Last Updated on March 6, 2008 by Paulette Brown-Hinds



Change happened last week when the California Assembly elected Los Angeles Democrat Karen Bass as its 67th Speaker, catapulting a Democratic woman to the post for the first time in the state’s history. Along with the California political first, Bass makes national history as the first African American woman to serve in this powerful state elected role in the country.

“The wisdom of the Caucus is going to break the glass ceiling, to say, finally we’re going to elect a Democratic woman to be the Speaker of the California Assembly,” Speaker Fabian Núñez said. “We are going to not only write a new chapter in California history, but I’ve been told we’re going to write a new chapter in American history by electing the first African-American woman in the history of this nation to be the Speaker of a state legislative body.”

Karen Bass: First Black Woman Elected Speaker of California’s Assembly.

Under Speaker Núñez, Speaker-elect Bass has been a part of the leadership since her first term when she was appointed to Majority Whip. In her second term, she was elevated to the post of Majority Floor Leader, making her the first woman to hold the post and the second African American to serve in the position. As vice chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, Bass was the driving force behind the State of Black CA, which highlighted the disparities between Blacks and other ethnic and minority groups throughout the state. She is also the chair of the CA Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care. Under her leadership, the Speaker-elect was able to secure more than $82 million and the signing of eight new laws to help improve the state’s Foster Care System. 

Committed to serving the 47th Assembly District (47AD), Bass created the People’s Council, which is made up of four Commissions (Education, Environment, Small Business and Health) in order for constituents to get involved in the political process. The Commissions also host events and activities in the district to provide information on key issues affecting 47AD residents.

Before Bass began her political career, she founded and ran Community Coalition. As executive director, she built a community based social justice organization in South Los Angeles to empower residents to get involved in making a difference. Today, the organization is considered a model to engage the community throughout the country.

California’s next Assembly Speaker grew up in the Venice/Fairfax area. She is the only girl of DeWitt and Wilhelmina Bass. Her father worked as mail carrier and her mother, who once owned her own beauty salon, was a stay at home mother. Bass grew up with two older and one younger brothers. She is a true Los Angelino graduating from Hamilton High School, Cal State Dominguez Hills (BA – Health Sciences) and University of Southern California School of Medicine (Physician Assistant Certificate).

Bass married Jesus Lechuga and had a daughter, Emilia Bass-Lechuga. After their divorce, Bass and Lechuga collectively raised Emilia and her siblings, Bass’ four step-children. All of them are still a major part of her life. Emilia grew up with a lot a surrogate aunts and uncles who worked with Bass at the Community Coalition. She grew up to be a beautiful, passionate woman who wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps to help others. After marrying the love of her life, Michael Wright, Emilia continued to study to be a civil rights lawyer. Emilia’s passion for life continues to be a motivation to Bass in her personal and professional life.

“I’m excited to be a history maker,” states Bass. “It’s an honor that my accomplishments will inspire others to get involved in the process to make change a reality.”