With both Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) and Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) retiring from safe Blue districts-- Trump lost CA-40 with just 20.6% and lost CA-47, once a Republican-leaning district, with 35.3%-- Democrats in the southeast corner of Los Angeles County have a big decision to make in the newly redrawn and renumbered 42nd district. The corrupt establishment has already made theirs. The Democratic establishment (and many Republicans) are getting behind Long Beach mayor Robert Garcia. Grassroots progressives are lining up behind Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia. She's a progressive with every breath she takes; he's a conservative pretending to be a Democrat. He registered as a Republican, fought for Republican causes, worked as the California youth coordinator for the George W. Bush campaign, founded two Republican clubs in Long Beach and was elected to the city council as a Republican before realizing that in an area that was turning bluer and bluer, he had to start pretending he was a Democrat too. So he changed his party affiliation-- but not his conservative mindset.
And as Mayor? He's shown his true colors over and over. For example, he likes to talk a big game about climate change. But his actions as Long Beach mayor show he has no desire to make the tough policy decisions to lower Long Beach's carbon footprint, much less to be a climate justice advocate. He's gay and from an immigrant family but he's been disappointing on issues facing both communities. He's also been extremely bad on police issues, taking very conservative, very Republican positions against criminal justice advocates.
The new district (CA-42) stretches from communities in SELA (South East L.A.) in the north, south into Long Beach, abutting the 710 Freeway, in the midst of one of the state's most pollution-impacted areas. And that brings us to the other Garcia, Cristina, an environmental justice hero who was officially endorsed by Blue America today. She wrote and passed-- against determined opposition from the polluters-- the landmark Assembly Bill 617 to aggressively deal with air pollution.
Cristina grew up in Bell Gardens, a SELA working class community filled with high-aspiration Latino immigrants who work hard so their children will be able to live the American Dream. A self-described "nerdy math whiz," Crstina earned a scholarship to Pomona College to study more math, graduated and then earned a master’s degree in more math-- and then taught math. SELA's local government was riddled with incompetence and corruption. She told me her neighbors were always asking "They always seem to be taking trips to nice places, but they can’t pave the streets and all while things seem to be getting more expensive, even the pool that was once free now had a charge?" She asked a different question: "What are we going to do about it?" She helped found !BASTA! ('enough' in Spanish) with other local activists.
The now legendary work !BASTA! did led to a Pulitzer Prize for the L.A. Times reporters who covered their activism, detailing a city manager who was using city coffers like his own private trust fund-- expensive trips, homes, cars all on the city dime and a corrupt city council which was bribed into silence by high salaries, perks and favors. !BASTA! worked, successfully, to recall the city council, change the city charter to mandate transparency and best practices, and to elect a new reformist city council.
Cristina ran for an Assembly seat against a neo-liberal from one of SELA’s most long standing Democratic political dynasties. The Democratic establishments in L.A. and Sacramento always support corruption and blackballed her campaign. And she won anyway, delivering a shock from below to the power-mongers and dictators in the Democratic Party.
She told me that when she got to Sacramento she was "full of piss-and-vinegar. "I was determined to make a difference for front-line communities like Bell Gardens," she told me. "Good government and environmental justice were the issues that would change the lives of SELA families. Surprisingly, I had quick and early success in passing good government legislation, although when I first spoke up and urged reforms, I was again told by leadership to be quiet."
But... the FBI raiding the office of a Democrat state Senator and the indictment of another on racketeering was enough to shame leadership into supporting reform. "They still grumbled," she said, "but I was successful in getting written into law the landmark Political Conduct, Ethics and Public Trust Acts of 2014. My legislation demands increased accountability and promotes transparency and trust in state and local government. I also got a series of anti-corruption and good-government laws passed to eliminate influence peddling by lobbyists, increase the penalties for politicians who take bribes, and expand transparency in what state or local government agencies must publicly disclose concerning government salaries, benefits and per diems." She made a lot of political enemies. Today, predictably, they are all supporting Robert Garcia against her.
After tackling corruption, she turned her focus to environmental justice. She told me she learned real fast that "passing laws to deal with the systemic classism and racism of environmental justice was a whole different challenge altogether. Writing legislation to force polluters to change their behavior was anything but a no-brainer.
