By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Bass's and Villines' reversal didn't mollify voters. Recession-hammered residents rejected every tax measure, approving instead a law to punish legislators and statewide officers like the governor by freezing their salaries until the budget is out of the red. (It's still in the red.)
Heller calls the 2008 raises and the outgoing raises to Bass's staff in February a mark of her "shift ... to the status quo.
"Part of public service is an acute awareness of what the public is enduring," he continues.
Bass possessed that awareness when she was a community activist fighting the plague of liquor stores in South Central Los Angeles and helping kids from low-income families get into college.
But, as Heller notes, "When you're firing people around the state and cutting off benefits, it's just bad judgment to give pay raises to people who work closely with you. It only serves to reaffirm the public's frustration with Sacramento."
Bass referred the Weekly's request for an interview to spokeswoman Shannon Murphy. Bass was unavailable: She'd been invited to Chicago by Jesse Jackson to speak on mortgage reform and then was set to be in "back-to-back" meetings.
Murphy insists Bass has remained "down-to-earth," having lived in the same neighborhood for 40 years and fighting in Sacramento to protect safety nets for the poor.
And her entourage, Murphy says, is really a security detail Bass uses because, she says, she was physically threatened after claiming that some Republicans faced recall for siding with her on tax increases.
Bass was honored in May with the prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her work on the state budget crisis. But she took almost as much criticism as praise for that award.
Mark Ruhl, a professor of political science at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, who studies corruption, says, "The No. 1 story is the big deficit, and [California's] is catastrophic. In that context, people become so upset that these politicians can't behave, even when everyone is subject to extreme austerity."
But Bass has little to fear from voters in her gerrymandered district. In California, the gridlocked Democratic and Republican legislators work closely on one thing: divvying up the state into "safe" voting districts that one party or the other controls. In November, Bass will enjoy a huge win in her gerrymandered district, and head to Congress.
Heller sees the story arc for Bass and others like her as just "another chipping away at the public trust in government, and I think that's of serious concern.
"It's all the tiny abuses that have worn down the public," he says. "The money Karen Bass took for per diem can't be identified in the state budget. But that doesn't matter. You don't have to have your neck chopped off to die from loss of blood. A lot of little cuts can do that. Individually it may be minuscule, but collectively, it renders government untrustworthy."
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