A new Speaker of State Assembly

February 28, 2008 9:44:00 PM PST
A Los Angeles lawmaker has just become the first woman and African-American woman to be elected to the second most powerful job in state government, after the governor. 54-year-old Karen Bass was elected to be the next Speaker of the State Assembly today.

With the State Senate electing a president from Northern California earlier this month, it's really no surprise the Assembly choose someone from Southern California. She's liberal with a brown belt in taekwondo ready to kick some booty.

"I'm still trying to come to grips that this has happened," said Assembly Speaker-Elect (D) Karen Bass.

Los Angeles Democrat Karen Bass can't believe it. Just moments before, the California Assembly chose her as its new leader.

The 54-year-old lawmaker spent much of her three years in the lower House as a champion for foster children.

On Thursday she broke a barrier as the first African-American woman to hold that post.

"I am deeply honored and deeply humbled by the trust you have placed in me. Please know, I will work to be deserving of that trust every single day I serve as your Speaker," said Assembly Speaker-Elect Bass.

It was a feverish battle among eight candidates for the second most powerful position in California government. However, when frontrunners like Fiona Ma of San Francisco and Kevin DeLeon of Los Angeles threw their support behind Bass late Wednesday, it was all Speaker Nunez needed to rally the rest of the Democrats by phone to make history.

"This is a year that everyone is talking about change. It's an exciting time because we're seeing so much hope for the future," said Mary Hayashi (D) Hayward.

"I think you are very good for this House. I think you do a great job for your district and you'll do a great job for California," said Mike Villines (R) Clovis.

A takeover date still has to be worked out, but as the new Speaker, Bass will get a seat at the table during Big Five meetings with the Governor, where some of the state's biggest public policy decisions are negotiated.

"I'm a big fan of hers. I think Karen Bass is a terrific leader. I think she will be fun to work with," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) California.

Bass says growing up with three brothers has prepared her well for leadership meetings where she'll be the only woman, but she'll draw the line when those meetings are held in the Governor's famous cigar-tent.

"I'm going to have to make them come out of the smoking tent because that's going to make me sick!" said Assembly Speaker-Elect Bass.

Bass used to be a nurse and a doctor's assistant. Only one other woman has held the post, Republican Doris Allen had the job for three months in 1995, but that was more of a caretaker role during a transitional period.