From Kleptocracy to Democracy

How Citizens Can Take Back Local Government (First Edition)
Fred Smoller
©2019, 274 pages

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    From Kleptocracy to Democracy: How Citizens Can Take Back Local Government provides students with a critical examination of the large-scale political corruption that looted Bell, California between 1993 and 2010. For 17 years, some city officials paid themselves more than a million dollars a year, using the police department as a “for profit” vehicle for collecting fines, and issuing over $100 million in bonds. They turned the city into their own private cash machine. Residents of the poor, immigrant community are still struggling to repay the city’s exorbitant debt.

    The book draws on interviews with more than 50 people connected to the Bell scandal to provide a compelling, in-depth look at how waves of factory closings, economic shifts, and immigration pressures gutted the structures that are essential to civic health, opening the way for grifting politicians. The book analyzes the seemingly minor breakdowns in civic life that invite corruption, and offers students and interested citizens tools for analyzing the health of their own communities. Apathy killed democracy in Bell for almost two decades, but the press—and the dogged political activism of young Latinos and Muslims in the Dreamers generation— brought it back. The book makes a clear connection between civil complacency and the resulting damage to American democracy. It demonstrates how citizens can actively resist political corruption by remaining involved and informed in local government.

    From Kleptocracy to Democracy inspires informed citizenship. It is an excellent supplementary resource for courses in local government, public administration, sociology, Chicano studies, urban politics, law and society, and ethics studies.

    Fred Smoller, a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register, earned his Ph.D. from Indiana University, Bloomington, his M.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, and his B.A. from State University New York, College of Fredonia. He is an associate professor of political science at Chapman University in Orange, California, where he teaches courses on public administration and state and local politics. His key area of professional interest is American politics, with a specific emphasis on media and politics, local government, and public administration.
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    “BASTA's success was possible because Latino and Lebanese immigrants joined forces to take their city back and end decades of corruption. Together they ensured Rizzo and others were convicted, tax dollars were returned, and sunshine and transparency became the norm. BASTA shows that the narrative that immigrants or people of color from working class communities don't care or aren't smart enough to run their own government or are bad for our democracy is completely false. Fred Smoller's Kleptocracy to Democracy well-captures this important story.”
    Cristina Garcia
    BASTA co-founder
    Member of the California State Assembly District 58

    “This is a fascinating chronicle of government gone wrong and how it was set right. Very well written and engaging for all kinds of readers. More important, it shows how ordinary citizens (including students) can reestablish democracy in their local government.”
    Earl Babbie, Chapman University
    Campbell Professor Emeritus in Behavioral Sciences
    6th President of California Sociological Association
    75th President of Pacific Sociological Association

    “If you now pay little attention to your local government, you should read this book. Fred Smoller will convince you not to make that mistake again!”
    Bruce Buchanan
    Professor of Government, Emeritus
    University of Texas at Austin

    “Fred Smoller’s recounting of a shocking breach of public trust by city officials in Bell, California, is a true public service. No matter where you live, you should read about what this group of ‘public servants’ did to a small, working-class city. It came about, Smoller explained, because few people paid attention to their government. It’s a warning for us all. But you should also read it for its uplifting message. A group of young and diverse Bell residents, through tireless activism and discovery of civic virtue, have since turned the city into a model of open government. Smoller’s book retells the story in a compelling and thorough way.”
    Steven Greenhut, Western Region Director of the R Street Institute and Columnist
    Read the review of From Kleptocracy to Democracy: How Citizens Can Take Back Local Government in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

    Listen to author Fred Smoller talk about From Kleptocracy to Democracy: How Citizens Can Take Back Local Government on the Voice of OC podcast.