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Biography

Elected: 2010, 2nd term.

Born: October 3, 1953, Los Angeles, CA

Home: Baldwin Vista, CA

Education: U. of Southern CA, physician's asst. certificate; CA St. U., Dominguez Hills, B.A. 1990.

Professional Career: Physician's asst., Los Angeles Cnty. Gen. Hospital; instructor, U. of Southern CA; exec. dir., Comm. Coalition, 1990-2004.

Ethnicity: Black/African American

Religion: Baptist

Family: Divorced , 1 child (1 deceased); 4 stepchildren

Karen Bass, elected in 2010, is a former California Assembly speaker and a Democratic up-and-comer who has drawn flattering comparisons to another Californian, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Bass was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her father was a letter carrier and her mother was a homemaker. Her father had moved to California from Texas after World War II; her mother was a Los Angeles native who learned to speak Spanish as a child. In an interview with National Journal, Bass said that the most influential part of her childhood was watching television news coverage of the civil rights movement with her father, which “absolutely, positively shaped who I am today and why I’m interested in politics.” In middle school, Bass was a student representative on a committee overseeing integration of the school. At age 14, she got involved in Democratic Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign by signing up her mother as a precinct captain and then doing all the neighborhood canvassing herself. At her high school in West Los Angeles, Bass joined her teachers in protests against the Vietnam War. She attended San Diego State University and stayed active in community organizing. “School wound up being rather secondary for me,” she said. Bass served on a committee that investigated accusations of police abuses in Los Angeles and participated in groups that advocated for the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Bass ultimately received a nursing certificate from the University of Southern California and her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills. She was married in 1980 and had a daughter; the couple divorced in 1986. She and her ex-husband stayed in contact, cooperating on raising their daughter and four stepchildren. In 2006, Bass’s daughter and son-in-law died in a car accident.

In 1990, Bass founded the Community Coalition, a nonprofit that works with African-American and Latino communities in South Los Angeles to combat drug use and gang violence by shutting down liquor stores and motels. The group also campaigned against Proposition 187, which sought to deny public services to illegal immigrants, and Proposition 209, which prohibited affirmative action admissions policies in public universities. Bass served as executive director of the organization for 14 years.

Bass won election in 2004 to the state Assembly. In the legislature, she sponsored several bills aimed at reforming the state’s foster care system and expanding health insurance programs for children. In her first term, she was the majority whip; in her second, she was majority leader; and in her third term, she became the first black female speaker of the Assembly. Trying to balance California’s budget in the midst of a fiscal crisis consumed much of her tenure. She negotiated budget compromises that included deep cuts to education and social spending. Bass described her two years as speaker as “painful” and said, “I ran for office because I wanted to create, build, and expand programs, not tear them apart.”

When Rep. Diane Watson announced she would retire from Congress at the end of her term, she supported Bass as her successor. Other prominent Democrats stayed out of the race, assuming that Bass would easily win on turf she had represented in the legislature. She won the June Democratic primary in 2010 with 85% of the vote; her nearest challenger was Felton Newell, a prosecutor with the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, who finished with about 6%. In the general election, she easily defeated Republican lawyer James Andion.

In the House, Bass was given seats on the Foreign Affairs and Budget committees and was made an assistant Democratic whip. She also assumed the co-chairmanship of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s WomenLEAD program charged with recruiting more female Democrats. Colleagues lauded her political skills, and she traversed the talk-show circuit to articulate the party’s message. Politico in December 2011 named her the freshman Democrat “most likely to succeed” and said she “looks more and more like a (Nancy) Pelosi-in-waiting each day.” She lost her seat on Budget and now sits on the House Judiciary Committee.

Bass continued Watson’s advocacy of the poor and disadvantaged, introducing several bills to improve foster care. When Penn State football assistant Jerry Sandusky was accused in 2011 of sexually abusing boys over a 15-year period, she introduced a measure to withhold federal money from states until they pass laws requiring adults to report child abuse. Speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, she warned of GOP voter identification legislation aimed at curtailing minorities’ voting participation. “One of the darkest shadows of the past century is creeping into this one: one of our most basic rights—the right to vote, a right that we fought for and won—is under attack,” she said.

In addition to her legislative and political work, Bass drew attention for her avid interest in martial arts. She has brown belts in taekwondo and hapkido, a Korean self-defense technique.

Office Contact Information

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(202) 225-7084

(202) 225-2422

CHOB- Cannon House Office Building Room 408
Washington, DC 20515-0537

MAIN OFFICE

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Election Results

2014 GENERAL
Karen Bass
Votes: 79,699
Percent: 83.9%
Adam King
Votes: 15,291
Percent: 16.1%
2012 GENERAL
Karen Bass
Votes: 207,039
Percent: 86.42%
Morgan Osborne
Votes: 32,541
Percent: 13.58%
2012 PRIMARY
Karen Bass
Unopposed
2010 GENERAL
Karen Bass
Votes: 131,990
Percent: 86.08%
James Andion
Votes: 21,342
Percent: 13.92%
2010 PRIMARY
Karen Bass
Votes: 41,250
Percent: 85.3%
Felton Newell
Votes: 3,096
Percent: 6.4%
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 (86%)

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