Karen Bass, Michael Villines, David Cogdill and Darrell Steinberg will be honored this week with the annual award named after President Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, which profiled eight U.S. senators who worked across party lines on unpopular issues.
The four state legislators drafted a plan with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in February 2009 to close California's $42 budget deficit. The plan, with its tax hikes and spending cuts, was widely unpopular and was defeated by voters in May 2009. But Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president, said the four recipients set an example of how bipartisanship can be achieved in an polar political time.
"It's an example for legislators across the country and also for Americans that we really need to solve the problems that our country faces," Kennedy, who will present the awards, told "Good Morning America's" George Stephanopoulos today.
"Unless we begin to work together and reach across party lines, everyone has to give something. ... We felt that their process, their effort, as difficult as it was, set a great example and was really inspiring in these times when people are worried about partisanship."
Republican Villines, the California state assemblyman who lost his position as GOP leader because of the budget plan, said "it was an important thing to do" and that people were not aware of how dire the situation was.
"We decided we would do the best," Villines said. "It wasn't the easiest thing but it was the right thing to do."
Villines, who was elected in 2004, said state legislators have to cross party lines if they want to fix California's budget crisis.
"Where we need to go now is come together and realize that by coming together we can solve these problems," he added. "Live within our means and have our legislature work for the people. Where we need to go is get our fiscal house in order so the great state of California can shine more."
Many of Villines' Republican colleagues paid a tough price in losing their seats and even receiving death threats. Bass, California state assemblywoman and former Democratic speaker of the assembly, said the proposal failed because people were intentionally misled and because there was a lot of misinformation about the plan.
"I do think ... that there should be a responsibility and that people should understand we were in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and I think that's where the radio shows could've been more helpful," Bass said on "GMA." "We faced a very difficult challenge."
Foreign and Domestic Winners
The award has been bestowed to both international and domestic leaders, including former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.
The awards will be presented Saturday at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. Caroline Kennedy said her uncle, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who won the award last year and died in August, epitomized bipartisanship.
"He was really the spirit behind this award," Kennedy said. "I think he recognized that there are times where you have to fight for what you believe in ... and other times the courageous thing to do is reach out. ... I feel he is looking down on this."