Photos by Keeley Smith.
It was time for cheers and tears as a loving audience wished Supervisor Don Knabe well at his last State of the County address.
“Mark Twain said that the two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you found out why,” said Knabe. “[…] I’ve been so blessed. Thank you for giving me the why.”
The Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center was packed full of approximately 1,200 guests Wednesday afternoon, all on hand to support Knabe in one of his last official events before he retires. It was a historic occasion; Knabe has served as the 4th District County Supervisor for 20 years now.
“[Former Speaker of the House] Tip O’Neill always said the difference between men and boys in politics is that men get involved to do something, while boys get involved to be something,” said Keynote Speaker Deane Leavenworth, the vice president of government affairs at Charter Communications. “Don Knabe is a man.”
Breaking from tradition, the event featured a video that depicted a tie-dye-clad Knabe reflecting upon potential retirement plans, mulling over options such as living like a lifeguard for a day. The well-received tape was followed by a Q&A session with Charter Local Edition host Brad Pomerance.
Posted by Long Beach Post on Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Pomerance kicked things off by alluding to the presence of both Steve Napolitano and Janice Hahn, who are running against each other for the 4th District seat.
“What advice do you have for them?” Pomerance asked.
“That they like chicken,” said Knabe, a nod to the many speeches and appearances he’s made at constituent-hosted chicken dinners. But he underscored the underlying purpose of serving the public, stating that the job of a supervisor is “a lot more” than the various events he attends.
Knabe said his goal when he entered office was to be accessible to constituents; he wanted to make sure anyone who needed him knew how to reach his office, he said.
He was first elected to the position of county supervisor in 1996 and was re-elected in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. He represents the fourth district, which spans 27 cities, including Long Beach, and 16 unincorporated areas.
In his speech last year, Knabe said he wanted to be most remembered for two specific legacies during his time as supervisor: working to stop child sex trafficking and Safe Surrender, a program that provides a home for babies surrendered at public places, such as hospitals and fire department stations.
Most of this year’s address focused on philosophical thoughts, ranging from partisanship to the role the media plays in politics.
When discussing his feelings regarding the non-partisan nature of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Knabe said he felt strongly the organizational body was most effective because it didn’t “have to worry about a presidential veto” or nationwide caucus when making decisions.
“They’re nothing better than a no-label government,” said Knabe. “We don’t go into meetings with an ‘R’ or ‘D’ focus.”
He emphasized the role of compromise in politics, especially within today’s society.
When Pomerance asked if Knabe believed the Board of Supervisors should be bigger, given the sheer number of people the county serves (88 cities and the second-largest health care system in the country), Knabe laughed.
“The only time I’ll ever advocate for a bigger government,” he said, was if the county appointed a mayor or executive-type leader to the board. He compared the following mayors get in certain cities, lamenting the fact that the rules the county institutes “touch your lives every day.”
He compared the consistent attendance of the media at mayoral press conferences, compared to the Board of Supervisor’s press conferences.
“Sometimes you show up, sometimes you don’t,” he said. “[But] we are where the rubber meets the road… we are the ultimate safety net.”
Knabe and Pomerance later dove into discussing propositions, items that Knabe said he believed often “mislead” residents with confusing wording, advocating for a “citizen voice” in politics while also taking into account “truth.”
At the close of the Q&A, Knabe lamented the polluting of the word “career politician” into something demeaning and negative, saying he was proud of his public service.
“Respect is at an all-time low,” he said, describing name-calling among politicians, but also among friends on social media during a tumultuous election cycle. “We have to have the willingness to say that’s not how we do things here.”
With his final remarks Knabe reflected upon his 20 years of service, stating as a 12-year-old he never would have thought he’d be a politician.
“You have no idea where life will lead you,” said Knabe. “As you go down the highway of life—like the off ramps on the freeway in California, don’t be afraid to get off at the offramp and see the opportunities that await you.”