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Meet congressional freshman Karen Bass

California Congresswoman-elect Karen Bass.
California Congresswoman-elect Karen Bass.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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Sacramento and Washington, D.C. are both company towns where the “company” is government — they're also both a little too hot in the summer and a little too cold in the winter.

Karen Bass was Assembly Speaker back in California. Now, she’s a Congressional freshman, and she says about D.C., it's "huge!"

"But when I’m sitting here, looking out over this balcony and watching two people smoke," she says, "this looks almost exactly like Sacramento. Except for the view is different. So that part is very familiar."

Bass, the Democrat from LA and one of California's two new members to Congress, says there’s one other major difference between Washington and Sacramento: Democrats in the House are the minority party, particularly in this class of freshman. Bass says she's used to California "where we’re the overwhelming majority. But if you can just imagine, there are over 80 Republicans and nine Democrats. So we’re calling ourselves the 'Mighty Nine'.”

Bass knows California’s other freshman, Fresno Republican Jeff Denham, from the state legislature. She’s been talking to him about issues of concern on both sides of the aisle — foster care and Native American needs.

But Bass says she’s less likely to find sympathy for another issue of concern to Californians — the state’s $25 billion budget deficit.

Back when she was Assembly Speaker, Bass used to come to Washington to ask for federal dollars.

"But now," she says, "although I’m here, I feel like it’s my responsibility to do whatever I can to see if there’s a dollar I can bring back to California. I’m very concerned though, because given the change in House and House leadership and all and given the platform in which my Republican colleagues are coming to Washington, it’s very clear they want to have no money go."

Bass says another campaign issue came up during an orientation session for the new members of Congress: "One of our Republican colleagues, when we were going through the benefits," she says, "stood up and was absolutely incensed that his healthcare was not going to kick in on Day One. But knowing that he actually was a candidate that rallied against healthcare reform and is coming in with a mandate to repeal healthcare — but yet was incensed that he wasn’t going to have government-sponsored healthcare on Day One."

But Day One is still a couple of months off. This week is learning about ethics and how to manage a staff and choosing an office. Bass says this is the "nuts and bolts, telling us where the bathrooms are, how not to get lost in the building, what the tunnel system is, really the nuts and bolts."

After Thanksgiving, the freshmen will spend some time back in school, at Harvard University in Massachusetts, to learn how to be a Congressional legislator. They’ll be sworn in officially on Jan. 5.