Photo by Sam Hodgson
We’re continuing to roll out Reader’s Guides on the four major mayoral candidates before Election Day. They’ll tell you what we’ve learned about the candidates before the big vote.
Next up: independent Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher.
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The Pitch to Voters
Fletcher’s an energetic, independent voice that will turn the page on San Diego’s last decade of financial turmoil and restore the city to national prominence.
Three Big Issues
On most big ticket city issues, such as pensions, Convention Centers and outsourcing, Fletcher holds positions similar to Republican City Councilman Carl DeMaio and Republican District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. He tries to distinguish himself primarily through style rather than policy.
He frames his key issues — independence, jobs and education — by citing his past efforts to bring disparate groups together and achieve consensus.
The biggest, most surprising move in the mayor’s race came in late March when Fletcher announced he was leaving the Republican Party to become an independent. The decision, which put his long-term political future at risk, paid immediate dividends in media exposure and name recognition.
Fletcher has made the decision the centerpiece of his campaign, highlighting his willingness to reach across the political aisle to get things done without regard for party affiliation.
Fletcher’s economic development plan relies on his ability to promote San Diego to the military and federal agencies and re-emphasize the region as a leader in the life sciences and technology industries. He sees his role as ambassador-in-chief on behalf of the San Diego economy.
To his credit, Fletcher sets out defined economic development goals — 130,000 new jobs in the region by 2020, for instance — though some of them lose a little luster when you take a closer look.
Fletcher is one of two candidates, along with Dumanis, to have made K-12 education a significant part of their platforms. He wants to create an umbrella education foundation to coordinate philanthropic support for the area’s schools. The foundation would focus on increasing science and math programs and providing students with more technology inside and outside of the classroom.
The biggest line on Fletcher’s resume prior to his election as an assemblyman in 2008 was his time in the Marines, which included service during the Iraq war. While in the military, he honed the same tone and temperament he’s used as a politician:
In politics, his approach has allowed him to win over San Diego’s police union, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly and the parents of a murdered Poway teenager. In the Marines, it allowed him to turn potential adversaries, from war-weary Iraqi fathers to African tribesmen, into trusted sources.
The smallest line on Fletcher’s resume prior to his 2008 election was his stint working as disgraced Congressman Duke Cunningham’s district director. Fletcher spent much of his time on active military duty when in Cunningham’s office and there’s no evidence he had any knowledge of Cunningham’s wrongdoing. But the tie to Cunningham remains:
Still, in one major sense, Fletcher is no different than the rest of Cunningham’s former staffers. They have pushed to distance themselves from their former boss. But no matter how hard they try, the connection never goes away.
Where Fletcher’s Weak
The 35-year-old Fletcher has campaigned on turning the page from San Diego’s past. But if you look at his legislative record and policy positions, they align with the traditional downtown-centered city power structure. His supporters include those who led the city during its financial troubles over the past two decades.
Fletcher has ready answers for charges of representing the city’s same, old system. He contends his platform, which addresses bike plans and clean water, is broader than previous mayors. And he says his supporters expect only an investment in good government when they donate to him.
But one make-or-break moment in Fletcher’s legislative career shows what he did when faced with competing priorities on important issues.
In 2010, the governor and key legislators needed his vote to pass a budget. It was like Fletcher had a genie in a bottle and could make one wish.
His choice? A massive expansion of downtown redevelopment revealed and passed in the dead of the night.
Fletcher sided with what our own Scott Lewis recently called the “Get Shit Done Coalition” over transparency and a systematic evaluation of redevelopment’s future downtown:
Fletcher stole a process from the public in the kind of deal that has created the very resistance to progress in San Diego its supporters bemoan. His campaign may be proud he “delivered more infrastructure dollars” to San Diego with the vote. But those dollars never actually made it.
Fans of the move will remember it forever. He’ll have to hope that critics of it do not.
We won’t know if it worked for sure until after Election Day, but Fletcher’s risky declaration of independence gave him the boost he sorely needed in the campaign. It’s hard to imagine anything else vaulting him to prominence in the same way.
Fletcher’s decision to leave the Republican Party came on the heels of his failure to block the party’s local chapter from endorsing DeMaio. In the run-up to the party’s endorsement, Fletcher made a clumsy attempt to out-DeMaio DeMaio on taxes and took a strange dig at DeMaio’s sexual orientation.
When the party picked DeMaio, Fletcher had gone much further to the right than he had previously during the campaign without anything to show for it.
Top Endorsements and a Snapshot of Fletcher’s Views
Fletcher’s Key Supporters: San Diego Police Officers Association, California Small Business Association, former Mayor Pete Wilson, BIOCOM.
You can quickly understand Fletcher’s positions on major city issues compared to his opponents through our mayoral scorecard.
How He Wins
Fletcher wins by finishing second in June. As an independent, he’s a much better general election candidate than a primary one. And in the last three mayoral elections without an incumbent on the ballot, the candidate finishing second in the primary won the general. If Fletcher can claw his way into the top two, his status as a pro-downtown moderate fits the mold of the kinds of mayors San Diego has elected since his political mentor Wilson 40 years ago.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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