It’s an interesting time to be Stephen Puetz. He is a consummate Republican. Dapper and clean cut, he comes from a Navy family and went to a private, religious high school. He didn’t take a wayward path to the heart of the Republican Party; he went right for it from an early age helping lead California’s College Republicans and marshaling the support of young, passionate conservative activists.
He’s well-known for his analytical and data-based approach to politics, and it helped make Kevin Faulconer a city councilman in 2006. Puetz then helped Faulconer win the mayor’s seat. His presence in San Diego politics coincided with a slow roll toward more ideological stratification at City Hall, where there’s far less cross pollination of interests between Democrats and Republicans. There are two teams — and nobody is a bigger presence on the red one than Puetz.
But then he became Faulconer’s chief of staff, and had to help lead a giant bureaucracy that represents a heavily Democratic city. What’s more, his boss took big strides to distance himself from President Donald Trump. The Republican Party hosts several unabashed critics of the president, ostensibly the party’s leader. It’s not clear anymore whether the clean-cut, small government, rigidly moral and accomplished Puetz is so clearly at the heart of the GOP.
In June, after Faulconer’s boldest stands in office fizzled — his push for a November special election to address convention center funding — Puetz resigned to go back into campaign consulting. He said it was a long-planned move.
I sat down with Puetz for an exit interview tracing his history of ups and downs in campaign consulting, what the job of mayoral chief of staff involves and what it’s like to be a Republican strategist right now.
“Nobody agrees with their boss on everything,” Puetz said. “The professional thing to do is provide guidance. We encouraged appropriate pushback if someone felt strongly about something and then ultimately to enact the decision that was made.”
This interview was recorded Aug. 8. So it helps to remember recent political history. This was before the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., and Trump’s widely criticized reaction.