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California Legislature’s Women’s Caucus Chair Cristina Garcia Takes Unpaid Leave Following Sexual Harassment Allegations

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

California Assemblywoman and Legislative Women's Caucus chair Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) speaks at an International Women's Day and "Day Without A Woman" rally outside the California state Capitol on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

UPDATED Feb. 9, 1:46 p.m.

Asm. Cristina Garcia has announced she is “voluntarily taking an immediate unpaid leave” from the Assembly after news broke Thursday that she is the subject of a sexual harassment investigation. Read the latest here.

California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia — the chair of the California Legislature’s Women’s Caucus and an original signer of the We Said Enough letter that sparked the #MeToo movement at the state Capitol — is now the subject of a sexual harassment investigation herself.

As reported by Politico on Thursday, a former legislative staffer says an inebriated Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) cornered and groped him in 2014 after the annual legislative softball game.

According to Politico, the staffer, Daniel Fierro, told colleagues at the time but did not report the incident, which occurred years before the #MeToo movement.

When the incident occurred, Fierro was 25 years old and worked in the district office of Asm. Ian Calderon (D-Whittier). Fierro eventually told Calderon what happened last month.

Although Fierro does not currently work for Calderon, Garcia and Calderon are both members of the Assembly, and Calderon reported the matter to the Assembly Rules Committee.

Garcia’s office confirmed that the committee informed her on January 23 that it had opened an investigation.

Calderon’s office says the Assembly member learned about the incident from Fierro on January 4 and reported it on January 8 or 9.

That means that, according to Garcia, it took the Assembly two weeks to notify her that she was under investigation.

Asked to explain the two-week delay, the Assembly Rules Committee said its policy is to notify the subject of an investigation once an independent investigator starts the investigation. The committee works quickly to secure the services of (an) independent investigator once an allegation is determined to need such services.

In an emailed statement Thursday evening, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) said the Assembly hired an outside firm to conduct the investigation — as it has in other cases involving lawmakers.

“I trust that while the investigation proceeds Assemblymember Garcia will respond appropriately and in a way that fortifies the Legislature’s effort to create a new climate,” Rendon wrote in a statement.

Garcia says that every complaint should be taken seriously, and that she will cooperate with any investigation. “The details of these claims have never been brought to my attention until today,” she wrote in a statement.

The Assembly member also confirmed that she did attend the 2014 legislative softball game with other lawmakers and staff. “I can also say I have zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior and such behavior is inconsistent with my values,” she wrote.

An Outspoken Lawmaker

Garcia has been one of the most outspoken lawmakers at the Capitol about sexual harassment. She told Capital Public Radio after the We Said Enough letter was released that she was groped just two weeks after being sworn into the Assembly and was “told by a senior member not to say anything.”

"When these people have so much power and you’re so dependent on it, you feel like it’s the cost of doing business here and that’s what I have to put up with," Garcia said this past fall.

One month later, when then-Asm. Raul Bocanegra announced he would resign amid sexual harassment allegations — but not until the end of the 2018 legislative session — Garcia insisted that wasn’t soon enough.

“I think he needs to resign, and resign immediately, and I will refuse to work with him,” Garcia told Capital Public Radio on November 20. “I’m gonna find it awkward [when the Legislature returns] in January if I have to be in the same room with him.”

Legislative Women’s Caucus vice-chairwoman Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) said in a statement she was “shocked and disturbed at the very troubling allegations” against Garcia. She said the caucus would meet “in the very near future” to discuss whether Garcia should continue as caucus chair.

“I have consistently voiced my strong opinion that any legislator under investigation by either the Assembly or Senate should take an immediate leave of absence until the review is completed,” Leyva added.

We Said Enough co-founder Adama Iwu said the allegations must be investigated thoroughly and without delay. “The Legislature must establish a confidential reporting mechanism, with due process for accusers and the accused, early intervention and restoration for the entire community,” she wrote in a text message.

Garcia established herself as an outsider unafraid to speak her mind, both as a community activist before her election in 2012 and during her five-plus years in the Assembly.

“When the city of Bell corruption scandal broke, gaining national attention, Bell residents turned to Cristina to take action,” reads her biography. “She worked with concerned citizens ... and ushered in accountability and transparency for the first time in the city's history.”

She has also criticized current and former lawmakers with connections to Fierro.

Garcia was a vocal critic of Asm. Ian Calderon’s two uncles — former Sen. Ron Calderon and former Asm. Tom Calderon — who both pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges and served time in prison. Garcia defeated Tom Calderon, who was not an incumbent at the time, in the 2012 primary election. She and Ian Calderon represent adjacent districts; Ian Calderon’s office says he and Garcia get along well.

Fierro now runs a political consulting firm, Presidio Strategic Communications, and Ian Calderon has been one of his clients since 2012.

He has also done campaign work for Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Baldwin Park), who is currently taking a voluntary leave of absence from the Senate during an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him.

And according to Fierro’s LinkedIn profile, he worked for seven months in 2011 as a field representative for former Asm. Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina), whose political career ground to a halt in 2016 after his estranged wife, Susan Rubio, accused him of domestic violence. Rubio is now running for state Senate.

Garcia has called on Mendoza to resign. She urged Hernandez to resign when Rubio’s allegations against him became public, and she endorsed Rubio for state Senate.

Capital Public Radio’s Bob Moffitt contributed to this report.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated Friday with the Assembly Rules Committee's response to why it took two weeks from the time it learned of the complaint to notify Asm. Garcia that she was under investigation.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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