Dr. Elba Garcia: "Being a woman is my greatest asset"
Dr. Elba Garcia serves as the Dallas County Commissioner of District 4, the first and only Latino/a elected to the position. Currently in Texas, only nine women serve as County Commissioners across the top ten largest counties, only three of those nine being women of color. Dr. Garcia is one of the women of color. Not only does she serve as a County Commissioner but she also sits on a variety of boards including ranging from criminal justice reform to employee benefits. Outside of her elected office, Dr. Garcia also runs her own private dentistry practice in North Oak Cliff, after receiving two doctorates in the study. To summarize Dr. Garcia, she is a force of independence to be reckoned with in Dallas.
Dr. Garcia was born in Mexico City, Mexico. Both her father and her grandfather were doctors for the Mexican Army. Garcia believes that being raised in a military family allowed her to understand discipline; it was expected that she and her siblings would constantly work hard and pursue good grades. Garcia’s parents also instilled a strong desire in her to acquire a quality education. She eventually went on to attend la Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City and Baylor College of Dentistry (now Texas A&M College of Dentistry), here in Texas.
After starting her own private dentistry practice, Garcia became heavily involved with her local community. As a dentist, she worked on patients, such as mothers and children, who shared their community-based grievances with her daily. Eventually, Garcia started advocating on behalf of families in her area by working with the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Through her connections as a local activist, she was asked to run for public office. Garcia’s husband, a renowned lawyer in the DFW area and former elected official, immediately offered his support. In 2001, Dr. Garcia decided to run for Dallas City Council.
During her campaign for city council, Dr. Garcia faced off against an incumbent to serve in District 1. She recalled the intensive labor that used to go into campaigns, compared to modern day tactics, saying “internet was practically non-existent.” When she ran for office the first time, Garcia had to phone bank through a landline calling system as opposed to sending out mass advertisement ads on social media or detailed emails. In order to accomplish this great feat, Garcia relied on the support of her friends and family to help block walk, reach out to voters, and gather donations for the campaign. Eventually, Dr. Garcia won her first campaign for Dallas City Council by a margin of only 42 votes. She served on the council through 2009, when she reached her term limit.
Upon leaving the city council, Dr. Garcia prided herself on working cohesively with her other council colleagues to decrease the City of Dallas’ crime rate to the lowest percentage in years. Additionally, she had joined championed an effort to bring the highest quality animal shelters to Dallas. She began to realize that she was qualified to run for a higher-leveled office; this sparked her interest to file for Dallas County Commissioner in 2010. Her original campaign for a seat on the Commissioner’s Court introduced a new world of obstacles and achievements that Dr. Garcia had not experienced before.
During her 2010 campaign for commissioner, Dr. Garcia faced backlash from voters because of her identity as an immigrant, mainly facing criticism because of her accent. She realized early on that this campaign would be one of her most difficult, as she was now running to represent an entire district in Dallas County. She began reaching out to family-oriented community members such as the mothers and women she meets through her dental practice. By reaching out to the family voting community, Dr. Garcia could connect with like-minded voters who supported her campaign. Eventually, Dr. Garcia won her election for Dallas County Commissioner by a margin of 4,663 votes, a large difference in comparison to her original race for city council. She became the first Latino/a to sit on the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court.
Since being elected as a Commissioner, Dr. Garcia has worked diligently to transform the budget for Dallas County. Particularly, she focuses her time on eliminating deferred maintenance bills, reducing building costs by almost $40 million. She has utilized the saved money to revamp old, county-owned buildings, bringing them up to code. Additionally, she emphasizes the importance of allocating an appropriate amount of funds to the Dallas County Jail system, currently the largest countywide expense and the most important to Dr. Garcia. She hopes to maintain solutions geared towards mental health in the jail systems.
When asked about the systemic barriers present in politics limiting women, Dr. Garcia had a fresh perspective on the matter. She says, “fifteen years ago, it was an unconscious pattern. Now, being a woman is my biggest asset.” Dr. Garcia notes a dramatic change in the composition of politics since she began back in 2000. She believes that “the sky is the limit today” for women. Dr. Garcia advises young women interested in politics to study hard and get involved. She says that anyone interested in politics should know every aspect of whatever position they are running for; this includes not only the duties of the position but also the issues most important to the community. Dr. Garcia also said, “if you are not at the table, you’re part of the lunch”, in reference to women joining the metaphorical “table” of community leaders.
Dr. Elba Garcia is currently running for re-election for Dallas County Commissioner’s Court, District 4.