“Note the problem of having large, non-citizen populations,” says Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney. “In the short run, politicians actually benefit from [such situations], since smaller electorates make it easier and cheaper to hold on to power.” He says that because immigrant populations are very busy working, they often don’t pay attention to City Hall, which means they can be easily exploited.
“As local newspapers close their doors or cut back their staffs, these scandals will happen more often,” Mr. Pitney says.
Bell serves as the prime example to date of the kind of public discontent that is fueling the "tea party" movement and, if watched carefully, could provide productive answers for their issues, observers say.
“People look at this and figure, ‘if these guys in this itty bitty town are doing this, then what are much smarter guys doing in much bigger places?' ” says Frank Gilliam, dean of the UCLA School of Public Affairs.
For weeks local TV has showcased angry meetings of citizens yelling at Bell city officials, demanding to know more about their salaries and how the people had been betrayed. One positive outcome, say analysts, has been new state legislation to make it easier for residents to learn the salaries of public officials.
In addition to boosting awareness of government overreach, the Bell scandal may have provided election fodder for Brown, who is in a dead heat in the race for governor with weeks to go.
“What Jerry Brown is doing in Bell is standard operating procedure for him,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. He's using the scandal "to promote himself but also to solve an important governmental problem.”