New Rep. Garcia Hopes To Make Impact On Ed Policy

MIRS Newsletter, January 8, 2014 – With a school superintendent for a dad and a mom who worked in the classroom for decades, the conversation at Daniela Garcia’s dinner table often focused on education.

Now — as Garcia, a Republican from Holland, begins her first term as a member of the State House — many in Lansing are expecting her to quickly become a prominent player on education policy. Despite the fact she’s a freshman, her name has even been floated as a potential future chair of the House Education Committee.
“I just fundamentally believe that if we can get education right, I think we can get other areas of public policy right, too,” Garcia said in an interview this week.

Garcia is the new state representative for the 90th District, where she replaces term-limited Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland).

During her campaign, she received the endorsements from many of the big players in Ottawa County politics, including Haveman, U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) and new Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekof (R-West Olive).

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra said Garcia would be a “breath of fresh air in Lansing.” Just this month, the Detroit Regional Chamber named her one of the lawmakers to watch during the 2015-2016 session. In this week’s MIRS Monday podcast, Garcia was mentioned as being among five Republican freshman poised to make an immediate impact.

Garcia said she’s been humbled by the conversation she’s heard about herself as she begins her first term. It’s quite a bit of conversation about someone who considers herself more of a policy wonk than a politician.

“I am the person who likes to dig into the issues, look at both sides of the argument,” as Garcia put it.

Garcia was born and raised in Holland. Her father, Frank, is the retired superintendent of Holland Public Schools. Her mother, Yolanda, had a 30-year career in education. Her mom’s career included teaching reading in Detroit and Spanish immersion classes in Holland.

Not surprisingly, she heard a lot about education, growing up, and that influenced her career as an adult.

Garcia went on to get a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in education policy and administration.

At one point, she got a job working as an executive assistant in former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers’ district office in Lansing. From there, she was transferred to Washington, D.C.

She worked for Rogers for four years, serving as a legislative correspondent and a legislative assistant.

After that she worked for former Michigan State University President Peter McPherson at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and then for Hoekstra, who was a U.S. House member at the time.

For Hoekstra, Garcia served as a policy adviser on health and education issues.

Then, she worked as a policy adviser for U.S. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chair of the Education and the Workforce Committee

Although Garcia’s career has focused on policy work, term limits, she said, helped give her the opportunity run for an open House seat this year.

“There’s really a need for good people to run for office,” Garcia said.

Now, as a House member, Garcia — whose hobbies include reading and exercising — has been meeting with stakeholders and getting to know fellow lawmakers, which she said she’s enjoyed.

Garcia has also been working to draft proposals, some of which naturally focus on education.

In addition, Garcia noted that some key education proposals from last session remain unresolved, such as the proposed third-grade standard and the new teacher evaluation system.

In looking at evaluations, Garcia said the state should also consider teacher preparation.

While the divisiveness of education policy has kept some lawmakers from pursuing reforms, Garcia said she doesn’t look at it as a divisive subject.

She said lawmakers need to focus on “how is this impacting students in our classrooms?”

“If we keep looking through that lens of our students, and if we’re making progress for them so that they can be successful, I think it makes that conversation easier,” she said.

“My parents taught me that everything in education is about the students that we’re teaching. So that will be central in any conversation I have with stakeholders.”