I saw one map that had the harbor area with Malibu and Agoura Hills, and I certainly can't see a community of interest there. I'd think communities of interest would be coastal. I think the harbors and ports, Long Beach and Los Angeles ports, San Pedro, Wilmington, would [have] a common agenda with trade and commerce. I see those communities as being more connected than San Pedro and Malibu.
Are people already sending you money for the next campaign?
More like I'm already asking! I went back to my friends and said, "What can I put you down for?"
What about committee assignments?
I'd like to be on transportation and infrastructure, and I'm going to make the case. I know about the ports, the airports, and could really push our L.A. County 30/10 [transportation] initiative. I think that's how we get our economy back up and running in L.A. County: building our infrastructure. I hope to be the go-to person on international trade and industry. I think no one before me or after me will ever have so much knowledge about America's ports. They're such a key part of our economy. A lot of people don't understand how cargo coming into our ports matters, not just to Southern California but to every single congressional district. I want to educate on that issue.
Except for going to Abilene Christian University in Texas, you've never lived outside of Los Angeles.
Yes, and I plan to come home as many weekends of possible, [to] keep me connected to my constituents. It's not bad. This flight is just going to be my workday. [En route to the swearing-in] I sat in 31B and did my work.
Nearly 30 years ago your uncle, talking about your family's political profile, said you were a "sleeping giant."
My uncle Gordon ran for Congress and lost to Charlie Wilson from Torrance. I think my mom and dad knew from the very beginning that I was destined to go into public service. I think they probably wanted to keep me from it as long as possible, knowing the very difficult nature [of politics], but I'm sure they knew I was born to this.
When you told your parents you were going into politics, your mother cried and your dad wasn't much happier. But your brother, Jim, served as mayor and city attorney, among other roles, and was cultivated for a political life.
I know, they groomed Jim! Now that I've gone through probably one of the nastiest campaigns I've ever gone through, I can see how if one of my children showed some interest, I would probably give them a very cautionary perception of this world.
You ran one ad labeling your opponent as "extreme." One now-notorious YouTube ad, created by a conservative Republican, showed gangsta rappers and alleged that you had the city hire gang members to be gang intervention specialists. It even showed you as a pole dancer giving money to thugs.
[She laughs.] I never thought I would see myself dancing on a pole while running for Congress! Has to be a first.
You sought a cease-and-desist order about a Fox TV news story saying you intervened on behalf of a gang member who had been arrested, which became part of the story. In hindsight, was that the right move?
The Fox report was false. This guy was never on my payroll; I never got this guy out of jail; the whole thing was false. We were trying one more thing to keep them from airing that. But to have Fox News run [that] a couple of days before the election, a nine-minute story, it should have been declared an independent expenditure [on behalf of] my opponent.
Are your constituents satisfied that you didn't do anything improper?
The fact that I won by almost 10 points proved that this was not an issue; voters were convinced that I had[n't] done anything wrong. Every law enforcement agency was supporting my candidacy, so I don't think it resonated with people at all.
Your father once said politics and the pulpit are the two noblest callings.
He sure did. In his day and age people allowed it to be a noble calling. Now being a politician, and God-forbid a career politician, is a dirty word. In my dad's era, people were more respectful of those in politics.
Why has it changed?
There's just a lot of anger out there, and we are the target of some of that anger when we're not perceived as working fast enough on behalf of the people who elected us. You have people who absolutely don't believe government has a role in people's lives, and feel like slash[ing] and burn[ing] programs at the expense of seniors and those who really depend on government. I have seniors extremely upset at the thought of Social Security or Medicare being changed.
The economy is not good, people are out of work, people lost their homes, and I don't believe the American people think this president or this Congress is doing enough.
Beginning in Congress must be like the first day of school; for starters, where's your office?
I will be taking Jane Harman's office until the next election. She has a good office, but [after] the next election cycle, I will get bumped to the basement. I don't care -- put me in the basement. I'm in Congress! It's pretty exciting to be here.
You went to a Christian university, and your parents were quite religious. On Capitol Hill, even faith is politicized.
We talked about [faith] at my mom's service. She was the daughter of missionaries in Japan.
You're right, even that gets convoluted back here, but maybe that's an opportunity for me to find common ground with somebody who maybe wouldn't think I would have a faith I could talk about.
This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. Interview archive: latimes.com/pattasks.