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A California #MeToo champion is accused of harassment. Cringe-worthy, yes, but not a blow to the movement

A California #MeToo champion is accused of harassment. Cringe-worthy, yes, but not a blow to the movement
A former legislative staffer accused California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of groping him in 2014. She took an unpaid leave of absence pending an investigation (AP)

Oh the irony. One of the most outspoken critics of sexual harassment in the state capitol and a leading voice in the #MeToo movement has herself been accused of sexual misconduct.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) allegedly groped a young legislative staffer after an Assembly softball game several years ago. The man said she cornered him and began stroking his back, squeezed his butt and attempted to grab his crotch. A lobbyist said she propositioned and attempted to grope him at a political fundraiser last year. The allegations were detailed in a Politico report released this week, although an investigation into the staffer's accusation began last month.

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On Friday, Garcia released a statement denying the allegations but saying she would voluntarily take an unpaid leave while the investigation is underway.

"I am certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of," she said. "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."

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Now, there are some who have speculated that the allegations against Garcia undermine the moral authority of the #MeToo movement. Yes, it's embarrassing and cringe-worthy to have a leader in the movement be accused of exactly the kind of demeaning behavior she railed against. (Last year she told the New York Times: "Multiple people have grabbed my butt and grabbed my breasts.… We're talking about senior lobbyists and lawmakers.")

But one person's alleged hypocrisy shouldn't sink a movement. Especially not a movement that is as broad and wide-reaching as this one, with stories from the highest ranks of Hollywood to the maids in hotels and farmworkers.

What matters is how the leaders and advocates for the movement respond. They have to demonstrate that they won't give a woman a pass for reprehensible behavior.

So far, Garcia's colleagues in the Legislature are saying all the right things.

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Shortly after the news broke, state Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino), called the allegations "very troubling." She called on Garcia to take a leave of absence pending the investigation, which is appropriate.

We Said Enough, an advocacy group calling for reforming the culture of harassment in California politics, issued a statement saying the reports "need to be investigated thoroughly, without delay."

And the group called for the Legislature to establish a system for people to confidentially report sexual harassment complaints, along with due process for accusers and the accused.

Garcia will benefit from new procedures created to handle sexual harassment complaints brought out by the #MeToo movement. She'll have an opportunity to deny the allegation and present her side of the story to an investigator, who will make findings on the allegations. She'll get due process. That's good. The state needs a clear, fair process to evaluate complaints and deliver the appropriate punishment for bad behavior.

Ironically, Garcia has been among the advocates most willing to dispense with due process when it comes to sexual harassment complaints.

Garcia pledged last year not to work with any lawmakers accused of sexual harassment. And she publicly called for the resignations of her colleagues — Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), Assemblyman Matt Dababneh (D-Encino) and Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) — to resign when they were accused of harassment or misconduct. All three men denied the allegations, just as Garcia does now.

Bocanegra and Dababneh stepped down before an investigation was completed. Mendoza is still on leave pending the investigation, just like Garcia.

For more opinions, follow me @kerrycavan

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