Cristina Garcia (politician)
|Member of the California State Assembly|
from the 58th district
|Assumed office |
December 3, 2012
|Preceded by||District established|
|Born||August 22, 1977|
Bell Gardens, California, U.S.
|Education||Pomona College (BA)|
Claremont Graduate University (MA)
University of Southern California(ABD)
Cristina Garcia (born August 22, 1977) is an American politician serving in the California State Assembly. She is a Democrat representing the 58th Assembly District, which encompasses parts of southeastern Los Angeles County, including her home city of Bell Gardens. She has served in the Assembly since 2012.
While Garcia had been involved in politics in high school, where she organized opposition to Proposition 187, after college she became a teacher. In the late 2000s, tired of what seemed to her to be inaction by the Bell Gardens city council, she began attending its meetings and questioning its members. A bid to get elected to council herself failed, but a friend who lived in neighboring Bell asked her if she could attend that city's council meetings and help her figure out why its property taxes were so high. The investigations they did led to a municipal corruption scandal in which several city officials were found to have enriched themselves at public expense and imprisoned.
The reputation Garcia earned for her role in exposing the Bell corruption formed part of her appeal to voters when she sought the newly created 58th District seat in 2012. Despite being outfunded, Garcia upset favorite Tom Calderon, a former assemblyman, in the primary and went on to easily defeat her Republican opponent in the general election; later she would call for his brother Ron's resignation from the State Senate when he and Tom were charged with bribery, charges they both later pleaded guilty to. In 2014 and 2016 she faced no serious opposition and was re-elected easily.
In the Assembly, Garcia has championed liberal, feminist progressive causes, including early legislation to protect Assembly employees who report sexual harassment that led her to be described as a leader of the #MeToo movement. That created problems in 2018, when she was accused by two men of having propositioned and, in one case, groped them at Assembly events; her staff also said she created a hostile work environment, making them play spin the bottle. Garcia was stripped of her Assembly committee seats after an investigation into the charges, which she claimed were false and politically motivated, found she had used racist and homophobic language to refer to other Assemblymembers as well as requiring staffers to perform personal tasks for her. The investigation into the sexual harassment allegations is still pending.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Early career
- 3 Anti-Corruption Advocacy
- 4 California Assembly
- 5 Controversies
- 6 Electoral history
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Garcia was raised in Bell Gardens, California one of a number of largely Latino working-class suburbs in Southeast Los Angeles County. Her parents, who were from Mexico, divorced when Garcia's mother was pregnant with her. Her mother worked making clothes in a sweatshop, raising her four children in a one bedroom apartment. Later, Garcia's mother started her own clothing manufacturing business and remarried. Investments in other businesses and properties followed, and though they were upwardly mobile, the family stayed in Bell Gardens.
Prop 187 Opposition
While still in high school, Garcia and a friend organized opposition to Proposition 187, a statewide ballot measure championed by then-governor Pete Wilson that sought to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit undocumented residents from receiving non-emergency health care, public education and other services in California. Although Prop 187 passed in November 1994, it was later found unconstitutional and never implemented.
Growing up, Garcia was a self-described math nerd. She went to Pomona College, where she studied both math and politics. She spent her junior year studying in Prague as the Czech Republic, after years of Soviet rule, took its first steps toward democracy in the wake of the Velvet Revolution. Later, she earned a teaching credential and a master's degree from Claremont Graduate School, and is a doctoral candidate in public administration at USC.
After her mother suffered a heart attack in 2009, the thirty year-old Garcia moved back to Bell Gardens to help care for her parents (her stepfather was already struggling with diabetes). She has admitted to being frustrated with the move because, like many ambitious young people from the area, she had felt success meant "leaving and never coming back."
Bell Gardens Activism
She complained regularly about the city's lack of services and economic development, until she took her sister's advice to stop griping and do something about it. She became a regular at City Council meetings, turning into an agitator and a gadfly. She studied budgets, learned how to make Public Records Act requests, tracked the compensation city officials received, and demanded fiscal responsibility.
In 2009, Garcia ran for Bell Gardens city council, but fell 114 votes short of getting one of the three open seats.
City of Bell Corruption
At about the same time, activists in the neighboring city of Bell were growing concerned about rising local property taxes, and what their money was going toward. One of them asked Garcia for help, and she started digging into Bell's finances. Los Angeles Times reporter Jeff Gottlieb said Garcia was one of the first people he interviewed about corruption in Bell— "Talking to Cristina and others, you got a feeling that there was something wrong in Bell..."
On Thursday, July 15, 2010, the L.A. Times broke its first story on the corruption in Bell. Headlined "Is A City Manager Worth $800,000?" it detailed the exorbitant salaries Robert Rizzo and other Bell city officials were paid. (For their coverage of the corruption in Bell, Times reporters Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives were awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.)
