- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A California assemblywoman accused of sexual misconduct said Tuesday she’s frustrated that the investigation has stretched for nearly two months - double the time she was told it would take when she volunteered to go on an unpaid leave of absence.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Cristina Garcia again denied groping a former legislative staff member in 2014 at an event where she had allegedly been drinking.

In response to other claims, she said she has had alcohol in her office but does not have a drinking problem.

Garcia, a Los Angeles Democrat, lamented that her constituents lack a voice in Sacramento while the investigation by an outside lawyer continues, her staff members have little direction, and her re-election campaign is largely on hold.

She said she is paying her own legal expenses and was recently told by the Assembly to start paying for her health care. She and her team are now discussing whether she should return to work before the investigation concludes.

“I’ve been trying to be respectful of this whole process. People want answers - so do I,” Garcia said. “It is frustrating in the sense that there’s a lot of work that we’re not doing that’s been stalled or paused.”

Garcia said she wants to return to work so her constituents can have a voice in budget negotiations and on other issues.

“I’m ready to get back to work and make sure my district gets their fair share of the pie,” she said

The allegations against Garcia added a shocking twist to an ongoing sexual harassment scandal in the Legislature that has prompted three male lawmakers to resign.

Garcia is a vocal leader of the #MeToo movement and an advocate for environmental justice in her southeast Los Angeles district.

Garcia took a leave of absence Feb. 9 after the allegation of groping became public. Daniel Fierro, who used to work for Democratic Assemblyman Ian Calderon, said Garcia grabbed his buttocks and tried to grab his crotch in the dugout after a legislative softball game.

Later in February, David Kernick alleged he was fired from Garcia’s office in 2014 after he questioned her suggestion to play a game of spin the bottle after a fundraiser. His attorney, Dan Gilleon, held a news conference disclosing additional anonymous claims by former Garcia staffers of heavy drinking and sex talk in the office.

In the AP interview, Garcia characterized herself as a demanding boss who can have a “potty mouth” but is not verbally abusive. She said she talks about sex in the office only when it pertains to legislation, including bills she has authored about consent and condoms. She said it’s “not a secret” that she drinks but said she does not have a problem.

“As long as it’s anonymous and there’s not dates of when it happened, it’s hard to respond to it to defend yourself. All I can say is, I know who I am and when something is true I own up to it,” she said.

Later, she added, “I’m not denying that there is drinking in the Capitol, I am not denying that I am a demanding boss, I am not denying that I have a potty mouth and am not perfect.”

Details on the investigation and what it covers are unclear. Gilleon said last week that his clients have not sat for interviews with the Assembly investigator because he does not believe she is independent. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Kevin Liao, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, said the Assembly does not comment about the details of investigations and could not offer a timeline on when it would conclude.

Garcia said she believes the claims against her are part of an effort to retaliate against her for her advocacy work but declined to say who she thinks is behind the attacks.

“I know that being outspoken has its consequences,” she said.

Garcia’s district overlaps with a Senate district formerly represented by Tony Mendoza, who resigned last month after an investigation concluded he likely harassed multiple women.

Garcia came under fresh fire Tuesday for saying in an interview with KQED that she has used the word “homo” to describe former Assembly Speaker John Perez. Garcia said she’s used the word but not “in a derogatory context.”

Democratic Assemblyman Evan Low, chairman of the legislative LGBT caucus, said it was disappointing to hear “hurtful, homophobic comments,” and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said lawmakers “should know better and do better,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Perez told Capitol Public Radio he was “disturbed” by Garcia’s attempts to rationalize using the term.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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