"My goals for creating a cleaner and a more just environment for frontline communities pitted me against some of the Democratic establishment's mainline supporters-- oil companies, refineries, incinerators, the trucking industry, the building trades unions that those industries employ, and, most significantly, so-called 'business Democrats' in my own caucus who looked askance at the need to prioritize public health and climate change. I was attacked and called a job killer. These groups kept forcing the false narrative of jobs vs my communities' health." Basically, the "Mod Squad" legislators told her that Big Business pocketbooks, even if they were filling at the expense of poor communities, were just the way things were. "We didn’t matter; we were disposable. But I stuck to my principles and continued to preach the gospel of the Green New Deal, long before we called it the Green New Deal, which means we can have both healthier cleaner communities and robust economic growth and clean and sustainable industries and a vibrant job market. I didn’t and haven’t backed down. Because one thing I learned is that the establishment is full of hubris, and they believe they can intimidate anyone who rebels against their neo-liberal proclivities toward government by crony capitalism."
Just look at all the "progressives" lining up behind her Republican DINO opponent today-- every paid off political hack in the state from Gavin Newsom and Rob Bonta to anti-healthcare Blue Dog Lou Correa in a neighboring district.
Cristina hasn't been intimidated; her communities stand behind her even if L.A. power players don't and never will. Her successes didn't come from shyness or reticence to take on those power players. She's earned our help by what she's done in Sacramento. I expect her to do a lot more in DC. Please contribute what you can by clicking on the Blue America thermometer below
In my second term as an Assembly member, there was a terrible gas leak in a northern San Fernando valley suburb, Porter Ranch, a wealthy mostly white community. The Aliso Canyon gas leak was front and center of the local news and front and center on the agenda of then-Governor Jerry Brown, who spared no political capital to get the gas leaked stopped, the facility shut down, and mitigation efforts fully funded in the state budget. I was outraged-- not by what the governor was doing for Porter Ranch residents but what he wasn’t doing for SELA residents. For years, local environmental justice advocates had demanded the shut down of the Exide battery facility in SELA’s north most industrial City of Vernon and mitigation for the residents. For decades, the Exide facility had been leaching toxic levels of lead into the local soil. This lead had spread into tens of thousands family neighborhood homes. That lead exposure particularly affected young people whose brain development and neural and renal systems were being damaged. Against the advice of many, I chose to openly call out Governor Brown by asking him to prioritize environmental mitigation in frontline communities as much as he had in Aliso Canyon. I said something about how the budget was a reflection of our values, and he was throwing pennies at poor black and brown communities and it needed to change immediately. To my surprise, he listened. He toured my district and helped me usher legislation and budget dollars to help clean up Exide by creating a funding stream to clean up Exide-like man-made environmental disasters.
I have continued to be ridiculed, lied about, and attacked by profit-driven business interests and contribution-driven "business Democrats" who hate the very concept of environmental justice. But traditional environmentalists were also guilty. During my push to ensure the state’s Cap-and-Trade debate I was told by the institution and fellow legislators that protecting frontline communities was not a priority. I disagreed and I wasn’t deterred. I kept pushing and, in that session, passed the landmark AB-617, a first-in-the-nation public policy mandating the lowering of polluting air emissions in vulnerable frontline communities. AB-1132, set in motion the ability for air districts to immediately shut down toxic polluters who are posing an imminent danger to public health. A few years later, after calling out Governor Newsom for vetoing my Department of Toxic Substances Reform Bill-- to prevent another Exide-like environmental disaster-- he decided he was wrong and decided to sign the bill into law after all and added half a billion dollars to begin a pilot program to clean up brownfields across the state in frontline communities.
People ask me why I am running for Congress and why I think I can have similar success on environmental justice in Washington D.C. My answer is simple-- Bell Gardens is no different than Navajo and Hopi lands in Arizona and New Mexico whose water supply has been polluted by uranium mine run off, no different than Flint, Michigan whose aging pipes have contaminated their water supply, no different than the Louisiana communities on the Mississippi Delta known as ‘Cancer Alley’ because of the toxic air they breath from surrounding refineries. Every frontline community across our nation needs an AB-617, an AB-1132, a reform of the Department of Toxic Substances. And if at first, I don’t succeed I will try, hold my party accountable, and push the political envelope until I do!