A few dozen people, mostly Latino politicos and community activists, gathered around tables at La Familia Counseling Center in south Sacramento on a recent foggy Saturday. They were there to talk about how to expand Latino representation in local politics.
Nothing unusual about that, especially in light of upcoming elections for Sacramento City Council and Twin Rivers Unified School District.
What was unusual was that this was the first time in years such a gathering had taken place.
Many years. Maybe even decades.
“Easily,” said Adrian Perez, CEO of Pop-9 Communications, the man who called this first meeting to order.
Not since the days of Mayor Joe Serna Jr., at least, Perez said. Serna was the glue of the local Latino political scene until his death in 1999. “When he would call a meeting, everybody would show up,” Perez said. “When he passed, nobody was organizing.”
The result was, well, what I noticed when I came to town last year: A city with a population that is nearly 30 percent Latino but with few elected Latino representatives. I wasn’t the only one who had noticed this gaping omission. I just happened to say it out loud.
This meeting was a direct result. Whether it was the start of the awakening of a potential political giant in town or just a gripe session, only time will tell.
For this first meeting, it was first names only, though most people knew most of the other people there. There were chamber types and politicos, boomers and millennials, Chicanos and Latinos (yes, there is a difference), Democrats and Republicans. Groups that normally don’t spend a Saturday hanging out.
There were also elected officials. Among them: Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna, Sacramento City Unified Trustee Diana Rodriguez and Jesse Ortiz, Yolo County’s superintendent of schools. There were current and former public officials, too, including former Sacramento Police Chief Arturo Venegas; Lola Acosta, former president of the League of Women Voters; and former Elk Grove Planning Commissioner Nancy Chaires, who was just appointed to the Elk Grove Unified school board.
There was a common purpose, too: Restart a movement that had been off the rails for way too long.
That day, Jan. 24, also happened to be the official kickoff celebration for Eric Guerra’s campaign. He’s running in the April 7 special election to replace Kevin McCarty on the Sacramento City Council in District 6.
Many of the folks here attended that gathering before heading to this one. It’s a big deal: If Guerra wins this race he would be the first Latino elected to a seat on the council since Deborah Ortiz left for the Legislature in 1996.
Almost two decades.
It’s kind of hard to believe – and maybe it was for the people in that room, too, which is why they were there in the first place and not at brunch or doing weekend chores or on the couch with a good book, which is where I would have been.
Supervisor Serna, who left the gathering early to walk precincts for Guerra, pointed out to me later that the people in that room could have accomplished more by doing the same, rather than sitting in a room talking about what they should do. He, too, has been concerned with getting more Latino representation in local government, but says direct action is more fruitful than meetings.
He may be right, though there seems to be plenty of room in Sacramento for both meeting and acting.
The meeting ended with a committee elected and a plan for a next meeting. Richard Guerrero, president of District Labor Council 793 for SEIU, Local 1000, and board president of the Environmental Council of Sacramento, was adamant that the group elect a core committee before it adjourned – one that included women.
“My experience has been (including) women’s voices is not only the right thing to do but a smart thing to do, in terms of getting things done,” Guerrero said.
Perez has high hopes this is the beginning of an important movement that leads to things beyond just electing the next Latino: raising serious funds to develop the next generation of leaders.
“Our community hasn’t really done that before,” Perez said. “I’m excited about it, I have to be honest with you.”
Good. It will take excitement – and more – to keep this effort from fizzling out before it builds critical mass.
Follow Mariel Garza on Twitter @marielgarzabee.