An East County Magazine exclusive interview
By Jeremy Los
Sept. 28, 2011 – Elected to the California State Assembly back in 2008, Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher has made a name for himself as a busy legislator, one willing cross over to the other side of the aisle to form bipartisan coalitions in order to get legislation passed. A married father of two and a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Fletcher insists that he brings a different style of leadership to the table, one that qualifies him to be the next mayor of San Diego.
In an exclusive interview with ECM, Fletcher said, “I have experience of making difficult decisions and leading men into combat facing enemy fire. I have taken that experience and applied it to my work in the state legislature… I have demonstrated the ability to get things done.”
His most notable legislation is without a doubt Chelsea’s Law, which includes a true one-strike penalty for violent sexual offenders and sweeping reforms of the parole system. A year after being signed into law, the statute has already led to 19 people in San Diego County being charged and faced with stricter sex crimes penalties. According to Fletcher, the bill was passed due to his ability to form bi-partisan coalitions enabling important legislation to be passed.
If elected as mayor Fletcher looks to venture down a different path from Mayor Sanders. “Its time to close the book on Enron by the bay and open the book on a new innovative city,” says Fletcher. While he believes it is time to focus on where the city want to be in the next 40-50 years, Fletcher admits that Mayor Sanders provided a “steady hand during a difficult time.”
One of the more divisive issues facing the mayoral candidates in 2012 is the discussion of comprehensive pension reform for city workers, which is being championed by one of Fletcher’s opponents, City Councilman Carl DeMaio. DeMaio’s plan would call for the guaranteed pension plans of city employees – who do not currently pay into Social Security – to be shifted to 401(k) plans, which are 100% susceptible to the ebbs and flows of the stock market. Fletcher is amongst those who believe that the voters will pass pension reform in November.
But another opponent, Congressman Bob Filner, has described the reform as “throwing city workers under the bus,” as city pension plans would be thrown into the chaotic world of the stock market without the safety net of Social Security; however, Fletcher believes that there is a way to strike the right balance with the reform that would be fair for not only taxpayers but the workers as well.
“I believe we need to put the workers back into Social Security,” said Fletcher in response. “We have to do that because it is the right thing to do.”
DeMaio on the other hand believes that city workers would prefer a larger 401(k) match rather than being placed in Social Security. Fletcher’s stance firmly distances himself from yet another candidate, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, also a Republican. Dumanis opposes the program because it includes the city firefighters.
Fletcher believes that reform is a necessary policy in order to get the city’s budget back in order. The money saved by the city with pension reform could free up the city to fund necessary departments and programs properly.
“As we find savings with comprehensive pension reform... those savings have to be applied to public safety,” says Fletcher.
A son to a former police officer, Fletcher insists that one of the first priorities he would have once in office would be to improve the city’s public safety by getting more police, fire, search and rescue, etc. back to work. The recent cuts to public safety have forced each department to spread itself extremely thin, a fact that Fletcher acknowledges while commending officers for the “amazing job they have done despite the cuts.”
“When Officer Henwood was killed, we were lucky to have a helicopter in the sky,” says Fletcher, emphasizing the importance of police having full resources. “It prevented a madman from going on a rampage.”
Fletcher, a staunch fiscal conservative, is steadfast in his no new tax beliefs, signing the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” or better known as the “No New Taxes Pledge,” authored by the President of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist. He voted in favor of an all-cuts budget proposed by former Governor Schwarzenegger in 2010. Fletcher has also proposed a budgetary reform bill, which would change the state’s budgetary process from a baseline process to a performance-based process. Programs would have their budgets set by their performance, i.e. what they deliver, what is their goal, and how much work they actually produce.
The elongated economic crisis in the state has caused many programs to have their budgets slashed immensely while others wait for the proverbial guillotine to come and slash their budgets. While Fletcher maintains that times are tough and cuts are the nature of the beast, he believes that “instead of looking at how to partition out programs with a smaller pie, we nee to figure out how to make the pie bigger.”
“We need to drive a conversation about making San Diego a place for high quality jobs,” said Fletcher. “We are going to look at how we can leverage our city as a global city through our ports and borders.”
The crisis has also left thousands of San Diegans struggling to make it, as many are in low-income housing or homeless. The struggles of the destitute are not lost of Fletcher, who believes that in order to fix the problem there needs to be an emphasis on providing better paying jobs rather than social programs.
“Instead of treating the symptoms we need to treat the problem,” said Fletcher. “We will be looking to implement a permit streamlining process to make it easier to create jobs in the city.”
In order to streamline the process, Fletcher looks to implement an online permit process that will consolidate all permitting procedures into a single entity that hosts all permitting operations for the entire city. According to Fletcher’s “Innovation to Move San Diego Forward” report, “An increase of online permitting services is a critical improvement for creating an easy-to-use system that works for the taxpayer and encourages business growth in the city.”
Fletcher will also look to “enhance the city as a whole,” by improving the corroding city infrastructure. His recently released a nine-point streets plan would look to address the city’s $840 million backlog of street, building, and sewer projects. According to the Union-Tribune, the plan calls for creating a task force to identify critical needs, holding utility companies accountable for repairing city streets after their work is done and allowing public input to decide which projects should go first. The funding for the project would come from increased budget revenues or loans, while also creating jobs and locking in low construction costs.
“Rebuilding our city will not only lay the foundation to bring San Diego into a new era, but it will also create good-paying jobs,” Fletcher said.
San Diego County has seen a consistent rise in the homelessness rate since 2008, and nearly 20% of the homeless are veterans. As a former U.S. Marine, Fletcher states that he was exposed to the problem after he came home from combat, and he believes that something needs to be done to help those who fought for our country when they return home.
“It is not a question of resources. If we have the money to send them to war, we should have the money to house them,” he said. Fletcher admits that the problem can not be addressed by the government alone, he points to the work done by faith-based groups and non-religious organizations to help find homes for those veterans down on their luck.
The race for the mayor’s office is a crowded one, with 14 registered candidates vying to lead San Diego down a different path. Although Fletcher finds himself one of three top-tier Republicans looking for votes – a stark contrast to Congressman Bob Filner, who is the lone top-tier Democratic candidate – he remains unnerved about the possibility of having votes split amongst the top Republicans.
“There are a lot of good people running,” says Fletcher. “I don’t worry about the process, the voters will choose the best candidate for the job.”