(Photo: Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times)

There’s a lot of controversy surround outgoing CA Assembly Speaker Karen Bass’ decision to hand out pay raises to employees of the Speakers Office of Member Services (SOMS) before she handed over her duties to the incoming Speaker.

Look—I am as critical as they come when it comes to taxpayer dollars, elected officials, and California’s budget crisis.  As a former employee of office holders at the State level and someone who currently works with a variety of office holders–only now not at the expense of taxpayers–I can attest to the validity in handing out the raises to the SOMS employees.

First, let me just say that it is my opinion that Speaker Bass’ tenure as Speaker was unfairly plagued with controversy from day one.  Yes, it’s true that Speaker was the first Black female Speaker of the CA Assembly but she was always and has been much more than that.  I know for a fact that she went into this position with a list of policy initiatives that she was never able to fully see to completion because of California’s budget crisis–which basically consumed her entire time as Speaker.  Similar to President Barack Obama’s inheritance of the Bush Administration’s policies that eventually led to what I like to affectionately refer to as the Great Depression of 2009 and now 2010, like the President, Bass was blamed for problems that she were started long before she ever came to Sacramento.  I do believe that she tried her best to fix what in my opinion is simply not fixable.

With that said, the SOMS is responsible for more than people know.  To begin with, they are not the personal staff of Speaker Bass per se.  They are the staff of the current Speaker—hence the name Speaker’s Office of Member Services.  In addition, their duties extend to more than just the current Speaker, they work with all of the Members.  From providing communications support to human resources issues, managing Member’s websites, etc. they carry a huge workload.

Second, what is not being talked about in all of the hoopla around the raises is that most of the raises were given to women because right now the Assembly is very vulnerable to a lawsuit for gender discrimination.

The Speaker held off giving raises as long as she could.  If you recall, when she tried to give raises last year, she had to rescind them over the ensuing controversy.  There was no guarantee that after she left that the incoming Speaker would have taken into consideration the fact that these employees had gone with raises and the fact that the State was vulnerable to a gender discrimination lawsuit behind it.

Look—it’s not the staff’s fault.  We don’t lose our right to raises when we decide to work for office holders.  We’re still residents, voters, and taxpayers in the State of California.  Many staffers are raising families, have mortgages, and car notes to pay.  We don’t receive the same perks that our bosses oftentimes are on the receiving end of.

If it were up to me, to help balance the budget, I’d cut the pay of Members in both the Assembly and the Senate to $0 and just provide the stipend for the cost of living while handling business in Sacramento during session.  I’d keep this in place until California’s budget crisis was under control as an incentive for Members to balance California’s budget on time.

I don’t think there was ever year when I worked in the Assembly that the budget came in on time and as an employee of an office holder, our paychecks were held until the budget came in.  They don’t talk about that part in the news.  If you weren’t lucky enough to bank with a bank that would advance you your paycheck until the budget was passed, you were what we call shit out of luck.  I learned that lesson the hard way.  That’s when I switched from One United Bank to one of the larger banking institutions.

So you see, there’s more to the story than just Speaker Bass hands out raises.  In all of the time I’ve known her, I have never known her to just do something on a whim without giving it careful consideration.  Don’t you think she knew the press would have a field day with this story?  And given her recent announcement that she’s running California’s 33rd Congressional District, do you think she’d really do anything that might affect her opportunity to go to Washington?  So if she handed out the raises knowing the media storm to follow she must have felt very strongly about it.

What all of this says to me is that she’s a woman who keeps her word, who puts integrity over media scrutiny, and what’s right over what’s wrong.  From a staffer’s perspective, she’s someone I would want to work for because it’s clear that keeps her word.  As a voter and taxpayer, the same is true, she’s some I can honestly trust to do what’s right even in the face of extreme oftentimes biased less than truthful media reports.

For showing that rare integrity that’s not often seen enough from office holders at the State level, she’s gets a “now that’s what I’m talking about” followed by a “handle that” and a “you go girl!”