This is a really interesting article from Politico about our new Freshman Congressmember, Karen Bass (CD-33).
Former California speaker resets
By: Marin Cogan
March 28, 2011 04:42 AM EDT
Karen Bass is a long way from Sacramento. A year ago, she was overseeing an $86 billion state budget as speaker of the California state Assembly. Today, she is one of the last people to speak at a House Budget Committee hearing. In the Statehouse, she held the gavel and sat in the speaker’s chair. Now, in Washington, she’s at the bottom of the seniority ladder and gets some of the least-enviable speaking slots on the House floor. She’s one of only nine freshman Democrats, now in the House minority. The transition from state politics to Congress is humbling for many new lawmakers, but for Bass, the first African-American woman to lead a statehouse, the comedown is even more dramatic. If she’s bothered by the transition from Sacramento power player to Washington back bencher, she’s not letting on. “A lot of people ask me what it’s like to go from being in charge to being one of 435,” Bass said. “I love it!” She guided California through a massive budget crisis last year. Now, she has little more to do than learn the ins and outs of life as one of the members of the House chamber. In Sacramento, Bass began her mornings early. “My days as speaker began with assembling all of my staff and going through what was happening in all of the committees, what was going to come up on the floor, what was coming up in the press,” she said while sitting at a table in the Speaker’s Lobby, just outside the House chamber. “So as speaker, I had to begin my day in a global fashion, and I had to know everything that was happening with my caucus, with the Republican caucus, with what was happening in all of the committees … And then, because we were in a crisis from beginning to end, it was what is the cash situation for the state, what was our credit rating — all of that.” In Washington, Bass’s mornings are narrowly focused. A former physician’s assistant and community organizer who founded a nonprofit to tackle the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles, Bass starts each day in a rented apartment left fully furnished for her by her predecessor, former Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.). She drives the maroon Mazda LZ 626 that used to belong to Rep. John Salazar, who was defeated by one of Bass’s freshman Republican colleagues last year. A divorcee who lost her only daughter and son-in-law in a 2006 car accident, Bass now begins her mornings with a conference call or meeting — sometimes related to her recruitment efforts for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Lately, she’s been trying to make more time for the gym. Because of California’s strict six-year term limits, Bass became majority whip on her first day in the state Legislature in 2004. As state Assembly speaker, she helped steer California through a $26 billion budget shortfall — and ultimately backed a budget that included billions in cuts to the state’s education programs. “You find yourself making terrible decisions that keep you up at night,” she said, of the state’s budget slashing. In Washington, there’s virtually no scenario where a rookie lawmaker could become speaker of the House in just six years. But she does have a modicum of sympathy for the current speaker, John Boehner (R-Ohio), as he tries to steer his conference through a vicious budget battle. “It is very familiar, the budget fight,” Bass said of the spending debate in Washington.
“I think, watching from a distance, he is letting the new members get it all out of their system,” Bass said, referring to the ambitious 87 new Republican members pushing for more spending cuts. “And when they get it out of their system, then they can come to grips with the fact that they are no longer campaigning, and they have to govern.” Bass didn’t consider herself an institutional steward, like Boehner. “My challenge was managing the egos and the emotions of 80 people, both Democrats and Republicans. My surprise was how emotional the men were and how volatile they were,” she said with a laugh. Bass’s days in Washington are filled with more provincial concerns — hustling to committee meetings early enough to get her questions in, learning the national politics of her favorite political issues and trying to find the right footwear for trekking around the sprawling Capitol complex. “I don’t like fashion,” she said quietly, looking down at her pinstripe pantsuit before stepping onto the House floor to give a one-minute speech on the Republicans’ budget-cutting agenda. As she waited to speak, Bass sat with fellow freshman Democrat David Cicilline, the former mayor of Providence, R.I., and the first openly gay mayor of a state capital. The two thumbed their BlackBerrys while Cicilline briefed Bass on a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing she had missed. “She’s been a really important part of our freshman class,” Cicilline said. “Her skills as speaker of the house have enabled her to understand the legislative process but also the importance of relationships in getting work done.” “The nine of us are pretty close,” Bass said of the freshman class of Democrats. The camaraderie first formed at orientation in December, when the new members were told to board buses to a dinner at the Capitol, and the Democrats, boarding by party, realized they would need only a small van to accommodate them. Now, they meet for regular dinner parties — Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell hosted the first, and Bass hosted the second. They have decided to nix class meetings in favor of joining the sophomores. “We just come into that room and all blend in,” Bass said. Even as a freshman member, Bass already is establishing herself with higher-ups in Washington, raising money for the DCCC. “It’s like she hit the ground running 100 miles an hour,” said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the former DCCC chairman who worked with Bass during the past campaign cycle and now serves with her on the Budget Committee. “She was one of the people who — and this is very rare — who was helping the DCCC after her primary. Right away, she spent months helping us in a significant way on the politics and the fundraising.” But if Bass misses being at the center of the action, guiding her party through another budget debate, she isn’t letting it show. For now, she says she enjoys playing the role of the freshman member — taking several months to dig in on a policy issue (she’s especially interested in foster care) and developing an expertise. “You have 120 freshmen running the world’s eighth-largest economy. So the idea that I could come here having been through that, and sit back next to people who have been here 10, 20, 30 years, and be a sponge next to them, to learn from them — that’s been very exciting to me and humbling,” Bass said. “It makes me feel like being a part of the team, a lot more supported — rather than all of us learning how to swim at the same time, with a governor who, I mean, was in movies, for God’s sake!”