Nathan Fletcher is not a man of great political courage. He isn’t even a particularly independent thinker. But he is politically clever, and he knows that San Diego’s Democratic base has a long history of being bamboozled by wolves in sheep’s clothing from the days of Pete Wilson to the present.
Fletcher’s recent move to leave the Republican Party and become an Independent clearly banks on this tradition continuing. Indeed, if I were Fletcher’s campaign manager I would have advised him to do exactly the same thing. After losing the GOP endorsement to Carl DeMaio, Fletcher was sitting at 13% in the polls in third place with only a slight lead over the absolutely hopeless Bonnie Dumanis. And if you are a genuinely affable, good-looking, war veteran with big ambitions and the strong conviction that the world needs you now, that is not a good place to be sitting.
What to do? As the great Janis Joplin once sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” so Fletcher taped a pious speech about how he was done with “a system that is dysfunctional” with all its “political party insiders” and “games.” Catch your breath; I know this is heady stuff.
OK, ready. In his speech he continues on, noting that he is interested “solely in advancing our city” unlike the political extremists named Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner. Wow. Knock me over with a feather.
And, sadly, it worked. Fletcher leaped over the extremely low bar of American political authenticity and credibility expectations. Nationally prominent columnists from David Brooks to George Skelton praised his courage and hoped it signaled a new day of less partisan politics. This same line was echoed locally and Fletcher doubled his support as the most recent Survey USA poll showed, jumping up to a 26% approval and passing Filner who is now polling third with 20% of the vote.
If you look at the numbers in that poll, Fletcher did not rise by picking up disillusioned conservatives (DeMaio actually gained and has totally consolidated that vote); he did it by picking up Democrats and Independents. Now 20% of Democrats support Fletcher along with 24% of independents. In sum, at least in this snapshot of the race, he is stealing votes not from DeMaio but from Filner.
What’s the problem with this? Ah, my Democratic and “Independent” friends of Fletcher, as Malcolm X once, said, “you’ve been hoodwinked!” Who better to know this than Nathan’s not so old friends on the Right. As Jon Fleischman noted on the Flash Report after the Fletcher switch:
Heck, just a few minutes perusing Nathan’s campaign website allows one to check out photos of Karl Rove and Nathan, Meg Whitman and Nathan, Carly Fiorina and Nathan, and even Newt Gingrich and Nathan — mostly at events for Nathan himself. And of course one cannot forget that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, are both major donors to Fletcher’s Mayoral bid. The point I am making is that there is no magic wand that allows you to cast a “forget everything” spell on the voters.
For loyal Republican voters, Nathan’s decision to leave the GOP will sting, and make it harder for him to win over a constituency that was already problematic for him. But in trying to win over Democrat or independent voters, it’s not going to be easy to shake the Republican label.
Indeed, Fletcher’s site still proudly lists the support of Pete Wilson, Joel Anderson, Mark Wyland, Richard Riordan, and a whole host of other GOP big shots. Don’t think endorsements matter? Show me the money. As the San Diego Reader reported last week, Fletcher has plenty of donations coming in from former Rick Perry, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and George W., Bush aides and confidants. This makes sense, of course, because Fletcher’s wife was a Bush Administration press aide. That’s why Texas GOP types and other fans of W dig Nathan. Sound like a new day to you?
Still need more convincing? In the first of his two columns on Fletcher’s decision, Fleischman does something uncalled for by quoting the old, bad Nathan Fletcher of —17 days before his moving revelation that he was tired of the “game” (way back in the dark ages when he was trying to get the local GOP’s endorsement for mayor). In particular note the statements in bold:
Thank you for having me. I’ve been a Republican my entire life, which is telling because I came out of a Democratic household. When I was a child, I represent a generation who’s first president we remember was President Reagan, who very clearly and succinctly outlined the difference between the candidates, between being an individualist and a collectivist, and that basic American dream is we have the power if left to our own devices to achieve greatness. We don’t need government to do it for us, we need it to stay out of the way.
I applied this at an early age. As a teenager I walked door to door. I spent summers in college sitting outside Home Depots registering voters. I worked on campaigns where I slept in headquarters. I went months without pay because I wanted the money to go to the cause. I organized African American ministers behind education reform and school vouchers. I was the Political Director of the California Republican Party where we gave more money and support to our grassroots causes and our county parties than at any point in our history, because I believe in that effort. I traveled around the country teaching youth outreach and voter registration at the request of the National Party.
