May 22, 2014

State Assemblymember Cristina Garcia Gives Power to the People

Cristina Garcia
Assemblymember Garcia with teen mothers from Bell Gardens enrolled in the Cal-Safe Program, a state program that serves teen mothers and parents. (Photo courtesy of the California State Assembly)

After fighting corruption in Bell, the SES alumna’s political activism took her all the way to Sacramento

With a blend of moxie and warmth, she insists: Don’t call her “Assemblymember,” but rather, “Cristina.”

She’s worked hard for the title, but refuses to forget she’s one of the people, and California State Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) aims to restore the people’s voice, participation, and trust in their government.

Christina Garcia
Cristina Garcia (MA, Education, 2002), a former community activist, now represents California’s 58th Assembly District. (Photo courtesy of the California State Assembly)

Her 2014 political ethics package includes bills to prevent elected officials from using campaign funds to pay fines, to curb conflicts of interest, and to ensure that money from political fundraisers held in lobbyists’ homes is disclosed as a donation.

“When we introduced the package, there was a lot of skepticism, but I’m happy to say it’s moving forward,” said Garcia (MA, Education, 2002), who represents California’s 58th District

Before her election in 2012, Garcia received the Distinguished Woman of the Year Award from the California State Assembly and the California Forward Thinkers Award. Most recently, she received the Spirit of Latina Award, which recognizes women who have strengthened California’s democracy and advanced the representation of Latinas in public service. To top it off, she is running unopposed in this year’s election.

It’s an impressive record for a woman who, a few years ago, was content teaching math at Los Angeles City Community College. Garcia also taught at the high school level through the Jaime Escalante Math Program, which prepares disadvantaged, primarily Latino youth for successful careers in math.

Christina Garcia and Hilda Solis
Garcia at the 2013 Latino Spirit Awards with former US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. (Photo courtesy of the California State Assembly)

Garcia gained national attention in 2010 for fighting corruption in the city of Bell, California, as cofounder of the Bell Association to Stop Abuse. The group’s acronym, BASTA—Spanish for “enough”—became the battle cry of a citizenry weary of shady political practices.

Garcia’s political journey started in 2007, after she returned to her hometown of Bell Gardens—one of nine cities she now represents—to care for her aging parents. Moved by citizens’ complaints about the city’s leadership, she began researching Bell officials’ salaries “A resident from Bell hit me up saying, ‘We hear you’re getting information about what these elected officials are earning. How are you doing it?’ And so I started to get involved in Bell and made friends there,” she said.

She shared her findings with the Los Angeles Times and the community, voicing her suspicion that city officials earning outrageous salaries were driving the working-class city toward bankruptcy. The newspaper’s investigative work coupled with BASTA’s efforts resulted in a recall of the entire city council.

So astounding were the results that Republican Newt Gingrich mentioned the Bell scandal and lauded Garcia, a Democrat, in his book A Nation Like No Other. Further, when the 58th District was redrawn in 2011, residents urged Garcia to run for the assembly seat. First she refused, but then reconsidered. “I felt I had a responsibility to run and to be the type of leader I’d been telling the community members that we deserve.”

Garcia ran as a government reformer and defeated Republican Patricia Kotze-Ramos with 71.5 percent of the vote.

She says CGU mentored and guided her to education and serving the local community. Last October, she was honored by the University of Southern California for her work as a math advocate and her community service. Now, instead of mathematics, Garcia now teaches the people about government and the government about the people. “My mission is to convince the people that they have a voice and to help them learn to ask the right questions and better navigate the process,” she said.

Click below for a March 2014 video of Assemblymember Garcia speaking about political reform on Time Warner Cable’s Local Edition: