California lawmaker and #MeToo advocate accused of sexual misconduct

Assemblymember Cristina Garcia center speaks during a meeting on climate change in Herbert on Nov. 3 2017

Assemblymember Cristina Garcia center speaks during a meeting on climate change in Herbert on Nov. 3 2017

Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia has been a leading figure in the #MeToo campaign and state's anti-sexual harassment movement but she now finds herself accused of sexually harassing a male staffer several years ago.

On Thursday, the male staffer told The Associated Press that Garcia stroked his back, she then squeezed Fierro's buttocks and tried to touch and feel his crotch in a dugout after a 2014 legislative softball game.

Garcia has been accused of groping by two separate individuals, one of whom is Daniel Fierro, a former staffer for assemblyperson Ian Calderon.

What makes this even more surprising is that Garcia has been an advocate for legislation to protect whistleblowers against retaliation for speaking up. "I can also say I have zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behaviour and such behaviour is inconsistent with my values", Garcia said.

Garcia, who was featured as one of Time Magazine's "Silence Breakers" in the Person of the Year edition, is now under investigation by the state legislature, Politico reports. The matter was referred to the Assembly Rules Committee, which is investigating the allegations.

A second man, a lobbyist who spoke to Politico on condition of anonymity, described a similar assault at a fundraiser at the capital's De Veres bar. I can confirm that I did attend the 2014 legislative softball game with a number of members and my staff. The Assembly has opened an investigation into Garcia.

The Los Angeles-area lawmaker said in a statement on Thursday, "Every complaint about sexual harassment should be taken seriously and I will participate fully in any investigation that takes place".

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Garcia was elected in 2012 and has carved out a name as a champion of women's issues and environmental health for poor communities and chairs the Women's Caucus.

Since Fierro's story came out, at least one other individual has come forward to accuse Garcia of inappropriate sexual behavior.

"She came back and was whispering real close and I could smell the booze and see she was pretty far gone, " he said.

"As a vocal ally of the #MeToo and #WeSaidEnough movements, I am shocked and disturbed at the very troubling allegations related to California Legislative Women's Caucus Chair Cristina Garcia", she wrote. "I think our public also expects us to hold ourselves to a higher standard".

Lerna Shirinian, Calderon's communications director, said Fierro told her about the incident right after it happened. He previously worked for Calderon, who became the majority leader. Garcia told the New York Times in 2017 that she was one of the women sexually harassed in the capitol during the course of her work, which fueled her passion and drove her to fight against those who subject women to unwanted advances.

Fierro said he fears that his accusation will harm the #MeToo movement since Garcia is so closely associated with it, but made a decision to speak out since her actions are contrary to the movement's cause. Bocanegra later resigned after more women made public accusations.

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