That night, Garcia and local businessman Ali Saleh—with Dale Walker and Denise Rodarte joining the next day— founded a group that would come to be called BASTA—an acronym for the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, and in Spanish, ENOUGH!
Garcia became the chief spokesperson for the grassroots movement that, according to BASTA political consultant Leo Briones, did 60 press releases in a year. In a city where the electorate was known for apathy, the group drew hundreds of residents to town hall meetings, covered the city with overnight flyer blitzes, staged rallies and flooded council meetings with thousands of angry residents.
After the Mayor and targeted council members refused to step down, BASTA organized a recall effort in August 2010 and started collecting signatures to put the measure before the voters. In March 2011, the effort succeeded in ousting Mayor Oscar Hernandez and council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, as well as Luis Artiga, who had resigned but remained on the ballot.
Rizzo and Corrupt Officials Sentenced
On April 16, 2014, former city administrator Robert Rizzo was sentenced to 12 years in state prison and ordered to pay $8.8 million in restitution to the city of Bell—in addition to the 33 month federal prison sentence he had already received for tax fraud. In all, seven officials received sentences and fines, including an 11 years and eight months prison sentence for Rizzo's assistant city manager, Angela Spaccia.
In 2012, Cristina won a seat in the California Assembly with an upset victory over former Assemblyman Tom Calderon in the Democratic Primary, and garnered 71.5% of the vote despite being outspent by a margin of 7 to 1 against her Republican opponent.
Garcia does not presently serve on any committees; she was removed from all of them after an investigation in 2018 found she had made her staff perform personal tasks and used prejudiced language to refer to gay and Asian colleagues. She is also a former assistant majority leader of the Assembly.
Calderon Resignation Advocacy
In 2013, Garcia was the first member of the California Legislature to call for then State Senator Ron Calderon to resign from office after an unsealed FBI affidavit and subsequent news reports surfaced of possible corruption. Calderon was the most powerful member of a political dynasty for decades in California that included his brothers, former state assembly members Tom Calderon and Charles Calderon, and his nephew, current state Assemblyman Ian Calderon.
In October 2016, Ron Calderon was sentenced to 42 months and admitted in a plea deal of accepting tens of thousands of dollars from undercover FBI agents and a hospital executive. Tom Calderon was sentenced to a year in federal custody for laundering bribes taken by his brother.
A judge's recommendation in August 2017 that Ron Calderon be considered for early release drew outrage from Garcia who said, "Granting his request...after only serving seven months in a white-collar facility—is an added insult to my community and a void of justice in our democracy."
In 2017, Garcia became recognized as a strong voice in the #MeToo movement. In an interview with the New York Times, Garcia revealed that she had been repeatedly sexually harassed by men during her legislative career, and later co-signed a letter calling for an end to workplace harassment of women. She has also said that some members of the California Assembly are not attentive during sexual harassment training that is conducted by legislative staff. She was one of a number of people whose pictures were featured in TIME magazine's 2017 Person of the Year issue honoring what it called "The Silence Breakers"—women (and men) who had broken their silence about experiences of sexual harassment.
False claims of graduate degrees
During Garcia's initial campaign for her Assembly in 2012, her campaign literature stated she had received a Ph.D in public administration from the University of Southern California (USC). However, after the Los Cerritos News reported that she had not, she admitted that she had not been vigilant about what her brochures said. While she had completed the coursework for the degree in 2009, her involvement in Bell's anti-corruption efforts had taken precedence since then, and she was all but dissertation. The literature should have clearly stated that she was a doctoral candidate at USC, Garcia admitted.
Garcia apologized for the oversight and asked voters to forgive her. Her opponent in that race, Patricia Kotze-Ramos, told the News she had been aware that Garcia did not have the degree but had chosen until then not to publicize that information. Kotze-Ramos accepted Garcia's apology, but said it was ultimately up to voters, who elected Garcia the next month.
At that time, Garcia claimed she had written over a hundred pages of her dissertation, on social barriers to women's volunteer activities in the U.S., and would finish it and complete the doctorate "in the near future". But eight years later, when Garcia was under investigation by the Assembly for sexual harassment and prejudiced remarks, Politico called USC to see whether she had finished the degree or not. The university said that after Garcia's initial enrollment ended in 2010, she had enrolled for one semester in 2016 but had not yet finished the degree.
