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Assembly Speaker Karen Bass said she has no regrets.

Looking back, she still would have agreed to become leader of the lower house two years ago, even if she had known of the looming financial crisis facing the state and nation.

"I would have absolutely served," Bass said at a news conference Tuesday as she prepared for next week's swearing-in of her successor, Assemblyman John A. Pérez, also a Los Angeles Democrat.

"It was definitely the two most difficult years that I've ever experienced politically...but I was glad I was there," said Bass, who assumed the top job in May 2008. "Very glad."

One item Bass will be packing for her move to a new Capitol office next week will be a wooden jewelry box, given to her by the Assembly Democratic Caucus, as a tongue-in-cheek reminder of torturous budget talks.

"Upon her release from Gitmo," reads the inscription on the jewelry box, referring to a U.S. detention facility in Cuba that houses Middle Eastern terrorism suspects.

Bass, 56, characterized her personal relationship with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a good one.

"Sometimes I was frustrated because I felt sometimes that he didn't understand the real-life implication of some of the (budget) cuts," she said. "I always found the governor to be respectful. Even when we disagreed, some of our disagreements are a little more theatrical than they are, actually, personal."

Bass predicted that California is headed for better economic times, though the turnaround may take up to two years.

The outlook is far different this year than last, she noted.

"It felt like we were on a truck going down a cliff and we didn't know when, or if, we were going to hit bottom."

Despite tens of billions in program cuts, Bass said she is proud that the Assembly helped retain a basic social service safety net and "I do hope that long after I leave the Capitol that funding will be able to be restored."

Bass also said she was pleased that, during her tenure, the state was able to avoid decimating a health insurance program for 600,000 low-income children, provide tax credits to encourage movie production in California, and pass a far-reaching water deal that included an $11.1 billion bond proposal.

Bass recently announced her intention to run for the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Diane Watson of Los Angeles.

"As soon as I walk away from the speakership, I will be running fast and furious" for Congress, she said.

Video by The Bee's Hector Amezcua.

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