In the mid-2000s, establishment Republican Party officials would tell me that a young man named Nathan Fletcher was going to be President of the United States one day. He was a good-looking “war hero” – an up-and-coming model candidate whose wife was a top advisor for President George W. Bush and then for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Soon Nathan Fletcher ran for office in an affluent area of San Diego – not for a mere school board or city council, but for the California State Legislature, where political talents often launch their lifelong quest for power, fame, and wealth. He was an undistinguished member of the Republican minority in the California State Assembly for two terms, from 2008 to 2012. He quit the Republican Party in March 2012 after the Republican Party of San Diego County didn’t endorse him among three Republican candidates running for Mayor of San Diego.
Ditching the Republican label transformed Fletcher into an innovative paragon of political enlightenment. His decision even received national attention and praise when New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about it in A Moderate Conservative Dilemma.
Ordinary voters weren’t impressed. Fletcher came in third in the primary for Mayor of San Diego. He spent a lonely year unaffiliated with a political party, got himself some gigs as a corporate executive and as a “professor” at the University of California at San Diego, then joined the Democratic Party in May 2013. Now he’s running for Mayor of San Diego again, this time as a Democrat backed by power-brokers such as Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a friend of Fletcher who was the president of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council in 2012.
No one would identify Fletcher today as a “moderate conservative.” He has remade himself as a Silicon Valley-style liberal Democrat, glorifying a vague concept of “innovation” while endorsing government intervention in commerce and personal behavior to make the world a better place.
Just before the San Diego City Council ended 33 years of autonomy on city construction contracts and voted 5-4 to submit to state prevailing wage law, the San Diego Daily Transcript published an op-ed signed by Fletcher entitled Prevailing Wage: Good for Local Economy, Local Workers. He had opened his mind and decided that charter cities should let the state government set wage rates for city construction contracts based on employer payments indicated in union master labor agreements. I responded with the July 29, 2013 op-ed Did Nathan Fletcher Lose His Mind on Prevailing Wage?
It’s hard to pin down how Fletcher would act on specific issues, as his shtick is portraying himself as a pragmatist who doesn’t stoop to the abstract ideologies and philosophies that bind the thinking of bad people. However, behind the scenes he makes commitments to ensure campaign support from powerful political groups, such as labor unions.
After someone leaked Nathan Fletcher’s September 5, 2013 candidate questionnaire for the San Diego Imperial County Labor Council, Tony Krvaric, executive director of the Republican Party of San Diego County, analyzed the astonishing change in Fletcher’s positions on economic and labor issues in 18 months. Read the analysis and the signed questionnaire here:
The October 31, 2013 article Critics Focus on Fletcher’s About-Face on Issues in the UT San Diego notes Fletcher’s conversion (or “evolution”) on high-profile labor issues, including Project Labor Agreements:
Much has been made of Nathan Fletcher’s political evolution from Republican to independent to Democrat, but what truly irks his most vehement critics is the 180-degree turn he’s made on several key issues. Some of those issues — project labor agreements, pension reform and managed competition — have formed the bedrock for the dividing line in San Diego between the two major political parties in recent years…
“I’m very comfortable as a Democrat, a pro-jobs Democrat.”…That’s a far cry from March 2012 when Fletcher sought the local Republican Party’s endorsement in the mayor’s race. He told party leaders he was a lifelong Republican who supported the June 2012 ballot initiative (Proposition B) to replace pensions with 401(k)-style plans for most new city workers, a ban on project labor agreements that call for city contractors pay union-level wages and benefits, and outsourcing city services…
Fletcher filled out a questionnaire in September for the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council that outlined several stark changes. Specifically, he indicated support for project labor agreements and public employee pensions and opposition to putting city services up for competitive bid, a process also known as managed competition…
Fletcher has also said the ballot measure to ban project-labor agreements that voters approved last year is the type of divisive initiative meant to stir up the electorate.
Nathan Fletcher now thinks that simply asking voters to preserve fair and open bid competition on taxpayer-funded construction contracts is “divisive” and “meant to stir up the electorate.” If only we could set aside our differences and come together for the common good under the benevolent leadership of Nathan Fletcher!
It isn’t surprising that occasionally people warn that Nathan Fletcher is “creepy” and “dangerous” because he lacks solid principles and runs for office under a cult of personality based on a distorted portrayal of his background. He seems to be popular among high-tech executives, bicycle advocates, and other who fit the demographic description of “bourgeois and bohemian” (see David Brooks’ excellent 2001 book Bobos in Paradise). Is that enough to win a special election in a city of 1.3 million people? It worked for Gavin Newsom in San Francisco, but San Diego is more diverse and more conservative.
All of this vindicates the warning in my May 7, 2013 commentary Know Thyself, Republican: You Could Be the Next Nathan Fletcher in www.FlashReport.org. I concluded that “Even the strongest among us on the Right are always only a few temptations away from second-guessing ourselves and going the same direction as Nathan Fletcher. The rewards of holding fast are few right now, and the relief and rewards of being acceptable are enticing.”
As the Republican Party on the national level, in the State of California, and at the California local level splits into factions based on the degree of willingness to compromise principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility for the sake of the alleged “common good,” I expect more Republicans will follow the path of Nathan Fletcher. Will voters buy it?