Karen Bass, to be Elected Speaker of the California Assembly Today

by Frank Russo, California Progress Report

First Black Woman to Lead Assembly at End of This Year’s Session

Assembly Democrats are scheduled to go into a private caucus meeting
around 9:30 a.m., shortly after the Assembly convenes and elect Karen
Bass, a two term legislator from Los Angeles to assume the Speakership
at the end of this year’s legislative session in August. There will be
a press conference announcing the action of the majority Democrats-as
Bass has letters of support from at least 25 of its 48 members and beat
out 10 other competitors for the job.

She won the support of her fellow lawmakers by talking to them one on
one, sometimes spending hours with them. She did not wage a public
campaign. I tried to draw her out and this is all she would say:
"Selecting the next Speaker for the State Assembly is an internal
process and should not be played out in the media. What’s important is
to maintain the stability and harmony of the institution especially in
the midst of the fiscal crisis."

Methodically, in the same manner as she has handled legislation as
Majority Leader, Bass thus becomes the second most powerful elected
leader in California government-overshadowed only by the Governor of
the state.

Shortly after the February 5 election defeat of Proposition 93, which
would have reformed term limits, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez had
announced the date for election of a new Speaker would be March 5.
However, Bass, the Assembly Democratic Majority Leader, secured her
votes early and will be named today.

She becomes only the second woman to hold the position. Doris Allen, a
Republican, held the Speakership for a brief period in 1995 during the
interregnum of Speaker Willie Brown’s longest ever stint in that

Bass has a solid record of supporting progressive causes and getting
legislation signed into law by Republican Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger. He has signed 17 of her bills into law. If any one
issue of hers has to be singled out, it would be her commitment to the
cause of foster children.

She has solid ratings of 100% from environmental groups such as the
California League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club California. She also has a 100% voting record from the Consumer Federation of California,
an 87% rating from the California Public Interest Group (CalPIRG) near
the top ratings issued by that group concerned about governmental
ethics and curbing corporate abuse. Among the legislation CalPIRG
looked at were bills to reform California’s health insurance system (AB
8, SB 840), reduce risks for patients taking prescription drugs (SB
606, SB 472), and provide new consumer protections in the marketplace
(AB 1673, SB 250). Additionally, CALPIRG scored two budget trailer
bills, one which significantly cut public transit funding (SB 79) and
another that, if passed, would have enacted new corporate tax breaks
(SB 98). She also has a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood on choice

Just to mention of few of her solid progressive votes, Bass has
supported campaign finance reform in the California Clean Money bill,
AB 583 by Assemblymember Loni Hancock; Fiona Ma’s legislation to ban
toxic phthalates in children’s products; Sally Lieber’s bill to ban
diacetyl, a toxic substance causing popcorn lung in movie theater
employees; same sex marriage; an interstate compact to reform the
Electoral College; flood liability reform; and AB 1554 by Dave Jones to
regulate health insurance premiums and require that prior approval be
obtained before these rates can be increased. She appeared with Senator
Sheila Kuehl when SB 840, her single payer health bill, was
reintroduced at the start of the current session.

She was a strong voice on the Assembly Floor in support of a measure to
place an advisory measure on the February Presidential Primary ballot,
a bill vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. In her ringing speech, she

"I believe this is a historic day."

"I rise in support of this bill in the hope that when the President
sees what I believe will be the will of the people of the state and as
other states across the country follow suit that he will begin to
listen to the American people. I support our young men and women who
are fighting this war and I believe the best way to demonstrate our
support and I believe the best way to demonstrate our support is to
bring them home immediately."

She then spoke of the effects of the war on soldiers and Californians
in particular, and mentioned the many times the Assembly Chamber has
adjourned in the memory of California troops who have been killed in

"Often we talk about the lives lost. We regularly adjourn in memory for
soldiers who died in our districts. But not has been said about the
lives that have been permanently altered due to injuries suffered. I
want to remind us of the hundreds of young men and women who have lost
arms and legs. The hundreds of young men and women who have suffered
traumatic brain injury. The thousands are suffering from post-traumatic
stress syndrome. A study published in the archives of Internal Medicine
reports that about one-third of the 103,000 veterans returning from the
Iraq War seen at the Veteran’s Hospital are seen with mental illness.
One in four returning soldiers have health problems, both physical and

A lifeling commitment to community service and social justice

Bass has a lifelong history of community service. She has said: "My
life has been defined by the fight for social justice." Among her many
awards are the Rosa Parks Award from the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference (the group that Dr. Martin Luther King founded) and the
Upton Sinclair Award from the Liberty Hill Foundation.

