Her too? California lawmaker and #MeToo advocate accused of groping -- twice; Update: Voluntary unpaid leave

Who is Cristina Garcia? The California assemblywoman has carved out a recent niche in the Golden State as an advocate against sexual harassment, raising her profile to national status, Politico’s Carla Marinucci reports. However, her national profile might come back to haunt her after a former staffer publicly accused Garcia of groping him in 2014:

In December, when Time magazine announced that “Silence Breakers” who spoke out against sexual harassment were its Persons of the Year, Garcia’s face was prominently included in the art accompanying the cover story.

But Daniel Fierro of Cerritos told POLITICO that in 2014, as a 25-year-old staffer to Assemblyman Ian Calderon, he was groped by Garcia, a powerful Democratic lawmaker who chairs the Legislative Women’s Caucus and the Natural Resources Committee.

He said she cornered him alone after the annual Assembly softball game in Sacramento as he attempted to clean up the dugout. Fierro, who said Garcia appeared inebriated, said she began stroking his back, then squeezed his buttocks and attempted to touch his crotch before he extricated himself and quickly left.

Fierro isn’t the only one making the accusation, either. A “prominent” lobbyist in Sacramento claims Garcia assaulted him last May at a fundraiser for state senator Josh Newman, headlined by Governor Jerry Brown. This accuser tells Marinucci that Garcia appeared to be drinking heavily at that time too, but that the incident was the culmination of a longer cycle of flirting and romantic pursuit by Garcia, presumably one-sided:

“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.’”

Should Garcia catch a break because of the intoxication factor, if these allegations are true? Absolutely not, says #MeToo advocate … Cristina Garcia:

In a November interview with AP about alcohol-fueled fundraisers and other after-work events that are a part of regular business in Sacramento, Garcia said blaming alcohol isn’t an acceptable excuse for sexually inappropriate behavior. It’s men who chose to misbehave, not the social events themselves, that create the problems, she said.

“I would say that most of the public realizes that our job is based on relationships, and so we are expected to go out there and socialize,” she said. “I think our public also expects us to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”

Especially from politicians who grandstand on emerging social movements, amiriteThe Washington Post offers a slideshow primer on Garcia, who claims she has “no recollection” of the Fierro incident:

In a statement sent to The Post through a spokeswoman, Garcia said she did not recall doing anything wrong.

“The details of these claims have never been brought to my attention until today,” the statement read. “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.”

What does this tell us? It doesn’t discredit the #MeToo movement, but it should refine our sense of what the actual problem is. It’s not a gene on the Y chromosome; it is power aggregated with little accountability. It happens more often with men because far more men than women find themselves in those positions of unaccountable power. The solution, therefore, isn’t merely to get more women in positions of power (although that may be desirable for other reasons) but to impose more accountability on power structures so that misbehavior and actual crimes have immediate consequences.

That accountability should have started long before Garcia shanghaied the #MeToo movement and demonstrated her hypocrisy. It’s not too late to apply that accountability to Garcia, both for the harassment and for the hypocrisy.

Update: Garcia’s denying both allegations, but she’s also going on voluntary unpaid leave:

California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia took a voluntary unpaid leave of absence Friday, a day after sexual misconduct allegations against her became public.

Garcia, a Democrat and chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, is accused of groping former legislative staff member Daniel Fierro in 2014, an allegation she denies. He reported the claim in January and it is now under formal investigation. Garcia said she’s taking leave to avoid distractions and any appearance of influence over the investigation.

“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. “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. ”