Then I went abroad to promote our principles and ideas in East Timor and Cambodia and Serbia. And time and again I’ve demonstrated commitment to our cause as a team player.
In 2001, things changed. Our country was attacked and I was asked to serve in a different way and I spent a period of time from 2002 to 2006 defending not only the principles of our Party but the principles of our country. I served in Iraq, in Fallujah and Ramadi and Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle, on the Somali border and in Yemen. I witnessed the great pain of loss and terrible sacrifice of close friends of mine and family members who believed in these causes.
When I came back I wanted to continue to serve. I ran for the legislature where I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder to make the tough decisions. We’ve taken protests in our office where we had 20, 30 cops there because we refused to raise taxes. We’ve got mailings dropped across our district. When the Democrats said, “Alright, if you won’t vote for taxes we’ll put up an all-cuts budget,” I stood and voted for an all-cuts budget, not one that reduced welfare but one that eliminated it because we had to take a stand. When we had to vote to eliminate SB 400, the most egregious pension bill at the state that ever passed, I not only voted for it, I was the whip to go get other Republicans who weren’t inclined to stand up to do it.
Time and again I’ve demonstrated that, but I’ve also shown that, consistent with your principles, if you articulate it the right way you can bring people together to get good things done, like we did with Chelsea’s Law, which regulatory reform, with pension transparency and other measures.
And as your Mayor, I’ll do the same. I’ve taken the tough positions. I opposed Proposition D, I support the Comprehensive Pension Reform, I support the ban on Project Labor Agreements, I support the outsourcing of City services. But as your Mayor, I will also make sure our principles are translated into achievable action items that get done, because it’s not enough to have ideas, you’ve got to be able to turn them into reality to positively impact people’s lives.
One charge that’s been made this week, the only one I think that’s been accurate, is that I didn’t work as hard for this endorsement as others did. And that’s because I’ve been torn between what is in my best interest and what is in the best interest of this Party. And I’d be honored to have your endorsement, but I see a greater purpose and good that says, let’s unite behind the City Council candidates, between passing Pension Reform, between our other causes. And at some point being part of a team means you have to care more about the team than your individual ambitions. If this Party chooses to endorse, I’d be honored to be your endorsed candidate. If you choose not to endorse, I’ll be honored to join our team either as a member or as a nominee for Mayor after the primary as we defeat Bob Filner and as we get our city back on track.
I’ve lived our principles. I am the American Dream. I grew up in a blue-collar family, the first to go to college. I am a reflection of that which is what’s great about us, that ability that anyone can achieve success. I’ve lived our principles as a Party. I’ve defended our principles as a Party as a Marine in combat. I’ve fought for our principles as a legislator, and if elected Mayor, I will take our principles and I will turn them into action as we move our city forward.
I am very proud to have a long and committed track record with this Party and with this cause. I’m very proud to have stood with you for years, going back to the early days, walking door to door, registering voters. As a legislator I’ve raised and given more than a quarter of a million dollars to our candidates and causes, and will do the same.
Thank you very, very much for all that you do every day to make our Party great. Thank you for allowing me to be a member of this group and for participating in today’s process. I appreciate it. Thank you.
There is a technical phrase for someone who can give this speech and then declare himself an independent 17 days later: bullshit artist.
What is particularly offensive in all of this is how, when not speaking to Republican audiences, Fletcher likes to paint himself as a great advocate for public education. Clearly, as he overtly states above and his support from Bridgepoint Education would also indicate, Fletcher’s version of education reform is the same old back door privatization push. Education “reform” for him means turning schools into an instrument to serve business interests more than the public good.
More specifically, note how Fletcher, who brought out 20-30 cops to greet community college students and interfaith leaders calling on him to vote for new revenue measures to support education, brags about voting for an “all cuts budget.” To this day, he still has not come out in support of a single revenue measure to help fund education—not the Governor’s nor Molly Munger’s initiative–despite the fact that another round of devastating cuts to schools will occur if they fail. He simply lacks the political courage to do so. Rather than challenge the rich or his friends in the corporate world to ante up, Fletcher supported a budget designed to trample the weak and politically powerless. Hence his lip service to education is bogus. Fletcher’s aforementioned support of an “all cuts budget” is not a display of political bravery or “independence,” it is a shameful display of pandering to the lowest impulses in the contemporary right.
