Assemblywoman Karen Bass captured the speakership Wednesday night following a round of closed-door meetings and the intervention of current speaker Fabian Nunez. She is the first Democratic woman–as well as the first African American woman– to lead the Assembly in the history of the state.
Bass, a Los Angeles Democrat and the Assembly's majority leader, received a majority of support in the Democratic caucus to win the job. Nunez engineered the deal that put her over the top. Several legislators, including some who had hoped to be speaker themselves, announced as they left the meeting that Bass had won.
"She's got it," said Assemblyman Hector de la Torre, D-South Gate, after the final meeting.
The speaker's race had been a 10-way deadlock, with Bass as the presumptive front-runner for weeks. But questions about Bass's political future — about whether she would be a candidate for Senate or Los Angeles City Council — stalled her candidacy briefly. But this afternoon, two of Bass's rivals — San Francisco Democrat Fiona Ma and Los Angeles Democrat Kevin De Leon — threw their support behind Bass officially. The speaker quickly followed suit, and began getting on the phone to members.
That movement, the first real change since the race began in earnest three weeks ago, was enough to break the deadlock in the Democratic caucus. In the end, said one Assemblymember, there was no real rationale to vote against Bass, and with no other candidate gaining traction, she wound up where she began months ago — as the consensus choice to replace Nunez.
Bass becomes the first-ever Democratic woman to lead either house of the Legislature, and the third African American Speaker. San Francisco Democrat Willie Brown lead the House from 1980 until he left to run for Mayor of San Francisco in 1995. Nunez's predecessor, Herb Wesson, was also African American.
Bass's election also keeps the Speaker's gavel in Los Angeles. Every speaker since Cruz Bustamante in 1996 has hailed from Los Angeles.
The decision is expected to be formally ratified Thursday morning at meeting of the Assembly Democratic caucus, followed by a vote on the Assembly floor Thursday.
Nunez spokesman Steve Maviglio said the transition would be "the smoothest ever" between speakerships, but no formal date had been set for the handing over of the gavel. Nunez had orignially said he would stay on as speaker through the end of session in a February press conference. But at that same press conference, Nunez said the election to succeed him would be held on March 11.
That time line has now obviously been moved up. It remains to be seen whether the other one will as well.
With Bass and Sacramento Democrat Darrell Steinberg, who will be the next Senate leader, in control, it places the Capitol in the hands of two Democrats who have long fought for those without much political voice. Steinberg has been a champion of mental health issues, and Bass has championed children in the foster care system, and those transitioning out of the system.