Social Work’s Rising Star in Congress

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018 @ 9:36AM

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi will be the next Speaker of the House when the new Congress convenes on January 3, 2019. She has been negotiating on term limits for leadership with a few recalcitrant Democrats who believe it is time party stalwarts make way for more youthful leaders.  Many Democrats have said Pelosi is the only person qualified to lead the House when the 116th Congress begins which does not say much for the leadership ranks within the Dem Caucus. There are three social workers in the House of Representatives—all from California—who could certainly wield the gavel effectively. Reps. Barbara Lee (CA-13), Susan Davis (CA-53) and Karen Bass(CA-37) are eminently capable of being Speaker.

The younger of the three, Congresswoman Bass, has been mentioned as a potential Speaker of the House of Representatives. She drew national attention before being elected to Congress in 2010 when she became the second woman and first African American woman to be elected as Speaker of the California Assembly. She will have the opportunity to display her leadership skills as the new chair of the Congressional Black Caucus which has grown to 55 members. She will need her social work skills to meet the challenges facingCongress and the country over the next two years of the Trump Administration.

Rep. Karen Bass

As a testament to her appreciation of her social work training, Bass earned her Master of Social Work degree from the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California in 2015 after being elected to the House of Representatives in 2010. In the House she has been a forceful voice for the care of foster children, an issue she has championed since her early days of community work. She created the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth with co-chair U.S. Representative Tom Marino (R-Pa.) during her first year in office. She is also a member of the Judiciary Committee where she works on criminal justice reform and is poised to be the chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.

Congresswoman Bass’s willingness to take on tough issues began early in life in her native city of Los Angeles, where she joined others in tackling the crack cocaine crisis in 1980s and 1990s. As a physician’s assistant, Bass witnessed countless individuals being brought into the emergency room as victims of violence. It was during that time that she formed the nonprofit Community Coalition to mobilize residents and galvanize resources to reduce and prevent violence. She won a seat in the California Assembly in 2004 and was elected to the Speakership four years later. Not long after going to the Assembly, Bass persevered through the tragic death of her only child, Emelia, and son-in-law Michael, who were killed in a tragic automobile accident in 2006. There are few things left in this world that can shake her.

Few doubt that Congresswoman Pelosi will be an effective Speaker at 78 years old, however, the top Democratic leadership consisting of 79-year-old Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD-5) and 78-year-old Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC-6) are being challenged to give way to younger talent. The 48-year-old Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8) narrowly defeated Congresswoman Lee to succeed Joseph Crowley as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, the 5th ranked leadership position. Jeffries represents parts of Brooklyn that comprised the 10th Congressional District represented for three decades by former Congressman Edolphus Towns, a social worker and my former boss. Crowley lost his seat in a shocking primary upset to newly-elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who, at 29 years old, is the youngest woman elected to Congress.

House Democrats will be expected to provide oversight of the Trump Administration that has been shamefully abandoned by Republicans in Congress. The list of atrocities has grown so long that one is hard-pressed to know where to begin. At the same time, Democrats will be expected to provide a vision of the future they have in mind for the nation. Congresswoman Karen Bass is outspoken and willing to make tough choices as she demonstrated during her time in the California Assembly. She is comfortable in front of the camera as she has displayed on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show and HBO’s Real Time withBill Maher, and numerous media appearances. She is a much-needed national spokesperson on social justice issues. Her star is definitely ascending.

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