- Former Democratic Member of Congress
- Former member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus
Born in Los Angeles on November 12, 1933, Diane Watson graduated from UCLA in 1955 with BA in education. Three years later she earned an MA in school psychology from California State University, and in 1987 she received a Ph.D. in educational administration from Claremont Graduate School.
From 1958-76, Watson worked as a teacher and school psychologist in the Los Angeles Unified School District. In 1975 she became the first African-American woman elected to the L.A. Board of Education, where she served for three years. During her tenure on the board, Watson was its leading proponent of court-ordered busing mandates designed to force racial integration in the city’s public schools.
In 1978 Watson, a Democrat, was elected to the California State Senate, where she went on to serve for twenty years before being term-limited out in 1998.
On April 27, 1991, Watson and fellow congresswoman Maxine Waters were among the welcoming-committee members at a Los Angeles event that raised $12,000 for the South African Communist Party and the People’s Weekly World, the official publication of the Communist Party USA.
In 1999 President Bill Clinton named Watson as his U.S. Ambassador to Micronesia.
When veteran congressman Julian Dixon, who represented California’s 33rd District (located in the heart of Los Angeles), died suddenly in December 2000, Watson stepped down from her ambassadorship in order to run for Dixon’s newly vacated House seat. The 33rd District was a carefully gerrymandered district with a heavily Democratic population that was 35% Hispanic, 30% black, and 12% Asian-American. Aided by money and tactical support from EMILY’s List, Watson narrowly beat two male rivals in a special Democratic primary. She then won a special general election in June 2001, garnering 75% of the vote. Watson was re-elected every two years thereafter, until her retirement in 2011.
During her years in the House of Representatives, Watson was a member of the both the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus. In 2005 she also joined the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus.
Watson was among the House’s most strident critics of Ward Connerly, the black California Board of Regents member who had led the fight to abolish race preferences in his state’s public sector. Said Watson of Connerly: “He’s married a white woman. He wants to be white. He wants a colorless society. He has no ethnic pride. He doesn’t want to be black.”
In August 2001 Watson traveled to Durban, South Africa to attend the United Nations World Conference Against Racism (UNWCAR), an event that quickly devolved into a forum for unbridled anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. At a symposium that coincided with the opening of the conference, Watson declared: “America is a racist state.”
On August 31, 2001, Watson signed a Congressional Black Caucus statement asserting that the issue of “reparations” for African Americans “should be seriously discussed.” “The damages suffered by families as a result of the slave trade,” said the statement, “are physical, mental and financial. They have long term consequences. If the world is to be a just one, we must engage in a real discussion about the resources that many people feel their ancestors were denied.”
In February 2002 Watson was part of a delegation of California congressional Democrats who, in an effort to soften U.S. policy toward Cuba, paid a friendly visit to Fidel Castro in Havana. Other delegates included Representatives Sam Farr, Bob Filner, and Mik)e Thompson), as well as entertainer Carole King. Taking issue with the Bush Administration’s insistence that the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba should continue until such time as that nation agreed to end its widespread human-rights abuses, Watson said: “That might be the executive branch’s view, but that is not the legislative branch’s view, and we make policy. More and more lawmakers are coming here [to Cuba] for themselves, seeing for themselves, developing good will.”
In July 2005 Watson returned to Havana for for a three-day “education and cultural exchange” visit. The trip cost $1,679 and was paid for by the Christopher Reynolds Foundation.
Watson participated in a June 3, 2006 Los Angeles summit on Latino-African American race relations, where the subject of immigration was raised. In her remarks, the congresswoman likened members of the Minuteman Project—a nonviolent, volunteer effort initiated by private American citizens seeking to restrict the flow of illegal border-crossers into the U.S.—to Klansmen. “Those people” who now wore “sports shirts,” said Watson, “had their hoods on a few decades ago.”
At a town hall meeting on healthcare reform in late August 2009, Watson charged that opponents of “Obamacare” were largely racists seeking to ensure that Barack Obama, “the first president who looks like me, fails.” Moreover, she heaped adulation upon Fidel Castro and his government-run healthcare system in Cuba, stating:
“You need to go down there [to Cuba] and see what Fidel Castro put in place…. You can think whatever you want to about Fidel Castro, but he was one of the brightest leaders I have ever met. And you know, the Cuban revolution that kicked out the wealthy, Che Guevara did that, and then, after they took over, they went out among the population to find someone who could lead this new nation, and they found … an attorney by the name of Fidel Castro.” [To hear audio of Watson’s remarks, click here.]
On January 27, 2010, Watson was one of 54 Members of Congress who signed a letter calling on President Obama to use diplomatic pressure to end Israel’s blockade of Gaza—a blockade which had been imposed in order to prevent the importation of weaponry from Iran and Syria.
Over the course of Watson’s political career, the officials, employees, members, and PACs of various labor unions and activist groups were among the leading financial contributors to her campaigns. These donors included individuals affiliated with the AFSCME, the American Association for Justice, the American Federation of Teachers, the Human Rights Campaign, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the National Education Association, and the Service Employees International Union.
For an overview of Watson’s voting record on key issues during her years in Congress, click here.
In addition to her political activities, Watson also spent some time as a lecturer at California State University‘s Long Beach and Los Angeles branches. She is a member of NAACP and the National Urban League.