Former Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia Saturday is officially the first openly LGBTQ+ immigrant to serve in Congress.
Garcia was sworn into the House of Representatives early Saturday Washington time, four days later than scheduled because Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, was unable to get the necessary number of votes needed to be elected speaker until the 15th ballot early Saturday.
“It is about time,” the Democrat said. “The American people deserve a government who works for them, and now I can finally get to work for the people of California.
“As the first LGBTQ+ immigrant to serve in Congress, I am committed to building an inclusive, strong, and prosperous community. I will work with my colleagues to defend democracy, make meaningful progress on immigration reform, and improve the infrastructure in our cities to ensure that the families of Long Beach and Southeast Los Angeles can thrive for years to come,” Garcia added.
House rules prohibit the swearing in of members until a speaker is elected.
Garcia said he ran to represent the 42nd District “because I want every single kid in our country to have the same opportunity that this country gave me.”
Garcia, who was Long Beach’s mayor from 2014 through Dec. 20, defeated Republican John Briscoe, then a member of the Ocean View School District Board of Trustees, 68.4%-31.6%, in the race to succeed Alan Lowenthal, who retired after representing the district since 2013.
Portions of the district had been represented by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, who retired after serving in Congress since 1993.
The district runs north from Long Beach through Lakewood, Bellflower and Downey to Huntington Park. It also includes Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands.
When Garcia was 5 years old, he moved to the United States with his parents and other relatives from Lima, Peru. In a biography supplied by his campaign, Garcia said “My mom brought me to America not knowing English, without an education, and without the right immigration status. We came here on a temporary visa and stayed past its expiration date.
“But thanks to a progressive change in immigration law passed by Congress in the 1980s, we were able to apply for permanent legal residency. I became a U.S. citizen at 21. It was the happiest day of my life.”
Garcia has pledged as a House member to support legislation to:
— make the United States “the world’s leader in pandemic prevention and biosafety and biosecurity planning”;
— increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25, where it has been since 2009, to $15;
— expand paid family leave;
— change overtime rules;
— create public banks;
— provide universal child care;
— guarantee pre-K education;
— expand pathways to citizenship for immigrants in the nation without legal permission; and
— expand affordable and accessible housing.
Garcia describes himself as a comic book nerd, educator and “progressive and proud American.”
He defended himself against critics of his continuing to read comic books at age 45, declaring in a tweet Nov. 14, “For all of you upset that I still read comics and suggesting that I need to do more serious reading .. um… anyone who understands comics knows that comics are an essential part of American fiction. And the lessons learned are invaluable.”
Garcia was chosen as president of the freshman class of the House Democrats.
His mother, Gaby O’Donnell, died in late July 2020 due to complications from the coronavirus at the age of 61. His stepfather, Greg O’Donnell, died from complications from COVID-19 on Aug. 9, 2020, at age 58, one day after the family had a memorial service for Garcia’s mother.
Former state Sen. Sydney Kamlager is Los Angeles County’s other new House member, succeeding Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass in representing the 37th District.
Kamlager defeated former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, a fellow Democrat, 64%-36%, in the district that mainly includes portions of South Los Angeles, along with the Crenshaw and Pico-Robertson districts, Culver City, Palms and West Los Angeles.
Kamlager said as a House member she will focus on:
— expanding voting rights;
— reproductive justice;
— health care for all;
— criminal justice reform focused on diversion, redemption, and rehabilitation;
— job creation to create economic justice and opportunities for all communities;
— innovative investment in housing;
— a Green New Deal and immediate climate action; and
— increased spending on education and the arts.
Kamlager was born in Chicago to interracial parents in 1972. Her first involvement in politics came in 1983 when she worked with her grandmother to help elect Harold Washington as that city’s first Black mayor. She moved to Los Angeles to attend USC, receiving a degree in political science.
She also received a master’s degree in arts management and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University.
Kamlager was elected to the state Senate in a March 2021 special election, succeeding Holly Mitchell, who was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Kamlager was Mitchell’s district director before being elected to the Assembly in a 2018 special election.
She was a member of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees from 2015-18 and was appointed in 2013 to the Los Angeles County Commission on Children and Families.
Kamlager also worked at the Social and Public Arts Resource Center in Venice and for the Ladera Heights-based early childhood care and education organization Crystal Stairs.