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Maria Garcia sworn in, tells Senate colleagues to remember ‘underprivileged’

A tear streaks down Maria Garcia’s cheek as speaks about her late husband, Senate Minority Leader Jorge Luis Garcia, from his old desk in the Senate. Her comments were part of an hour-long memorial service held on the Senate floor Nov. 10. Garcia was chosen to fill out the remainder of her late husband’s term in Legislative District 27. (Photo by Josh Coddington)

A tear streaks down Maria Garcia’s cheek as she speaks about her late husband, Senate Minority Leader Jorge Luis Garcia, from his old desk in the Senate. Her comments were part of an hour-long memorial service held on the Senate floor Nov. 10. Garcia was chosen to fill out the remainder of her late husband’s term in Legislative District 27. (Photo by Josh Coddington)

Maria Garcia, wife of the late Democratic leader Jorge Garcia, became the Senate’s newest member Nov. 10 after being sworn into office.

In her first-floor speech in the Senate building, Garcia urged policymakers to always consider the underprivileged in their decisions, just as her husband did.

“(I) hope that you would come to understand the needs of the underprivileged because I don’t feel that the state has done as good a job as it should have,” she said. “It broke my husband’s heart to see the rules that were enacted.”

The Pima County Board of Supervisors earlier appointed Garcia to replace her husband, who died last month following a struggle with a rare disease that affected his heart. He was 57.

It will be a short stint for Garcia, as the new Senate members who won election Nov. 2 will take office Jan. 10. With a special session largely ruled out, it’s unlikely that she would cast any votes.

Colleagues and family members paid tribute to the late senator after the swearing-in ceremony.

Many emphasized his religious faith.

His sister-in-law, Maria Aranda, said Jorge Garcia always taught her to “love thy brother” even though they live at a time when she feels Hispanics are being persecuted. For Aranda, SB1070 – the state’s strict new immigration law – and the atmosphere it spawned, have divided communities and led to violence.

Catholic Deacon Santino Bernasconi recalled that Garcia was once asked what radio station he listened to while driving.

“His reply was when he’s driving he doesn’t listen to the radio. He prays the rosary,” the deacon said.

Others recalled the little kind things Garcia did for them.

Sen. Paula Aboud, a Democrat from Tucson, said Garcia called him the day she was appointed to the Senate a few years back and offered to drive her to Phoenix from Tucson.

Garcia also mentored her, providing advice or information whenever she was unsure about something, she said.

Senate President Bob Burns described his relationship with Garcia as “a growing friendship.”

As leaders of the two parties’ caucuses, the two met regularly about Senate business and appeared publicly together at various events.

“I personally appreciated Jorge’s dedication and demeanor as a colleague. I view this occasion as an opportunity to express our gratitude to the Garcia family for sharing Senator Garcia with us and offer condolences for their loss,” Burns earlier said in a statement.

Garcia was among three Tucson residents in Legislative District 27 who were nominated Oct. 26 to replace the senator.

Also nominated were Sami Hamed, an aide to Congressman Raul Grijalva, and Bob Gilby, a math teacher.

But the early favorite was Garcia, and several Democrats from the district lobbied for her to get the position.

She told the Arizona Capitol Times that she believed she would be in the best position to advocate for ideas and policies her husband fought for at the Capitol.

“I know a lot of his ideals,” she said. “We’re very much similar in that way. I didn’t get involved in his politics, but we would always talk about everything.”

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