Congresswoman Diane Watson
Congresswoman Watson retires …
A Career Well Spent, Ends Gracefully
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
For almost four decades, Congresswoman Diane E. Watson has been serving the residents of Los Angeles, in city government (a school board member), state government (a Senator), in the nation’s capital (a Congresswoman) and internationally as an ambassador. A life-long resident of California’s 33rd Congressional District that she presently represents in Congress, Watson has been on the cutting edge of education and political reform since she started serving the people of Los Angeles as an elementary school teacher.
Congresswoman spoke to the Sentinel about her plans to retire at the end of this year after the November elections. She said, “I have been in elected office for over 30 years and I have decided this is the right time to retire. So I’ll be in the Congress until the end of the year and at that point, I’ll think about what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
There was a vibrant tone in her speech as she was speaking and knowing her achievements in the world of academia as an educator and a school psychologist, and in politics as a legislator, it was easy to understand the reason for her effectiveness in both arenas. He lifetime commitment to education is well documented and her legacy on the school board includes efforts to expand school integration and toughen academic standards.
Mentioning her stellar record and the legacy she’ll be leaving behind, Congresswoman Watson continued, “Let me start with the school board; I’m an educator and I was so proud to be on the board at the time when our Supreme Court announced that we had to desegregate our schools. I took the voice for those children who were isolated in schools in the poorest areas of our district. I was there to counter the ‘bus stop’ movement and I was there to see that we proceeded according to the law–I was very proud of that period.”
From the school board, the Congresswoman then went to Sacramento to the State Senate, which at that time was an all-male club. But she prevailed there too. “When I went to the Senate, I was the first non-lawyer, the first woman and the first African American to be on the judiciary committee.” That was an awesome descriptive combination of her situation when she arrived in the state’s capital. “So I could have voiced an input on the laws that were unfair and unjust particularly to minorities and minority males,” she went on, “so I brought in a bill called the ‘GAP’ plan, Gang Abatement Plan; and when I started to see drugs appear in our community… I started to notice gang activities, I say we better nip this in the bud.” At that time she told the committee, “I’m bringing you problems that you don’t even know you have.”
She was first elected to the Senate in 1978 and during her tenure she became a statewide and national advocate for health care, consumer protection, women, and children. In 1993, she authored the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program Act, which led to pioneering research into the causes of birth defects, and the Residential Care Facilities Act, to ensure that senior citizens receive quality care in nursing and assisted living homes.
As an advocate for commonsense welfare reform, she said, “In 1996, President Clinton said he was going to sign the welfare reform but you’re going to tell me how to fix it.” Watson said and she wasn’t even a congresswoman as yet. “The first year we instituted it, we had 500,000 people off welfare because we sent them to the community colleges for training and point them to where the jobs were.” Three years later, the President appointed her as US Ambassador to Micronesia, where she served until 2001. About her tenure as an ambassador, Watson said exuberantly, “It was wonderful experience. We were there to make policy and I was used to problem-solving.”
Returning from Micronesia, she ran for Congress in a special election and won. She was reelected in November 2002 to a full two-year term and has been re-elected each succeeding term since. In Congress, Watson’s work committee assignments include the Foreign Affairs Committee; the Oversight and Government Reform Committee; the Congressional Entertainment Industries Caucus; the Congressional Korea Caucus; and the U.S.-UK Caucus. She is passionate about education; in 2008, Watson played a key role in securing $2.5 million in grants for job training in the entertainment industry trades at West Los Angeles College (WLAC), located in her district. Her commitment to education is beyond question.
While on the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs, Watson helped to redeem the status and prestige that the United States had lost around the world in the Bush years. She said, “While U.S. foreign policy clearly is a key factor in how we are viewed abroad, an important part of regaining our rightful leadership role is to find more effective ways to let the world know who was are as Americans and what we stand for.”
Her career can be best described as a “states-woman.” As for her future plans she said, “Though I’m retiring, I’m always open to serve my president and my country.”