Updated to reflect the final vote totals.
What happened on June 5 in Assembly District 58 covering Bell Gardens, Downey, Pico Rivera and Cerritos, where government reformer Cristina Garcia beat Democratic darling Tom Calderon, of the Calderon dynasty, and will almost certainly win in November?
Political corruption is what happened, in the city of Bell and elsewhere. Democratic voters stampeded away from the Calderon name, choosing Garcia on the strength of her work as spokeswoman for BASTA, the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse. Garcia is so clean that the reformist “let's fix this trash heap called California” group known as California Forward has a glowing bio of her on its site. The Calderon dynasty (enough already!) is reeling.
The GOP gal, Patricia A. Kotze-Ramos, will face Garcia because she came in first in the field jammed with Democrats. But in November, Kotze-Ramos has very, very little chance and won't win in this district that's only one-quarter Republican.
Here's the final vote, with 100% of votes counted:
Sultan “Sam” Ahmad, 983 votes, 3.8%
Tom Calderon, 6,011 votes, 23%
Daniel Crespo, 1,720 votes, 6.5%
Cristina Garcia, 6,906 votes, 26.5%
Luis H. Marquez, 3,221 votes, 12.3%
Patricia A. Kotze-Ramos, 7,272 votes, 27.9%
Meaning that in November, an actual activist full of anger and plans inspired by watching the city of Bell scandal in disgust is going to Sacramento.
And you can count the serious activists in the 120-member California State Legislature on one hand, as long as you don't include your thumb or little finger. Or either of the other fingers.
Garcia is also an adjunct professor of math, who taught at Los Angeles Community College, which means she will become one of perhaps five people in the IQ-challenged California State Legislature who reads and can understand the budget she is voting on. The rest do whatever they are told by party bosses.
Of course, Garcia may get crushed, her earnest hopefulness misshaped and squeezed until she's just another feeder at the trough.
That's what happened to activist (turned Speaker, turned Congresswoman) Karen Bass, as the Weekly reported here in the story headlined “The Curious Case of Karen Bass.”
But there's always hope. California Forward describes Garcia in its profile like this:
Cristina Garcia had left her hometown of Bell Gardens behind, as did many people who grew up there, to find a better and more exciting life. But, a family illness drew her unwillingly back to what she considered a dead-end town.
“We have this brain drain, this culture drain,” she said. “Our city is never going to move forward as long as that's the case.”
As soon as Garcia realized this, she decided to stay in this largely Latino suburb and its surrounding communities, and she has found her calling, as well as the unexpected glare of the spotlight.
Garcia, 33, is the spokesperson for BASTA, the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, a community group that formed in July after the administrator salary scandal in neighboring Bell broke in the Los Angeles Times. Since its founding, BASTA — which means “enough” in Spanish — has spearheaded signature-gathering efforts to recall council members, organized community forums, and launched voter registration drives.
Yet even in the midst of all she's seen, Garcia has emerged with her ideals about government intact.
“We want better government,” she said. In advocating for greater checks and balances, Garcia concedes, “in some ways, we want more government.”
She decries the boy's club of politics and community groups that get too insular.
She thinks elected officials need to be more accessible and more connected to their districts. But people also need to be more educated about government's process. Ultimately, she'd like to see diverse coalitions working together to accomplish their community's goals.
“My hope is that (California) can be a role model for the rest of the country and the world for how different groups can come together and work together,” she said.