Karen Bass was elected to the California State Assembly in 2004 to represent the 47th Assembly District. In May 2008, Bass made history when the Los Angeles Democrat became the 67th Speaker of the California Assembly. Bass was the first African American woman and the first Democratic woman to serve as Speaker of the California Assembly. Bass was also the first African American woman in the country to serve in the role of Speaker of a State Assembly.
Under Bass’s leadership, the Assembly passed legislation helping California receive federal funding to extend unemployment insurance benefits, helping unemployed Californians retain access to employer-sponsored health care, and jump-starting infrastructure projects to create well-paying jobs in the state.
Some of Bass’s legislation includes bills improving conditions and services for youth in California’s foster care system; helping stop predatory lending practices and ensuring real estate industry accountability to consumers; working to reduce dropouts by expanding multiple pathways in high school to prepare students for college, career and civic responsibility; and removing barriers to allowing low-risk offenders to return productively to the community. Bass has also worked to protect California’s vital motion picture and television industries, and she has played a lead role in securing funding for Los Angeles Unified School District, the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, and other civic and cultural projects in the Los Angeles area.
Question and Answer
Water is one of the largest issues facing Californians. What are some of the most pressing issues besides the drought?
In November, the California Legislature came together to help solve the overwhelming water problems that have been plaguing our state for almost 50 years. The comprehensive plan we passed protects the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the source of drinking water for two-thirds of the state.
It restores the fragile ecosystem of the Bay Delta estuary, helping prevent species and habitat loss that not only harm the state’s environment but also lead to court actions that can impact our economy. As our population grows, we need to provide appropriate infrastructure for state and local water projects. As part of the package, Californians will have the opportunity to vote on a water bond in November, which will provide critical funding for watershed protections, water quality, conservation, recycling, and groundwater projects throughout the state.
I’ve always been proud to have been born and raised in Los Angeles, and I’m very proud of the fact that Los Angeles has led the way for the state in conservation. Now the rest of California will join us and see the benefits of using water responsibly.
What was the most important aspect of being Speaker? What was the biggest struggle? How has being Speaker prepared you for your future plans?
The biggest struggle was overcoming the budget deficit, as I served as Speaker in the state’s worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. A year ago, California felt like we were on a truck going down a cliff and we didn’t know when and if we were going to hit the bottom. However, I’ve always looked at service as a calling, and I am proud to have served when called.
Being Speaker of California involved a lot of the same bridge building and problem solving that will be necessary to create change in Washington, D.C., and bring results back to California. The California Legislature shares some of the polarizing political attributes that we have seen demonstrated in D.C. recently, and I believe that my experience navigating that kind of landscape will be very useful in Washington.
You have previously stated that everybody is going to have to give a little in helping resolve environmental issues. Do you see that happening in the near future as the long-term crisis affects farmers, residents and businesses?
I would point to the comprehensive water package that we passed in November as a great example of everyone “giving a little” in order to create some good. Water wars have been occurring in California for over three decades, to the detriment of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and to many water users, families, businesses and farms. The package that we agreed on will keep serving California’s growing population, while protecting the most unique estuary in North America.
There are so many special interests represented in Sacramento, for example, solar, wind and nuclear power. What do you see as being possible solutions in the short term to the various problems that plague California environmentally?
Working toward lowering our greenhouse gas emissions will be part of the solution to many of the environmental problems plaguing California. Implementing AB 32, the 2006 landmark global warming legislation, will be a driver for jobs and investment in California. That’s why venture capitalists and one of the state’s major utilities backed AB 32. One study found meeting the limit we’ve established will create 83,000 jobs. UC economists also predicted a boost to our state’s annual gross domestic product of $60 billion. There are a lot of things we need to do to restore the state’s financial condition killing off opportunities in the new green economy shouldn’t be one of them.
Some of the current legislation regarding the environment in California has significant opposition from businesses and organizations claiming that the restrictions are job killers. How do you see it? Do you see a way to resolve the issue so it is equitable for all stakeholders?
The green economy is a win-win for California. By developing green industries, we put ourselves ahead of the national curve in the development of the vital component of the 21st century global economy.
One of the most exciting things about the green economy is the diversity of opportunity in areas like energy efficiency, renewable energy, housing and transportation. There are jobs all along the spectrum from weatherizing homes to designing new fuels.
We must be sure that the diversity of opportunity is matched by a diversity of people who are able to pursue those opportunities. The initial high tech boom left a lot of communities out. I don’t want to see that repeated with the green tech boom.
I helped create the state’s Green Collar Jobs Council made up of state agencies, educational institutions, community groups, labor, business, and workforce training organizations to help make sure California can meet the growing demands of the emerging clean/green economy.
We’re establishing new training programs, incentivizing new small businesses, and creating new public-private partnerships.
How do you see California balancing the protection/improvement of the environment while facing upward population growth in an already very crowded California of 37 million people and increasingly limited resources? How can the state and the environment be sustained?
The key to managing growth is to do so responsibly. Efforts to find renewable sources of energy are already under way and will be integral to absorbing California’s growing population. Our global climate change regulations will also be key to protecting and improving California, as we strive to roll back our emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.
Given the State of California’s ongoing budget crisis, do you think that more funds should be devoted to environmental issues?
I think that it is important to look at what can currently be accomplished. Changes can be made that cost little or nothing, we should strive to get those done immediately. Additionally, there are those projects that qualify for federal stimulus funding, those should be tackled next. Lastly, projects that require extensive long-term funding should be postponed not forgotten or dismissed and advanced as the economic climate allows.
California has long been a leader on environmental issues, and the allocation of general fund money toward these endeavors is important, but most of California’s environmental programs are supported by special funds and impact and mitigation fee revenues targeted for specific purposes. A constant effort to remain responsible and committed to all of California’s needs is necessary, but environmental programs are not responsible for the budget crisis and should not be unjustly targeted.
There has been a huge emphasis lately on transportation and the environment. President Obama even addressed it in his State of the Union address, saying that more funds will go to build high-speed rail throughout the United States. Can you talk a little bit about high-speed rail in California and what that means for long-term environmental sustainability?
High-speed rail is going to be a big engine for the California economy and will help California continue to be a powerful engine for the national economy. Bringing high-speed rail to California provides a much-needed “jobs package” to put people to work immediately and put the economy on a fast track to recovery. High-speed rail will link important communities and reduce our vehicle miles traveled, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
California will receive $2,349,400,000 of the $8 billion in stimulus funding for high-speed train development under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Combined with matching state, local and private funding, the federal infusion could generate billions to help launch the initial Anaheim-to-San Francisco link in a system that eventually will stretch to 800 miles, serving most of the state’s major cities.