As I pointed out in an earlier column just as the electoral field was beginning to take shape:
As the mayor’s race continues to unfold, the election season rite of local Republicans trying to morph themselves into “moderates” palatable to the ever-malleable Democratic electorate in San Diego continues. The most recent example of this is Nathan Fletcher’s announcement that he is coming back from Sacramento to save San Diego. As reported in the Union Tribune and KPBS Fletcher has a vision:
“When I look at the city I see an amazing potential for the future of San Diego over the next decade and I believe I represent a new generation of leadership that can get us there . . . In a lot of ways, I think it’s going to take a new energy, a new vision, a new generation of leadership that’s not tied to some of the polarizations and problems of the past to get things done . . . It’s time to turn the page, time for a new vision, a new energy, time for a new generation of leaders not tied to the gridlock or problems of the past to step forward and lead.”
This all sounds fantastic and, with his handsome looks and slick packaging, Fletcher is bound to be more appealing to some voters than the snarling pit-bull of the hard right, Carl DeMaio, and/or the stunningly uncharismatic establishment favorite Bonnie Dumanis (who has the endorsement of the mayor and Councilman Kevin Faulconer). Even some in progressive circles have been seduced by Fletcher’s “new generation” pitch.
The problem with this is that it completely ignores Fletcher’s record on the central state issue that he has had to deal with during his time in the Assembly —the state budget. As I noted in a previous column, nearly every single Republican in the legislature has signed Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge. Fletcher is one of them. Thus, on the most important issue at the state level, Fletcher stands with Norquist and the “starve the beast crowd.”
Rather than compromise on Governor Brown’s budget proposal and allow the voters to decide whether or not to extend current taxes to avoid catastrophic cuts on top of the nearly $12 billion in cuts that have already been made, Fletcher lined up behind Norquist and the hard-line anti-tax crew.
Hence far from being a “new generation” leader who stands above “gridlock” and “polarization,” Fletcher is part of the gridlock and polarization that plagues our politics. By aligning himself with Norquist and the anti-tax zealots in Sacramento, Fletcher has harmed education, social services, public safety, and fire protection in San Diego. Anyone who follows politics knows that when the budget gets cut in Sacramento, it gets passed on to the cities. So if Fletcher is coming back to save us, he’s saving us from a problem he helped perpetuate by starving the cities of funding.
Fletcher likes to talk about education, but the Republican budget plan he supported proposed to spare education by gutting state spending on services for the mentally ill, the poor, and children (not to mention firing more state workers, of course). Nobody seriously expected it to pass, but it was a clever Machiavellian ploy that played on fears about children’s educations while pitting their education funding against services for the weak with no constituency or lobby.
At base, it was a cruel budget proposal just as the Republican strategy at the statewide level has been merciless for some time now. So Nathan may be pretty, but his policy is neither nice, nor progressive by any reasonable standard. The minute Fletcher votes for any revenue increase, he’ll deserve some consideration for the moderate label. Until then, it’s a sham.
You can’t starve the beast and then claim you’re here to save it. Fletcher just can’t have it both ways—unless enough San Diego voters are dumb enough to let him get away with it.
That was true last June and it’s still true–even after Nathan’s bait and switch. Just because Fletcher and DeMaio dislike each other personally doesn’t mean their political philosophies are radically divergent. Other than optics and style, there isn’t much difference between Fletcher and DeMaio. As another one of Fletcher’s old Republican buddies, Tab Berg, put it, “Rather than ‘rejecting division,’ the moves strikes me more of embracing the politics of personality over principle. To me, it screams that he values his personal success more than the ideas all of us have fought for together.” Thus those who hold out hope that Fletcher is really something new and fresh because he doesn’t snarl and is less than reactionary on one or two social issues will be sadly disappointed when they elect him and get the same old business as usual in a younger, more handsome package.
Jim Miller’s “Under the Perfect Sun” column usually runs on Mondays, but since we had an OB Rag interview with Bob Filner to publish, we decided to hold off Jim’s post until today.