Blue-collar candidate: Sacramento politico not shy about Democrats’ weaknesses

Alex San Martin sees existential challenge in Hillary Clinton’s defeat

Ambrosia Cafe is filled with the usual suspects. Corporate attorneys sip lattes over tablets. Legislative staffers talk with lobbyists in muted tones. The room is all Berluti shoes and power ties. But this morning there’s another political player entering the cafe from the opposite side of the Capitol.

Seated in his wheelchair, dressed in dark baggy slacks and a polo, Alex San Martin doesn’t look like one of the downtown partisans often floating through Ambrosia.

San Martin is working class to the core, and lately he’s working nonstop for the California State Democratic Party. He’s the administrative coordinator for its Chicano Latino Caucus; he’s the Latino liaison for its African American Caucus; and he’s a newly appointed committee member for its Disability Caucus.

Now, the Sacramento resident is throwing his hat into the ring to be secretary of the state party. If elected at the California convention on May 20, San Martin would largely be fielding complaints from unhappy Dems from Chula Vista to Crescent City.

And, as the Bernie Sanders Democrat freely admits, there’s plenty to complain about.

San Martin has been a political hound since he was a teenager. Prior to moving to California, he worked as a legislative aide in the Texas House of Representatives. He relocated to Los Angeles in 2011 and became board president of Communities Actively Living Independent and Free, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for people with disabilities. The opportunity to work for the state Senate brought him to Sacramento last year, a move that introduced him to a city he enjoys more and more. Jumping into his first statewide campaign, he’s pitted against Carolyn Fowler, a political consultant from Los Angeles, and Jenny Bach, a party member who’s also from Sacramento.

When it comes to helping reinforce the Democratic brand in the Golden State, San Martin has plenty of views. Officer-involved shootings dominated national and countywide headlines this year, and San Martin’s work with the Latino and African American caucuses has convinced him that state leaders need to take a stronger role in police accountability.

“There’s a shared interest in reforming police departments in both communities,” Martin said. “And it’s something that our neighborhoods are feeling right here in Sacramento, because of recent deaths.”

Less publicized are the challenges disabled Californians continue to experience. Born with cerebral palsy, San Martin has a lifetime of expertise on that front. Having confronted subtle discrimination during job interviews, he thinks helping people with handicaps find stable employment remains the priority.

“The No. 1 struggle for disabled Californians is employment,” he said. “It’s something like 85 percent of people who are disabled don’t have full-time work.”

For some Democratic leaders, road maps for specific issues look clear, but the broader direction of the party is less so. San Martin thinks Democrats still aren’t harnessing the power of young voters—and there’s a reason. He says the wave of disillusionment youth felt over the 2016 presidential primaries can’t be ignored by party elites.

San Martin acknowledges the larger, existential question is whether state Democrats will learn the right lessons from Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

“Even in the state, we have to get away from special-interest billionaires having so much involvement in the party,” he said.