The Democratic leader of the California State Assembly is accusing conservative talk radio hosts of making "terrorist" threats against her Republican colleagues by encouraging their listeners to throw them out of office.
California has been mired in debate for months over how to close a $24 billion gap in the state budget. And when three Republican legislators voted for a Democratic-sponsored plan to boost taxes to raise revenue, they set off an attack from the talk show hosts.
Now at least one of those three Republicans is facing a recall election, with the others under threat, and the Democratic leader is speaking out forcefully in their defense.
"The Republicans were essentially threatened and terrorized against voting for revenue," Assembly Speaker Karen Bass told the Los Angeles Times over the weekend.
"Now [some] are facing recalls. They operate under a terrorist threat: 'You vote for revenue, and your career is over.'
"I don't know why we allow that kind of terrorism to exist. I guess it's about free speech, but it's extremely unfair."
Not so, say the conservative pundits, who say the solution to California's money woes is to make deep cuts in existing programs, not to raise taxes.
"The liberal desperation is overwhelming," said Roger Hedgecock, the host of a nationally syndicated talk radio show in San Diego. "The hole they've dug for themselves is so deep they can't get out, so they're lashing out at anyone they can think of.
"It's embarrassing," he said of Bass's published remarks. "I feel sorry for her."
Bass was not immediately available for comment.
But her blunt words, in particular the use of the word "terrorist" to describe talk radio hosts, has angered conservatives.
"They accuse them of engaging in hate speech," said Christopher Hajec, associate council with the Center for Individual Rights, a law firm in Washington D.C. "It would be more appropriate to give a reasoned response to their critics."
At the center of the controversy is "The John and Ken Show," broadcast by KFI Radio in Los Angeles, the hosts of which urged their listeners to throw the dissenting Republicans out of office.
"You can pretty much chalk it up to John and Ken," said Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the California Republican Party.
A producer at KFI said the show's hosts, John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, were on vacation and not available for comment.
Hedgecock said attributing the recall elections to talk radio alone overstates their role.
"I'm sure they played a part, but talk radio's just fanning the flames that already exist," he said. "It's one of the few places where common-sense Americans can have their views represented."
Since conservative talk radio rose to prominence in the early 1990s, criticism of hosts' pointed views on everything from taxes to gun control have earned the stations that broadcast them consistent criticism, said Al Peterson, president of TNS Media Online, which follows the California radio industry.
"It's an argument that's been made by many, many people before. But to argue talk radio can change an election or influence policy is a little bit of a hollow argument," he said. "There are more conservative talk shows on radio than there are liberal, but talk radio is just one small part of the overall media picture."