Get To Know Karen Bass

August 1, 2020

Karen Bass

The chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Karen Bass has served California’s 37th Congressional District since 2013. The Los Angeles native’s district covers several Los Angeles neighborhoods, and Culver City and Inglewood.

Bass, 66, has often spoken about how she first became inspired to enter public service while watching news reports about the Civil Rights Movement with her father as a child. “It seemed like the whole world was changing. I couldn’t wait to grow up,” she told the Los Angeles Times. That interest also sparked Bass to volunteer for Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign as a teenager.

Bass would go on to graduate from the USC Keck School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program and earn a bachelor’s degree in health sciences from California State University, Dominguez Hills, before getting a Masters of Social Work from the University of Southern California.

Bass began her political career in 2004 when she was elected to the California Assembly, and one year later was appointed Majority Whip of the Assembly. As the only African American woman in a high profile leadership position in that body, Bass knew that she stood out. “I feel that gender is much more of a dynamic [in the Legislature] than race is. It’s just overwhelmingly male — in every sector of life in Sacramento,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. “It doesn’t bother me because I’ve grown up with that. But sometimes it’s a little taxing.”

Here are some key things to know about where Bass stands on the issues that matter to women:

  • Beginning her career in social work in the 1980s at the height of both the AIDS and crack epidemics inspired her to become a community organizer. In 1990, she founded the Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment to address the impact of drug abuse in Los Angeles. When the Coalition found that several liquor stores in the area were instrumental in brokering drug deals, they led a campaign to shut the stores down.
  • In a recent NPR interview, Bass noted that she did not think ‘defunding the police’ was an accurate slogan for the current debate around public safety. “[T]he whole point is that over the last 30 years, we have had no problem pouring however amount of money into police, into prisons, into jails, while we have cut funding for social services and, in particular, for mental health,” she said. “So we need to reinvest in our communities. And I completely agree with that.”
  • One of her most notable accomplishments in the California Assembly was founding the California Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care. The welfare of children in the foster care system has always been a focal point for Bass, and she would create a similar Congressional committee in Washington after she was elected to Congress.
  • Bass was a sponsor of the Uninterrupted Scholars Act of 2012, which allows caseworkers for students in the foster care system to access transcripts and other vital records that students need to transfer schools and apply to college.