By Miriam Raftery
June 1, 2012 (San Diego) –In an exclusive interview with East County Magazine, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher laid out his vision for our region’s future. His priorities are to “make San Diego a leader in 21st century jobs” by rebuilding the economy base,” improve public education, and rebuild infrastructure to create more walkable and livable communities, Fletcher told ECM.
A retired Marine and decorated Iraq war veteran who has worked in counter-intelligence, Fletcher has also laid out plans to help returning veterans on issues ranging from homelessness to jobs.
“I believe it’s important to have open and transparent government,” says Fletcher, who recently made headlines by announcing that he’s left the Republican party to run as an independent, shortly after the GOP endorsed Carl DeMaio for mayor.
To Fletcher, a retired Marine, it’s all part of providing leadership. He says the shift was a natural evolution, adding, “From the day I was elected, I’ve had a willingness to break with the party.” He has supposed same-sex marriage and voted for open primaries. “I bucked both parties on that,” he said.
The Democratic party has been quick to caution voters to be skeptical of Fletcher’s new-found claims of independence. So has the Republican party.
“He’s trying to present himself as something that he’s not,” said Tony Krvaric , San Diego County Republican Party Chairman. “This is somebody who was a partisan Republican and is trying to sell himself as something different. So it’s our obligation to make sure that they know that he is just a self-serving politician who will say or do anything to get elected.”
Fletcher retorted that Krvaric’s attack is really about “keeping score and punishing people who don’t toe the line,” the UT San Diego has reported.
County Democratic Party Chairman Jess Durfee issued a press release directing media to www.fletchersfriends.com, a website launched by Democrats. It documents Flethcer’s “unusually high level of access for a junior state legislator” to high-level Republican officials in President George W. Bush’s administration, including personal campaign visits by Bush strategist Karl Rover and Newt Gingrich to support his Assembly and Mayoral bids.
“As someone who ran ‘Duke’ Cunningham’s Congressional office, signed Grover Norquist’s loyalty oath and recently went on the campaign trail trying to defeat Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer, Nathan Fletcher still has a lot to answer for among San Diego voters,” Durfee wrote. He further noted that Fletcher is a member of ALEC (American Legislative Council), a right-wing think tank funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers, and has taken money from Mitt Romney for his mayoral campaign.
Fletcher told ECM he aims to create a “new culture focused on the future, not relitigate problems of the past or partisan agendas.” He believes that “the Mayor can be an ambassador” to facilitate change.
His economic plan calls for increasing exports 33 percent by 2020, from $5 billion to $20 billion a year. Asked how, he replied, “We need to make a commitment to our port to increase commerce and trade.” Fletcher also pledged to “commit to the Navy. We are one of only 17 strategic ports and we will stay here for the long term.” In addition, he aims to increase short sea shipping and encourage local companies to use San Diego’s port instead of shipping goods via Los Angeles or points north.
He pledges to lead by example. “I took a 20 percent pay cut in Sacramento. I would take a 10 percent cut as mayor.”
Fletcher stands by the Norquist “no new taxes” pledge. He has voted consistently for all-cuts budgets and against new taxes or revenues in Sacramento. He did, however, buck the Republican Party by voting to close a tax loophole which rewards companies that ship jobs out of California.
In San Diego, Fletcher observed that “voters have made it clear that they are not going to pay more, so we need to prioritize. I would prioritize surplus spending on criticial infrastructure—streets and roads.” He would also streamline permitting for some projects.
He would create an “innovation district” to foster creativity. “There is a tie between the number of artists in an area and the number of patents,” he notes. “We must also make a commitment to the arts.”
Fletcher goes beyond talking points, having issued a 55-page economic plan.
He believes creating jobs is the best way to revitalize the economy, and sees a link between economic growth and funding cash-strapped schools. “For every one percent decrease in unemployment, we see a huge spike in revenues for schools.” He also calls for internal district reforms and “stopping pay raises.”
His website calls for education to be a “top priority.” But Fletcher’s votes to defund public education and monies for local governments have drawn sharp criticism in some quarters.
In an article titled The Fletcher Flim Flam in the OB Rag, Jim Miller observes that “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…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.”
Miller further notes that Fletcher backed a Republican budget plan that proposed to slash spending on services for the “mentally ill, the poor, and children.”
Asked about fire protection, Fletcher praised firefighters for doing “an admirable job with fewer resources”, then added, “We need commitment to build more stations and get more manpower.” He does not support new revenue sources for such projects, however.
Some of his stated policies back those in the Republican play book. He supports pension reform and outsourcing of city services, as well as banning Project Labor Agreements, according to statements he made when seeking the GOP endorsement.
On others, his views are more progressive. Asked his thoughts on global warming, Fletcher told ECM, “The science is clear. We are in a period of increasing temperature rise. I believe humans are a factor. We should create jobs AND take steps to improve the environment.” As an example, he points out that putting his bicycle plan into place could decrease vehicle trips by 11 million per year, removing 37,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. “These are common sense solutions,” he added.
Strong on law and order measures, his best-known bill in Sacramento was Chelsea’s Law, which aims to keep sexual predators behind bars. Fletcher is endorsed by the San Diego Police Officers Association and by the San Diego Deputy Sheriffs Association.
Asked about police handling of the Occupy protesters locally and whether city laws should be amended to avoid arrests for momentarily setting down a water bottle or folding chair, Fletcher backed the status quo. “I went to war so people can express that First Amendment right,” he said, “but I think the San Diego Police Department has handled themselves admirably in providing balance. The problems we’ve seen in Oakland we have not seen here.”
As for energy policy, he stated, “The best way is distributive. Then you don’t have to build transmission lines.”
He also has devised a “clean water plan” that he says could save the city millions of dollars by properly handling pollution and runoff to keep water rates lower.
His environmental record in Sacramento, however, is not quite so green. The Sierra Club never rated him higher than 33 percent in its legislative scoring.
According to Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan site, he got even lower marks on women’s reproductive rights—scoring the lowest possible--a zero percent from NARAL, Planned Parenthood and the California Abortion and Reproductive Rights League.
Asked about the zero ratings on women’s reproductive issues, Fletcher was dismissive, calling the votes “procedural and nonsubstantive.” He insisted, “I’m consistently pro-choice” but did not cite examples of pro-choice votes.
Fletcher closed his interview by stating that he offers a “clear choice” to voters among the leading mayoral candidates including “one from the far right and one from the far left. I am an independent voice to move our city forward—and I am very excited about the possibilities.”
For more on Fletcher's candidacy, visit his website at www.nathanfletcher.com.