By Jennifer Bihm
Sentinel Staff Writer
Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Assistant Managing Editor
She possesses both power and poise and her leadership has made her the first African American woman in U.S. History to ever be elected head of a State Legislative body
As the 47th district assemblywoman, Karen Bass took care of her constituents, helping them through anything from the foreclosure crisis to navigating their way through the public healthcare system. Her new distinction as the first ever African American and woman to hold the position of assembly speaker won’t change that, she said.
“I don’t want the people of Los Angeles and especially the people of South Los Angeles to think because I have become speaker I am going to forget those issues that I’ve been working on for the last thirty years of my life,” she told the Sentinel in an interview shortly after the big announcement.
Bass was elected February 28 to take over when termed out speaker, Fabian Nunez leaves office at the end of this year. Her new job basically involves the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of legislation and determining who does what. Tackling the budget, she said, is going to be her first order of business.
“We are facing a 16 billion dollar budget shortfall, so I really need to focus on that immediately,” said Bass.
But she’s also carrying her other concerns with her, including the foster care system, the Healthy Families program and small business policies.
“Over the last three years we have built a people’s council, the 47th District People’s Council. So we already have an institution in place where hundreds of members under the residence of the 47th district are active in several different commissions. It’s my hope that during my speakership that, that involvement will grow even more…”
And, until her term ends in 2010, she will focus on the job at hand with no attention to other public offices… not the State Senate, not the City Council, not even if “President” Barack Obama offers to make her secretary of state.
“Obama, will be there for a long time so if he asks me to take a post I would simply ask him if I could do that maybe in his second term,” she laughed.
Born October 3, 1953, Bass grew up in the Venice- Fairfax area of Los Angeles, where she learned compassion for others at an early age. She graduated from the University of Southern California, School of Medicine—PA Program, where she was a faculty member for more than ten years. Bass worked as a Physician Assistant in Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center’s trauma center, considered now especially since the demise of King/Drew’s, as the nation’s largest.
But before awards and prominent positions, she was an activist, starting up the Community Coalition in 1990 to improve life in South Central Los Angeles during and beyond the scourge of the city’s crack epidemic. After the riots here in 1992 she realized just how much work needed to be done.
With her coalition, Bass prevented the rebuilding of over 150 liquor stores, simultaneously working with business owners to transition over 40 of them into viable establishments, beneficial to the community. She spearheaded efforts for South L.A. schools to secure $153 million for repairs and involved herself in fixing the poor shopping conditions on the area’s stores.
Bass served on the Los Angeles City Council Ad Hoc Committee on Gangs, Youth and Violence, which founded the L.A. Bridges after-school gang prevention program. She was elected to represent California’s 47th District in the Assembly in 2004, becoming the majority whip for the 2005-2006 session.
“Last week, a light bulb turned on in Sacremento to something we in Los Angeles have known for a long time,” said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of his friend of 30 years.
“Karen knows our communities better than anyone else, knows our issues best and has the unique skills to make change happen… for decades Karen has been a bold, compassionate and brilliant leader, nurturing the community to change the face and spirit of South L.A.”
“Speaker-Elect Bass is a shining light in the California Assembly and because of her dedication to excellence and to focusing on California’s broken health care system, she will most certainly help to shed some light the PA profession, a profession which has served the health care needs of millions of patients over the past 40+ years,” said Bass’ fellow members of the California Academy of Physicians Assistants.
“Assemblymember Bass is someone who believes in reconciliation,” Assemblymember Merv Dymally who was one of the first to support Bass, said.
She will make an outstanding speaker.”
“As we enter Women’s History Month, the California Assembly has recognized the leadership, strength, committment and unparalleled work ethic of a phenomenal woman, by electing Majority Leader Karen Bass as our Speaker and ensuring that her name is permanently etched in history,” said Assemblymember Curren D. Price.
“Assemblywoman Bass is one of our State’s greatest assets, and it is my honor and privilege to have her lead me in the Assembly.”