Karen Bass is the first physician assistant to be elected to the US House of Representatives. She was first elected in 2010 and served six terms in office, concluding in 2022. She was the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2019 until 2021. She is also the first woman to be elected mayor of Los Angeles, California, and the second African American to hold this office (2022).
Prior to serving in the US Congress, she served as a member of the California State Assembly from 2005 to 2010. She was appointed Majority Whip for 2005-2006, and Majority Floor Leader for the 2007-2008 legislative sessions. She was chair of the Select Committee on Foster Care and vice chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. Bass has the distinction of being the first African American woman elected as Speaker of the California House serving in that role from 2008 to 2010, prior to her election to the US Congress. Congress woman Bass serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs where she is Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
Bass is a native of Los Angeles. She attended Hamilton High School and Cal State Dominguez Hills with a BA in Health Sciences. As a child, Bass became interested in community activism observing and participating in the Civil Rights Movement with her father, a mail carrier. It was during this time that she decided to devote her life to effecting social change in her community.
She is a 1982 graduate and former faculty member of the USC Keck School of Medicine Primary Care PA Program. In addition to her teaching role, Bass was director of the school’s Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) designed to increase the number of individuals from educationally or economically disadvantaged backgrounds that enter health and allied health professions programs. She helped establish Project Prepare for the USC PA program which provided opportunities for individuals interested in becoming PAs to shadow PAs at work and learn firsthand how to improve their credentials for acceptance into a PA program. As an active member of the AAPA African Heritage Caucus, Bass participated in Project Access designed to introduce high school to the PA profession during AAPA annual meetings.
Bass helped establish and run the Community Coalition in 1990 in response to the 1980’s crack cocaine epidemic that devastated South LA. The goal of the Coalition was to provide preventative community-centered solutions to address the root causes that fueled crime, addiction, and violence in the community. Overtime, the Community Coalition has helped thousands of African American and Latino residents to build a prosperous and healthy South L.A. The Coalition has become a model for other cities.
Bass received the 2010 Profiles in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for her bipartisan work in proposing a solution to California’s budget crises. On her election to Congress in 2010, the president of the AAPA noted that the Academy was thrilled with the election of Karen Bass to the 112th Congress, not only because she is a physician assistant, but because of the exceptional leadership she has demonstrated in her community.
Acknowledgments: This biography was written by Reginald Carter based upon information found on Congress Woman Karen Bass’s website, and was submitted to the Society in January 2015. Biography was updated in November 2022.
The portrait photograph is extracted from Congress Woman Bass’s Website. The second photograph is from the PA History Society’s Digital Moving Image Collection.