professor of political science at California State University in Los Angeles.
The five LA county supervisors each represent about 2 million people, and act as the legislative and executive branch of the county. The supervisors represent larger constituencies than governor's in 12 states. There are only three political positions with arguably more power in California: the L.A. mayor, U.S. Senator, and Governor.
"All of the other supervisors will let you do whatever you want in your district as long as you let them do whatever they want," said Fernando Guerra, professor and director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.
Solis, who served for eight years as a U.S. congresswoman and a California state Senator, is reportedly interested in running for the only vacated position representing the heavily Latino-dominated district of East Los Angeles. The seat on the board will open in 2014 when Gloria Molina is forced out by term limits.
"It’s all cooked, baked and ready to roll out," Guerra said of her expected win for the seat.
Solis is expected to win handily if and when she decides to run, Regalado said, thanks to the millions of dollars of campaign support Solis is expected to receive from organized labor groups. Her name recognition alone will "scare the hell" out of any serious competitors, he said.
Molina is a local Latina legend in Southern California after she became the first Latino ever elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1991. Molina's victory was of great importance to the nearly 5 million Latinos living in Los Angeles County because it brought on end to a historically all-Anglo board.
Molina is expected to support Solis if she were to announce her interest in the position.
"Solis’s rise to the Department of Labor to the Board of supervisors reflects the rise of Latino politics in the Untied States," said Roberto Lovato, a longtime friend of the outgoing Labor Secretary and a co-founder of Presente.org. "Trends that happen in LA will go across the country."
Solis has made her name through the organized labor movement. As Labor Secretary, she won praise from labor unions for aggressive enforcement of wage and hour laws and job safety regulations. But business groups have criticized her as not taking a more cooperative approach.
In 2000, Solis received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her pioneering work on environmental justice issues in California.
The late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., called her "a voice for the voiceless with a true passion for fairness and justice."
Solis was the first Latina elected to the California State Senate, where she led the battle to increase the state's minimum hourly wage from $4.25 to $5.75 in 1996.
She won her Congressional seat in 2000 after taking on a Democratic incumbent who had lost the support of organized labor. During eight years in Congress, Solis made protecting the environment and helping immigrants two of her top priorities.
While Solis' position on the board in many ways would be a political promotion for her, some say, allowing her to more directly impact Southern California's large Latino population, her departure from the administration creates an an absence of Latino representation at the highest levels of federal government.
"For California, it's a giant gain," Regalado said. "But nationally, it creates a huge void and there should be pressure for Obama to bring a Latino to another high profile position, to add someone with more than a Spanish surname."