#MeToo movement lawmaker made anti-Asian comments

 In Politics

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell, applauded the inclusion of $400 million for early education and child care in the 2016-2017 state budget as she urged lawmakers to approve the spending plan Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Both houses of the legislature approved the $122.5 billion budget plan sending it to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown who is expected to sign it into law. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (pictured) has taken a voluntary leave of absence, but is seeking reelection. She is under investigation for allegedly groping and sexual harassing former legislative staffers. | Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

SAN FRANCISCO — California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, the prominent #MeToo activist now under investigation for groping and sexual harassment of former legislative staffers, was reprimanded by former Assembly Speaker John Perez in 2014 for making racially insensitive comments against Asians.

Perez confirmed to POLITICO Saturday that he had to “strongly admonish” Garcia after she made comments against Asians in a closed-door Assembly Democratic Caucus meeting in 2014 — the same year in which she also acknowledged using homophobic slurs aimed at Perez, the first openly gay Speaker of the California State Assembly.

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Sources familiar with the incident say Garcia’s anti-Asian remarks came during a legislative battle that arose when Asian-American community activists successfully lobbied to defeat a Democratic proposal to overturn California’s ban on affirmative action in college admissions. They argued that such a move could hurt Asian student admission rates.

Perez in mid-March 2014 announced a move to return the bill to the Senate without any action from the Assembly, effectively blocking its advance.

Garcia, the sources said, erupted in anger during a tense meeting of the entire Assembly Democratic caucus.

“This makes me feel like I want to punch the next Asian person I see in the face,” according to sources present at the meeting and other legislative sources who were told about the comments in the immediate aftermath.

Perez said no formal action was ever taken after the incident. Asked if Garcia ever apologized to the Asian American community or to her fellow legislators for the comments, Perez said, “If she did, I am unaware of it.’”

The revelations about Garcia’s past use of racially insensitive language come as political troubles continue to mount for the Bell Gardens Democrat, whom sources say is preparing to return to the Assembly after a voluntary leave of absence and run for reelection.

Her leave followed POLITICO’s report of a formal complaint that she groped a former legislative staffer after a legislative softball game. She also faces allegations, also first reported by POLITICO, that she sexually harassed David John Kernick, a former staff member in her office, allegedly urging him and staffers to play “spin the bottle” after a night of drinking in 2014.

Garcia has strongly denied the allegations, calling them part of a political witch hunt.

She did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The growing cloud around Garcia prompted the powerhouse California Building and Construction Trades Council this week to launch a rare independent expenditure campaign against an incumbent Democratic assemblywoman. The campaign to block Garcia’s re-election bid in her East Los Angeles district — which sources say could involve hundreds of thousands of dollars — is titled “Working Californians Against Corruption,’’ and was filed on the California secretary of state’s website on Friday.

“The Building Trades join in the chorus of outrage over Assemblymember Garcia’s reprehensible behavior — from allegations of sexual assault and harassment, to her admitted use of hate speech against Speaker Emeritus Perez and the LGBTQ community, to her flimsy excuses for bad behavior that is not acceptable for an elected official,’’ said Erin Lehane, a spokeswoman for the organization.

Lehane told POLITICO that while the influential union has been among Garcia’s strongest supporters in the past, her “overwhelming hypocrisy” now calls for a reversal, especially since “the trades have thousands of hard working members living in Garcia’s district.”

Said Lehane: “We look forward to lifting up another Democrat in the 58th Assembly District to better represent them and their families.”

Asked for reaction to the union move to unseat Garcia, Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, through campaign spokesman Bill Wong, vowed to defend her and lambasted the new campaign as “a thinly veiled attempt by Big Oil and polluters to intimidate me and my members.”

Calling the effort “an affront to my speakership,’’ Rendon said, “We are proud of the work that the Assembly has done to increase jobs and wages while defending our environment.” He added: “We will vigorously defend the members of our caucus from any ill-advised political attack.”

Rendon appeared to be referring to a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times Friday, paid in part by the same union, which urged California Democrats to protect blue-collar workers and “real jobs that fuel the California economy” — including those in the oil and gas industry — instead of aligning with “ivory tower elites.”

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