A product of the Los Angeles schools, she has a Physician Assistant
Certification from the University of Southern California School of
Medicine and a BS in Health Services from California State University,
Dominguez Hills.

It was while working in the emergency room at L.A. County USC Hospital,
that she was witness to the ravages that crack cocaine had brought to
the young men, women and children of the inner city and founded the
Community Coalition for Substance Abuse, Prevention and Treatment in
South Central Los Angeles, one of the first organizations in the
country to deal with the emergence of the crack cocaine epidemic. The
organization which has involved more than 2,000 members, has worked in
five projects focused on public policy response to drug abuse issues.
Bass is also an instructor at the USC School of Medicine’s physician
assistant program.

After the 1992 civil unrest in Los Angeles, Bass and the coalition
prevented the rebuilding of over 150 liquor stores. Her work continued
with local business owners in converting over 40 former liquor stores
into viable, productive businesses

Bass wrote a paper, "Community Organizing/Mobilizing as a Method of
Addressing Alcohol Problems," where she discusses problems faced in low
income areas such as South Central Los Angeles. In it, she says:
"…affluent resort areas might have seasonal problems when tourists
congregate and drink in large crowds and fighting and violence erupts.
Poor white and ethnic minority inner city areas have problems resulting
from an overconcentration of liquor stores and bars. The people
affected by problems in resort communities are likely to be business
owners or middle class homeowners with access to and experience in
approaching local officials with problems. The people concerned about
problems in less affluent areas are likely to be homeowners and renters
without access to officials and unaccustomed to the operations of local

She served as the Executive Director of the coalition, and also has
taught as a Clinical Instructor at the University of Southern
California School of Medicine and as an Adjunct Instructor at
California State University, Dominguez Hills, She served as Project
Director for the Health Careers Opportunity Program from 1986-1990, and
has worked as a Physician Assistant at Los Angeles County USC Hospital.

Unlike most of her fellow state Democratic legislators, Bass has been a
strong supporter of Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama. In
this regard, she joins Darrell Steinberg, who will be her counterpart
at the end of this session as President pro Tem of the California State

Here is what Bass has had to say about some of the important issues facing California:


Supporting public education is my first priority, therefore I will not
support (and have actively fought against) school vouchers or any other
attempt to subsidize private schools with public money. My priority for
education is to lessen the achievement gap, and see that students from
every district get the best education possible. Education should be the
top budget priority in good times and bad.


I believe that Universal Healthcare is in the best interest of all
people. Until that becomes a reality, I will work to support any
quality legislation that improves access to healthcare for
Californians. I support the expansion of Healthy Families to include
all family members. No child in California should be without


I have worked hard to ensure social and economic justice for women. I
am Pro Choice and believe that all reproductive choices are between a
woman and whomever she decides to consult, such as her family,
physician or clergy. I support efforts to assist working women and
their children and have fought to increase funding for child care
programs, such as Head Start. I support domestic violence prevention
programs, and tougher laws to protect victims.


I support gun control, particularly the bans on Saturday Night Specials
and assault weapons, mandatory background checks, and waiting periods.
I support efforts to require additional safety features on handguns,
including child safety locks, requiring safe and proper storage of
handguns, and registration of all firearms. I support increasing
enforcement of current gun controls and increasing regulation of gun


If we do not protect and enhance our environment and quality of life
that makes California a unique place to live and work, we will lose
businesses and skilled workers. I believe that we need to make sure
polluting businesses absorb a greater cost than they currently do, so
that they have an incentive to change their behavior. Individuals must
also be responsible for changing their behavior, urban runoff is the
largest remaining source of pollution in the Santa Monica Bay.
Education has proven to be the most effective method of pollution
prevention, but it is also time that we establish hard cumulative
discharge standards and enforce them.


The state of California’s current budget crisis is one of the most
daunting problems we face. It threatens programs and services across
the board. There is a need for massive reform of the states tax and
budgetary system. I believe that we must work to create new revenues by
taking steps such as closing corporate tax loopholes, reinstating the
upper income tax bracket and considering alternative sources. I support
the Budget Accountability Act, Prop 56, which would end the partisan
gridlock over the budget. We need to invest in people and not eliminate


Strong, well directed, broadly inclusive economic growth is essential
to a healthy California. But in California, as in the rest of the
nation, the income gap between rich and poor is continually widening.
Economic development programs must be structured to create access to
jobs and a wage structure that does not widen the economic gap. Public
investment policy must focus on restoring California’s antiquated
infrastructure including; schools, transportation systems, parks,
telecommunications, drinking water systems, and public building
projects. New public resources must be created. I have always joined in
the struggle for improved salaries and benefits for workers. I support
a Living Wage.