#MeToo Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia demanded male gropers step down. #HerToo

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, watches as the votes were posted in 2016 for a measure requiring that lawmakers and legislative staff attend sexual harassment training every two years.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, watches as the votes were posted in 2016 for a measure requiring that lawmakers and legislative staff attend sexual harassment training every two years. AP

Daniel Fierro understands he is not the familiar face of the #MeToo or #WeSaidEnough movements.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, was.

Garcia, co-chair of the legislative women’s caucus, was on the cover of Time magazine a few months ago with other Silence Breakers, speaking truth about men who abused their power by harassing women.

Women who have experienced or seen sexual harassment in the Capitol are speaking out, but many fear the consequences of telling their stories.

Garcia was posing on the Assembly floor last month with other powerful women wearing black, showing her solidarity with sisters working in low-paying jobs, vulnerable to unwanted advances.

Garcia was speaking on the Assembly floor the other day in favor of the bill granting whistleblower protection for legislative staff members who had to endure lecherous legislators.

“You’re not standing alone,” she said.

Fierro was one of the people who did feel alone and unsure of the implications for his future. Fierro recalled being groped by Garcia in 2014 after the annual legislative softball game at Raley Field, as first reported by Carla Marinucci in Politico.

Politico anonymously quoted another man, a lobbyist, telling a similar story of being accosted by Garcia in 2017 and saying he smelled alcohol on her breath. Similarly, Fierro said Garcia seemed inebriated in 2014.

On Friday, Garcia announced she would take an unpaid leave pending an investigation by the Assembly Rules Committee. That was the only proper response, given her statements about men who had committed similar acts. But she also issued a statement saying she is “certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of.”

Fierro said he never felt physically threatened by Garcia or unable to escape. “I have female colleagues who have gone through much worse,” he said in an interview with a Sacramento Bee editorial board member.

And yet there is a familiar ring to what Fierro describes: a person with authority imposing on a subordinate. In 2014, Fierro was 25, a junior staffer working for Assemblyman Ian Calderon, definitely “not looking to cause trouble.”

He sees Garcia at political events, lives in Cerritos, which is part of her district, and worries his firm, Presidio Strategic Communications, could take a hit. That would affect employees who depend on him.

But he also became angry at what he saw as Garcia’s hypocrisy as she sought to become one of the most out-front leaders of a movement that is bringing about much needed change in the workplace.

In denouncing harassers, Garcia has insisted people believe accusers, and disclosed that a powerful male lobbyist groped her shortly after she took office in 2012, though she has not named him.

“It started two weeks after I was elected,” Garcia said, as reported by The Sacramento Bee’s Taryn Luna and Alexei Koseff when the #MeToo movement was gathering momentum. “I had a lobbyist grab my butt and I had a senator tell me not to do anything because this guy had power and it was bad for my career.”

After hearing such comments, Fierro last month told his old boss, Calderon, who properly informed the Assembly Rules Committee. Garcia said she hopes the committee quickly completes its investigation into Fierro’s allegation. We hope so, too.

For some people, this episode will raise credibility questions about the #MeToo claims. It shouldn’t. Whatever the investigation yields, it won’t hurt to remind that the impulse to abuse power is an equal opportunity character flaw.

Women and men alike have taken to social media recently to post "#MeToo" to raise awareness for the number of victims of sexual harassment and assault. People were encouraged to tweet the hashtag if they had been victims of these themselves.

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