‘I could smell the booze and see she was pretty far gone’
When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos* rescinded the Obama administration’s Title IX guidance documents, some states considered legislation that would codify its provisions in their own laws, namely a low evidence standard and preferential treatment of accusers.
It’s causing Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia immediate headaches: A college where she was scheduled to speak today has postponed the event.
She also announced Friday she was “voluntarily taking an immediate unpaid leave” from the Assembly “so as not to serve as a distraction or in any way influence the process of this investigation,” even as she disputed the allegations.
Politico reports Garcia is under investigation by the Rules Committee following groping accusations by a former male legislative staffer, Daniel Fierro, who now leads his own PR firm.
His account of her behavior was corroborated by Lerna Shirinian, the communications director for Fierro’s then-boss, Assemblyman Ian Calderon:
“I remember it very clearly, he told me as soon as it happened..he was in shock, I was in shock — but the culture was very different back then,” Shirinian said, noting the admission was in confidence and she had to respect her friend’s decision not to report it.
Another former male legislative staffer also confirmed Fierro’s account. A lobbyist separately accused Garcia of a pattern of sexual harassment years later, an account corroborated by a female “high profile political operative in Sacramento.” All three declined to be named.
The Claremont Independent reports Pomona College’s politics department was scheduled to feature Garcia, a 1999 graduate, this afternoon at a “pizza and politics” talk.
The flyer for the event notes that she “currently chairs the Legislative Women’s Caucus” and “has been a leading voice for women’s issues, government transparency, and environmental justice.”
The event has been postponed in light of the allegations, department chair Susan McWilliams told the Independent.
Also the chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Garcia was in a position to retaliate against both Fierro and the lobbyist if they reported her. The former was a young man trying to launch his communications business, and the latter, who represents a “major industry trade association,” had business before her committee.
Because Fierro left the Assembly before whistleblower protections were signed into law last week, “he is not protected,” according to Politico:
Since he no longer works for the legislature, Fierro won’t receive legal counsel or any help in his effort to report the assemblywoman’s conduct. Nor will he have any protection from retribution in the insular world of California politics, where former staffers, strategists, lawmakers and lobbyists often cross paths.
— KC Johnson (@kcjohnson9) February 9, 2018
The allegations share one undercurrent: Garcia’s public drunkenness.
Fierro said Garcia “cornered him alone” while he was cleaning the dugout after the annual Assembly softball game in 2014, “began stroking his back, then squeezed his buttocks and attempted to touch his crotch.”
She seemed to be drunk, and when he saw her again later that night, “she had to have other people hold her up.”
Garcia has that reputation in Sacramento: The lobbyist said he saw her “in an intoxicated state on several occasions” around town, “sometimes appearing to need help.”
Last May, Garcia followed up on repeated late-night phone propositions to the lobbyist by propositioning him at a political fundraiser:
She spotted him and said,“Where are you going?” the lobbyist said.
“She came back and was whispering real close and I could smell the booze and see she was pretty far gone,’’ he said. “She looked at me for a second and said, “I’ve set a goal for myself to fuck you.”
At that point, Garcia “stepped in front of me and reaches out and is grabbing for my crotch,’’ he said. That was “the line in the sand,” according to the lobbyist, and he stopped her. “I was four inches from her, eyeball to eyeball — and I said, ‘That ain’t gonna happen.’”
The lobbyist and Fierro said they are airing their accusations now because of the #MeToo moment and Garcia’s leading role in it as well as the related #WeSaidEnough.
She was featured in the Time story “The Silence Breakers.”
I didn’t know I was part of the story. That I was pictured and added to a timeline of this reckoning. It’s an awkwardly humbling experience, but I am proud of this work and the company I am in. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of @TIME &read about the bravery.#MeToo #WeSaidEnough pic.twitter.com/P1bfCDPKCf
— Cristina Garcia (@AsmGarcia) December 15, 2017
Fierro said he mentioned the incident last month to Calderone, his former boss, leading to the Rules Committee investigation – which quickly leaked.
The lobbyist was galled by Garcia’s hypocrisy:
“I watched her jumping into this, and she’s Joan of Arc,” he said. “She’s pushing against people who have done a lot of things — some worse than her, and some not.”
Garcia issued a statement Thursday that she was never apprised of the allegations “until today” but she will “participate fully in any investigation that takes place:
I can confirm that I did attend the 2014 legislative softball game with a number of members and my staff. I can also say I have zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior and such behavior is inconsistent with my values.
She followed up that statement Friday announcing her legislative leave:
Upon reflection of the details alleged, I am certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of. However, as I’ve said before, any claims about sexual harassment must be taken seriously, and I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard of accountability. … I implore the Assembly Rules Committee to conduct a thorough and expeditious investigation, and I look forward to getting back to work on behalf of my constituents and for the betterment of California.
Hours before the Politico report was published, Garcia was educating her Twitter followers about consent.
The Claremont Independent notes Pomona celebrated its alumna in September 2016 as “a force of change in Sacramento” and one of the few Latina legislators who was “just getting started.”
She “discovered her passions and developed her leadership skills and sense of social responsibility” as a Pomona student, and “continued to foster” her lifelong idealism on campus.
It set her up for office when she knocked off an incumbent in 2012 and rose through the ranks to vice chair of the women’s caucus:
“I grew up in a household with strong women. When I showed up to the legislature, I became a second-class citizen in a way I had never felt. [I was] sexually harassed early on – even though I was a legislator. And I was told to sit down because I didn’t know what was going on. …
“I decided that to be legislator, I was going to legislate to empower other women and change that. There’s a lot work and not enough women, so I want to share the wealth with other women,” she says.
She became known for her efforts to repeal the so-called tampon tax – also rejected by Gov. Brown – and to “revise an outdated definition of rape,” apparently referring to the codification bill that Brown also vetoed.
UPDATE: The headline and body of the article have been revised to account for news that Garcia’s alma mater postponed an event where she was scheduled to speak. She also announced she was taking leave from the Assembly for the duration of the investigation. Information from an earlier Pomona feature on Garcia has been added as well.
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