California lawmaker steps aside amid sexual harassment inquiry
Posted February 9, 2018 7:22 p.m. EST
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A Democratic assemblywoman and prominent face of the campaign to end sexual harassment in the state Capitol said Friday that she will take a voluntary unpaid leave of absence after she was accused of sexual misconduct.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, denied any wrongdoing. But after pressing three male lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct last year to resign or take a leave, she said she will step aside while the Assembly investigates allegations that she groped and harassed a young staffer in 2014. She said she will not take a paycheck while on the voluntary leave.
The Assembly confirmed that an outside firm has been hired to investigate the allegations against the chair of the California Legislative Women's Caucus.
``Upon reflection of the details alleged, I am certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of,'' Garcia said in a statement Friday, a day after saying she had ``zero recollection'' of the incident being alleged. ``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.''
Garcia, 40, is the second state lawmaker to take a leave of absence, joining Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, who has been on paid leave since Jan. 3 while multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him are investigated. Two lawmakers -- Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra, D-San Fernando Valley, and Matthew Dababneh, D-Encino, have resigned after facing allegations of sexual misconduct. They have all denied wrongdoing.
Garcia said she will take the immediate unpaid leave from her position as a lawmaker and from all committee posts so as ``not to serve as a distraction or in any way influence the process of this investigation.''
Daniel Fierro, a former staffer for Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, said Garcia cornered him after an Assembly softball game four years ago and grabbed his buttocks and crotch. He said he thought Garcia was inebriated. Fierro did not report the incident until January, when he told his former boss, Calderon, who then reported it to the Assembly Rules Committee.
The story was first reported by Politico in a report that included accusations from a second man, an unnamed lobbyist, who said Garcia sexually propositioned him at a fundraiser last year and tried to grab his crotch.
Garcia has been one of the most vocal advocates of exposing sexual harassment in the state Capitol. In October, as women who work in and around the Capitol began to tell their stories, Garcia was one of the first to share her experiences. She said she had been groped multiple times since being sworn into office in 2012, including by a senior lobbyist.
``I have individuals say I'm overreacting or I'm crazy and they don't want to work with me,'' Garcia told The Chronicle in October. ``I have donors who don't come to my fundraisers. I have felt the consequences.''
On Friday, Garcia urged the Assembly to conduct a ``thorough and expeditious investigation'' so she could get back to work as an assemblywoman. Garcia is up for re-election this year.
Such investigations have no established timeline, a fact that Mendoza, the other lawmaker on leave for this purpose, has criticized.