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Bass, Karen (1953- )

Karen Bass Entering the California Assembly Chamber to
Become the Next Speaker, March 13, 2008
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Congressmember Karen Bass was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2011 following a successful six-year post as a California Assemblymember. As Representative of California’s 37th district, Bass spearheads initiatives specifically designed to reform the foster care system and U.S.-African relations. Prior to her congressional election, Bass made history when she was selected California Assembly’s 67th Speaker and became the first African American woman in U.S. History to earn this prestigious position in any government branch. In addition, she stands as the first black woman elected speaker in California.

Born on October 3, 1953 to Dewitt and Wilhelmina Bass, Karen grew up in the Venice-Fairfax district of Los Angeles. After graduating from Hamilton High School, Bass attended the newly constructed California State University branch at Dominguez Hills and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences. Bass then studied to become a Physician’s Assistant at the University of Southern California’s School of Medicine, and later, went on to earn a position as a Physician’s Assistant, nurse, and instructor at the university’s medical center.

Bass came of age during an era of widespread civil rights protests across the nation, and found great inspiration in movements for equality. Bass’ daily encounters with underserved patrons prompted her to found an organization known as the Community Coalition after the Los Angeles Riots in 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’ career in politics began in 2005 when she won a seat in California’s State Assembly. As Representative of Los Angeles’ 47th district, 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 daughter, Emilia Bass-Lechuga, died in a car accident, she remained a powerhouse in the Assembly.

Bass is currently in her third term as a congressmember. A successful career in the state assembly followed Bass into the national government, where she remains an advocate of foster care reform, an issue that she supported in the California state legislature. In addition to supporting numerous issues and committees in congress, Bass developed the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which works to both assess and reform child welfare across the United States. Reminiscent of an earlier generation of African American activists, Bass’ congressional agenda supports U.S.-Africa reform measures. As a member of the Subcommittee on Africa, Bass supported the approval of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), which is designed to help foster economic growth in African nations.

Bass has made history in her career as a state and national congressmember. The next election will take place in 2016.

Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass-California State Assembly Democratic Caucus, “Biography,” (Accessed September 5, 2008); Karen Bass Speaker of the Assembly, (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.


Dickinson College

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