Tuesday morning, Nathan Fletcher made official what he’d been doing for the last two weeks. He’s running for mayor.

“The people work hard and they pay their tax money,” Fletcher said in an announcement video.  It’s time that the city of San Diego start focusing in on the priorities and the basic things that cities ought to be doing.”

This mayoral campaign is the former assemblyman’s second, but his first as a member of the Democratic Party. Here’s what you need to know about his background as this election takes shape.

Fletcher’s Approach in the Marines Mirrors His Political Style

Fletcher fought in the Iraq war in 2004 during one of its most dangerous periods. He later served in Africa and left with a distinguished record. During his first mayoral run Fletcher “intertwined his military and political identities to the point they’ve become indistinguishable“:

During the decade Fletcher spent as a Marine reservist, he plotted his future in politics. Since he left the Marines more than four years ago, the 34-year-old Republican has used his military service as the foundation of his stump speech and answer to questions about his lack of experience.

Even more significant, Fletcher’s time in the Marines allowed him to hone the same conciliatory tone he’s used while in office. 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.

Now Fletcher’s personal touch matters even more. He has to convince local Democratic leaders and voters of his progressive bona fides after more than a decade of conservative rhetoric and voting for conservative causes.

No Evidence Fletcher Knew About Cunningham Corruption

Fletcher’s time in the military also allowed him to miss much of the two years he spent on ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham’s payroll as district director. That turned out to be good for him. Between 2003 and 2005, Cunningham engaged in some of the worst of the corruption that led to his downfall. Fletcher, Cunningham’s then-chief of staff and Cunningham himself said Fletcher knew nothing about it. Fletcher also doesn’t like to talk about it:

The name of the congressman representing the 50th district doesn’t appear on Fletcher’s resume. That’s because the congressman in question was Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

“The guy’s a felon,” Fletcher said. “I’m not going to do a big banner on it.”

This is what happens when you worked for the guy called the most corrupt congressman in American history. You try to elude it, but you can’t.

Fletcher’s past with Cunningham didn’t come up often on the campaign trail last time. Opponents instead hit him on missed votes in the legislature.

His Big Downtown Deal

Fletcher’s best known legislative achievement is the law he wrote named for murdered Poway teenager Chelsea King, which implemented harsher punishments for sex offenders.

In late 2010, Fletcher engineered another huge deal. This one happened in the middle of the night and would have brought billions in new tax dollars to downtown San Diego redevelopment at the expense of state funding for education:

A day before the legislation became public, city officials, including advisors for Mayor Jerry Sanders, addressed another conundrum: the possibility that their bill would force schools to take less money. A city lobbyist wondered in an email if “schools getting screwed” could help the law’s chances by lessening the financial hit to the state.

These examples show that in the chaotic moments before the law passed, San Diego leaders at least twice contemplated hurting other governments for the benefit of downtown. In sticking the state with the schools’ bill, that’s exactly what happened.

Soon after the Fletcher bill passed, Gov. Jerry Brown killed redevelopment. Fletcher’s now trying to shed his downtown-centric approach in addition to old party labels.

The Party Changes

Fletcher has to persuade voters that he’ll do what he says now, rather than what he did as a former lifelong member of the Republican Party and political independent. Fletcher’s endorsement by former GOP Gov. Pete Wilson and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, signing the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge and voting in favor of eliminating welfare make up some of the most significant partisan moments in Fletcher’s political career.

“There’s no doubt that the transition from Republican to Democrat could have been done better,” Fletcher told me last week. “I should have done it sooner. But these are difficult things. They’re hard in a partisan environment. It’s not an easy thing to do. I’m incredibly comfortable with where I am. I know it’s where I belong.”

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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