Politico also found that contrary to her claims, Garcia had never received a master's degree from the University of California at Los Angeles. In fact, officials there said she had never attended the school. Two reference works on California politics, the Target Book and the state's Legislative Digest, listed Garcia as having received the UCLA degree as of 2017. The publishers of both said they derived their material from previously published sources and did not attempt to verify any of those claims. However, Target Book publisher Darry Sragow said that neither Garcia nor her staff had ever informed his company that the assemblywoman had not, in fact, received a master's.
Accusations of sexual misconduct
In January 2018, Daniel Fierro, a former staff member for Assemblyman Ian Calderon and current head of Presidio Strategic Communications (formerly Fierro Public Affairs), a public relations and public policy consulting firm that lists Ian Calderon as a client, claimed an intoxicated Garcia had once groped and fondled him against his will following the Assembly's annual softball game in 2014. Two people who were colleagues of Fierro later attested having been told of the incident immediately after it had occurred. An unnamed lobbyist told Politico that Garcia had repeatedly telephoned him with invitations for drinks and, after being rejected, physically confronted him and told him that she'd "set a goal for myself to fuck you".
Garcia denied both men's allegations. In February, she announced that she would take a voluntary unpaid leave while the California State Assembly investigated the sexual misconduct claims.
A month later, four of Garcia's former staff members filed a complaint with the Assembly Rules Committee alleging misconduct rising to the level of a hostile work environment, saying that she regularly drank in the office, discussed sex in explicit terms and pressured her staff to play spin the bottle. David Kernick, one of the four, came forward a few days later to accuse Garcia of firing him for complaining about this.
Those allegations notwithstanding, California Democrats endorsed Garcia in her reelection bid a week later at their convention in San Diego. The decision had been made beforehand at a local caucus when the allegations were not et publicly known, and party regulations made it impossible to withdraw the endorsement, which a party official described as an "elephant in the room" at the convention and "the kind of thing that our rules have not contemplated." Two union groups did not back her. After she cited her support from labor in a speech, the president of the California Labor Federation said that the organization had not made any endorsement in the race. The State Building and Construction Trades Council withdrew its previous support for her and ran television ads urging voters to choose someone else in the primary.
In May the California Assembly Rules Committee found that the 2014 groping allegations were unsubstantiated as they could not corroborate Fierro's account. Garcia, who said she had been "exonerated" in a press release issued before the committee's decision was announced, returned to work the following Monday, ending her self-imposed unpaid leave of absence. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon removed Garcia from all her committee assignments, one of which, the Natural Resources Committee, she chaired.
Fierro filed an appeal two weeks after the decision. He claimed that the committee's investigators had not interviewed several witnesses, including other Assemblymembers, who were present and saw Garcia's behavior. In mid-June, the committee announced that it would conduct a further investigation, led by a different person, in response to Fierro's appeal, a development he welcomed. Garcia, in response, suggested the allegations were political in nature and criticized the committee for leaking the letter to the news media before her lawyer had received it.
Campaign contributions from other female legislators
In late September, with the investigation still pending as a result of the appeal, Politico reported that four other female state legislators, two of whom chaired the Joint Legislative Subcommittee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response, had made donations to Garcia's campaign totalling over $10,000. They gave varying reasons as to why they believed the donations were acceptable despite the situation.
Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, the joint subcommittee's chair, justified her $2,500 contribution by saying that Garcia, a friend, had asked her for the money and helped her in the past. "I certainly hope the investigation clears her", she added, although she admitted that she might feel differently if it did not. State Senator Holly Mitchell, who gave Garcia the same amount, said the successful appeal of the investigation did not concern her, since that was an Assembly rule and she was in the Senate. As far as she was concerned Garcia had been cleared, since she had won the primary even after the allegations had been made public.
Garcia also received $4,400 from Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and another $2,500 from state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. Fierro said the contributions and the women's defenses of them suggested that the investigation, which to his knowledge was still interviewing witnesses, was probably biased in Garcia's favor. "You can't tell me you're letting the process takes its course — and at the same time write a $2000 check to her." The lobbyist who claimed Garcia had groped him in the bar agreed that it seemed like "the fix is in".
Mike Simpfenderfer, Garcia's Republican opponent in that year's election, also criticized the other lawmakers. "It's like the good old boys club—except it's a good old girls club." Christine Pelosi, daughter of U.S. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and chair of the California Democratic Women's Caucus, said that while she did not know the legislators' motivations for supporting Garcia financially, this was nevertheless another reason why this sort of investigation needed to be independent of the legislature. "It's embarrassing for everyone to try and explain the optics" she said. "And what this does is raise more questions than answers."
