On May 13, 2008, Assemblywoman Karen Bass was elected the 67th Speaker of the California State Assembly. Bass is the first African American woman in U.S. History to earn this prestigious position in any government branch and is the first black woman elected speaker in California.
Born on October 3, 1953 in Los Angeles, California to Dewitt and Wilhelmina Bass, Karen grew up in the Venice-Fairfax district. After graduating from Hamilton High School, Bass attended California State University, Dominguez Hills where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences. Bass then earned a Physician’s Assistant Certificate from the University of Southern California’s School of Medicine, where she later worked as a Physician’s Assistant, nurse, and instructor at the university’s medical center.
Bass’s daily encounters with disadvantaged patients prompted her to found the Community Coalition after the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. This non-profit organization is dedicated to improving the lives of South Los Angeles residents by eliminating liquor stores and low-rent motels from the neighborhoods, removing cigarette and alcohol billboards near public schools, and increasing the number of Laundromats and grocery stores available to residents.
Bass’s career in state politics began in 2005, when she won a seat in California’s State Assembly. As Representative of the Los Angeles 47th district, Bass’s constituency includes West Los Angeles, Westwood, Cheviot Hills, Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills, Culver City, Windsor Hills, Ladera Heights, the Crenshaw District, Little Ethiopia, as well as, parts of Korea Town and South L.A. Bass excelled in the Assembly, becoming Majority Whip during her first term and Majority Floor Leader during her second. Although Bass experienced tragedy in 2006 when her only biological child, Emilia Bass-Lechuga, died in a car accident, she remained a power house in the Assembly.
As house speaker, Bass has proposed legislation dedicated to solving California’s budget and mortgage crises. In June of 2008, Bass traveled to Washington, D.C., where she sought advice from national leaders on strategies to address California’s budget crisis. Locally, she has allocated over $600 million to reform the Los Angeles Unified School District, $82 million to improve the state’s Foster Care System, and spearheaded legislation that guarantees children Healthy Families Insurance Coverage. Moreover, as vice-chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, Bass helped craft the State of Black California Report, which examined the social and economic conditions of African American communities throughout California for the purpose of influencing legislative proposals. In addition, Bass serves on the Legislative Women’s Caucus, Committee on Health, Committee on Utilities and Commerce, and Select Committee on the Prevention of Youth Violence, among a host of others.
Karen Bass currently resides in Los Angeles. She is divorced, but has four step children. Bass’s term as speaker ends in 2010.
Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass-California State Assembly Democratic Caucus,
“Biography,” http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/A47/biography.htm (Accessed September 5, 2008); Karen Bass Speaker of the Assembly, http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/speaker/default.aspx (Accessed September 11, 2008); Nancy Vogel, “Assembly Speaker Sworn In; L.A. Democrat Karen Bass, The First Black Woman To Hold The Post, Says She'll Focus On The budget Crisis,” Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2008, pg. B3; Jim Sanders and Shane Goldmacher, “L.A.’s Bass to Become New Assembly Leader,” Sacramento Bee, February 28, 2008.
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