Beaming with pride and cradling a large bouquet of flowers, Assembly Member Karen Bass made history Tuesday at the California State Capitol when she was sworn in as the first African American woman to lead a legislative body in the United States.
Several hundred people were on hand to witness this historic moment, which included a special poetic reading from academy award winning actress and activist Alfre Woodard and a special presentation from Congresswoman Diane Watson. Attendees included federal, state and local elected officials; representatives for business, labor and community sectors, including members of the Community Coalition, an organization that Bass founded in 1990 located in South Los Angeles.
After the swearing-in, which was conducted by Speaker Emeritus Núñez and attended by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, speaker Bass electrified the assembly with a vigorous speech that outlined her immediate plans to tackle California’s budget crisis. Excerpts of her speech are as follows:
“Members….honored guests…dear friends and family….since my election on February 28th to be the 67th Speaker of the Assembly, I have had the opportunity and experience to be part of an incredible transition – part of a complex and comprehensive process of receiving the torch from the 66th Speaker of the Assembly, Fabian Núñez.
Mr. Speaker, thank you so much for your leadership, your friendship, and, especially, for the enormous generosity of spirit you have shown me during this seamless transition.
I do feel the weight of history on my shoulders today – as the first African American woman in U.S. history elected to head a state legislative body.
Members, throughout the past 18 months I have experienced the best of your hearts – and I’m not sure I can fully express how much that has meant to me.
If we could only harness the power of our common humanity, I don’t think there’s anything we couldn’t do for the people of this state.And members, they truly do need us now.
People are losing their homes. People are losing their jobs. People are scared about the future in a state that should be all about hope for the future.
Think about it. We represent California – the 8th largest economy on the planet. If California was our own nation, we would be better off than Russia or India or Spain.
… California is a giant in crisis – and now it is up to us to solve that crisis. It is up to us to take the fear out of California’s future.
The combination of economic recession, the mortgage meltdown and skyrocketing prices for food and fuel are having the same destructive force as an earthquake or fire.
Members, we have to respond to the current economic crisis the same way we would a natural disaster.
I believe part of that job has got to involve looking at the big picture and really examining California’s overall economic structure. Most importantly, we have to ask the question of whether a tax structure that was established in the 1930s is sufficient to meet the needs of Californians in 2008.
And, frankly, members, I think we need an answer to that question that is developed outside the day-to-day give-and-take here in the legislature. To answer this question I have asked for help. I have asked two former Governors–Governor Pete Wilson and Governor Grey Davis–to assist the legislature in identifying the leadership and membership of an independent Commission to examine California’s tax structure. This will be a bipartisan group of California’s brightest to work together for one year to develop recommendations on how we can identify more consistent sources of revenue–the way 12 other States have already accomplished.
As we work to resolve the immediate challenge before us, the efforts of this commission can help us find ways to prevent California from cycling through crisis after crisis after crisis.
As we all move forward, it should be with the understanding that a society will be judged on the way it cares for its people.
As Speaker, I want you to judge me on how I am able to bring together the best of your talents, your experience, and, yes-the best of your hearts-to help build the kind of society that California deserves.
Thank you members. Let’s get to work.”