Shortly after news of the campaign contributions broke, Fierro filed an ethics complaint with the legislature alleging that Garcia and another Democratic assemblywoman, Sharon Quirk-Silva, had been pressuring other candidates and officials not to hire his consulting firm as retaliation for "being a man accusing a woman in the #metoo era." Both women denied the charge. Garcia called it "yet another example of the litany of lies against me" and Quirk-Silva said "[a]ny claim that I have retaliated against anyone is categorically false".
Fierro said that Quirk-Silva had pressured Ahmad Zahra, a client of his who was running for Fullerton City Council, to use another firm when the two met at a community event in June. He included screenshots of texts to Zahra from sitting city councilman Jesus Silva, the assemblywoman's husband, asking if Fierro was "the guy accusing Cristina". When Zahra asked explicitly if Silva wanted him to fire Fierro's firm, the councilman replied "I'm not telling you what to do", which Zahra found intimidating. At a later event, he alleges, Quirk-Silva explicitly told Zahra to fire Fierro's firm.
Silva called the complaint "very much politically motivated". He pointed out that ultimately, Zahra continued to retain Fierro's firm and was endorsed by his wife, along with another Fierro client running for council. Quirk-Silva even attended one of Zahra's later fundraisers, he added.
Fierro further alleged that fear of Garcia led trustees of the ABC Unified School District in Cerritos to not consider his bid for a public relations contract with the district earlier in the year. A Garcia staffer also approached the district when he was bidding for a contract to manage a bond issue campaign and offered to help ABC find another consultant who could do the same job for free, Fierro's complaint further alleges.
The Assembly's Rules Committee hired outside counsel to investigate the complaint. It has also instructed the investigator still considering Fierro's original complaint to consider the retaliation claim as well. The complaint is a necessary preliminary step toward filing a lawsuit if Fierro should choose to do so; the Assembly has 45 days to reject the claim or offer a settlement.
Racist and homophobic language
In late March, other aides or former aides of Garcia's (including one of her accusers in the sexual harassment complaint) blamed her for having created a homophobic environment in the workplace and for referring to gay men—including fellow Democrats such as John Pérez, the state's first openly gay speaker—as "homos" or "faggots". Garcia denied using the latter word, but confirmed using the former, including against Pérez, saying she had employed "candid language" in settings "where you think you're in a safe space and you could speak your mind and be vocal." In response, Perez said he was 'incredibly disturbed' by the reports of homophobia on Garcia's part and said that her explanation for having used the term reveals "a pattern of rationalization and minimization of the impact of the use of homophobic language." Evan Low, Chair of the California LGBT Legislative Caucus, also condemned Garcia, saying that the story "reflects the everyday struggles that our LGBT community faces on a daily basis". David John Kernick, one of Garcia's accusers in the sexual harassment complaint, said that it was “a bald-faced lie” that Garcia never used the word "faggot" and that both that word and "homo" were "part of her regular vocabulary". Describing himself as "a member of the LGBT community", but adding that he was not out during his work with Garcia, he said that all he did in response to Garcia's alleged bigotry was, "internalize it. I had no choice."
While that investigation was pending, it was also reported in the press that, in 2014, Garcia made an anti-Asian comment during a meeting of the Assembly Democratic Caucus and that, as a result, she was admonished by Perez. On the agenda of the heated meeting were Asian American lobbying efforts to block a Democratic bill to reverse California's ban on affirmative action in college admissions. At one point, Garcia reportedly exclaimed, "This makes me feel like I want to punch the next Asian person I see in the face." Perez confirmed the incident did take place but that no formal action was ever taken against Garcia for her words.
The investigation also concluded that Garcia had "commonly and pervasively" used vulgar language around staff, used staff to perform personal services, and "disparaged other elected officials."
2012 California State Assembly
|California's 58th State Assembly district election, 2012|
|Republican||Patricia A. Kotze-Ramos||9,015||28.1|
|Democratic||Luis H. Marquez||3,946||12.3|
|Democratic||Sultan "Sam" Ahmad||1,197||3.7|
|Republican||Patricia A. Kotze-Ramos||35,676||28.2|
2014 California State Assembly
|California's 58th State Assembly district election, 2014|
|Democratic||Cristina Garcia (incumbent)||19,392||100.0|
|Democratic||Cristina Garcia (incumbent)||43,182||100.0|
2016 California State Assembly
|California's 58th State Assembly district election, 2016|
|Democratic||Cristina Garcia (incumbent)||56,052||100.0|
|Republican||Ramiro Alvarado (write-in)||19||0.0|
|Democratic||Cristina Garcia (incumbent)||105,170||75.3|
2018 primary election
On June 5, 2018 Garcia finished first in the race for the 58th California Assembly seat in California's top-two primary election. In a field that included seven Democrats, Mike Simpfenderfer, the lone Republican, finished second, setting up a race between him and Garcia in the November general election.
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