Editor’s Note: Starting Line columnist Doug Porter is taking a few days off. Since he’s spent the last six months flogging the importance of the County of San Diego primaries (last day to vote is June 5), we’re reprinting some of his early observations. Updated parts of these stories are in red.
Originally published on January 25. Since this article was posted, the San Diego Free Press endorsed Omar Passons for District 4 Supervisor.
Democrat and former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher is running for termed-out Supervisor Ron Roberts seat in District 4. The outgoing Republican held that office since 1995, managing to get re-elected each time despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans in his district 2 to 1.
Fletcher dropped out of politics a few years ago after a couple of angst-filled losses while taking flack for switching political parties. Most recently he was working for Qualcomm and teaching a class at UCSD. The urge to serve returned along with a long-term opportunity to end the GOP’s monopoly at the County level.
His opponents on the Democratic side in the June primary include former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña and Attorney Omar Passons. The winner will likely challenge Republican Bonnie Dumanis in November. District 4 includes most of the city of San Diego, spanning La Jolla to Kearny Mesa, Encanto, downtown and Ocean Beach.
About this series: Each of these candidate profiles (Lori Saldaña and Omar Passons profiles have already been published.
; see end of story for links) is intended to be an introduction to the leading Democratic candidates seeking what I consider to be the most consequential position in local politics for 2018.
I’m of the opinion that any of the three high-profile Democrats in this race would be acceptable. There are differences in both style and substance in how each of them views the task of changing the culture at the Board of Supervisors.
This series isn’t about endorsing anybody. We’ve got plenty of time for that. And we’ll have plenty of time for talking trash and finger-pointing. For now, I just want to present the positives I saw in each candidate.
Over the past few weeks, each of these candidates has sat down with me for an hour-long conversation. While I recorded these meetings, they were not intended as Q & A interviews. I wanted to look past the words and the rhetoric; to get a sense of each of them as a human being and somehow do so in less than two thousand words.
I am posting these stories in the same order as the interviews took place, which was determined by the candidates’ availability. (Democrat Ken Malbrough did not respond to a December 4, 2017, emailed interview request.)
I have blended some basic research into these stories and attempted to follow a similar format in each. The quotes used were edited for clarity.
Nathan Fletcher’s life got off to a rough start.
He grew up in a world full of conflict, with divorce, custody battles, an abduction, mistreatment, and court orders bouncing him from one side of America to the other.
At age 8, life began to stabilize as he ended up living with his mother and step-father in Smackover, a once-upon-a-time oil town of two thousand people in Southern Arkansas.
Fletcher attended California Baptist University in Riverside, where his gift of gab got him a slot on the school’s Forensics (Speech) team.
His abilities got noticed in political circles. He rose swiftly in Republican ranks, that being the default partisan choice in most religious schools.
While working as district director for GOP Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, his reserve Marine unit was called up for action in Iraq. Later on, there was another tour in the Horn of Africa.
Fletcher’s ability to connect with people made him an obvious choice for counter-intelligence operations. His experiences under fire stoked a desire to do more politically.
In 2008 he was on his way to Sacramento, representing the 75th Assembly District. Life in the GOP caucus wasn’t exactly what he expected, starting with a showdown over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
The party’s expectation was that, as a veteran, Fletcher would be a logical GOP advocate against the policy. The problem was his experience in the military didn’t lead to that conclusion.
He was Chair of the Assembly Committee on Jobs in the New Economy and author of “Chelsea’s Law,” written to tighten penalties and establish higher standards for sex crimes in response to the murder of 17-year-old daughter Chelsea King by registered sex offender John Albert Gardner.
Overall, Assemblyman Fletcher was a party stalwart–most of the time. But underneath the veneer, doubts about party dogma began to grow.
In an era of Teapublican orthodoxy, he came to realize there wasn’t much room for an Eisenhower Republican.
In 2012, he left the Republican Party, declaring as an Independent during his campaign for Mayor of San Diego. He’d failed to get the local GOP endorsement, after a speech some now refer to as “the toilet paper sticking to his shoe.”
In 2013, Fletcher declared himself a Democrat, a move drawing scorn from the party faithful on both sides of the aisle. Political consultants told him the correct thing to say was the party left him. He says it was a two-way street: the party was going one way, and he was going another.
UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Nathan pointed out in an email that Democratic party stalwarts were thrilled about the change. Many Dem activist types I know were suspicious. And GOP leader Tony Kvaric had a cow.
In 2014 he ran in a special election primary to replace ex-Mayor Bob Filner, ending up in third place (24.1%) behind Councilmen David Alvarez (27.2%) and Kevin Faulconer (42.2%), despite having not having institutional support from labor or the Democratic Party. And then there was the UT’s Papa Doug Manchester and a GOP squad heaping scorn at the man they called a traitor.
Nathan Fletcher thought the mayoral contest was the end of his involvement in electoral politics. After a last-minute invite took him away for an Argentine adventure to the summit of Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia, he was ready for life outside the looking glass.
Four years later, he’s back in the game. Divorced. Re-married to powerhouse Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. Father of four in a blended family. On the stump speaking up with the fervor of a convert for an assortment of causes. Featured speaker at an anti-Trumpcare rally.
And running for Supervisor, this time in the pole position.
There are two words at the heart of Nathan’ Fletcher vision for what he wants to do at the Board of Supervisors: coalition and consensus. The first is his strategy for success; the second is his definition of failure.
I don’t think you strive for everyone to sit around the table and hold hands and sing kumbaya. I think you strive to build the coalition that’s big enough to drive the change you need. If you have absolute consensus, whatever you’re pushing doesn’t do anything.
You’ve got to know and understand the issues. you’ve got have the right position on the issues. And you have to put those things together with the ability to build those coalitions.
Building that coalition of folks is key. When we put out our housing, hepatitis and homeless plan, we didn’t just release a plan. Having a plan is fine. I work with 200 researchers at UCSD that are the smartest people in the world researching these issues and they’ll say they’re the last person who could actually get it done.
We stood outside the County building and released our plan, calling on the county to do more. I stood there with members of the City Council, with members of the State Assembly, members of Congress, community leaders, homeless advocates, leaders of the faith community, labor, someone from the Port of San Diego, someone from the convention center, business owners, all saying ‘this plan is the right approach.’
Like all the other Democrats in this race, Fletcher sees a need for the role of the Board of Supervisors to do better when it comes to how its resources are used to benefit the health and welfare of the people.
I think one of the reasons we haven’t seen progress is no one’s been willing to push an agenda and to put it forward controversial issues. The supervisors exist in this 5-0 world. If you put them in a position of having to go on the record on some of these issues, I think we might win a few votes.
Needle exchange is one of those things. Makes all the sense in the world. The science is clear, the math is clear, it saves lives, lowers rates of infection, lowers addiction, but our county by a 5-0 vote said we’re never taking the state’s needle money.
It doesn’t make sense. Well, let’s make them vote on it in public. It’s Mike Pence and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors who think of it that way.
When I went to the budget hearing, I got up to the mic and told them you have a governing philosophy that wrong. I said it’s not that you aren’t effective and can’t do things. You’re very effective when you want to be. When you want to build a waterpark, you build underground parking and spend… When you want to find money or a Chargers stadium you find a 150 million dollars. You’re just effective on the wrong things.
The short version of what Fletcher is campaigning on is he’s the person who can most effectively drive change. Challenging the status quo is going to be a tall order, particularly until 2020, when term limits will result in new faces on the Board.
What the most pronounced change in the first two years is the beginning of a change in the culture. Right now you have a culture that is five Republicans speaking with one voice without any dissent, without any discussion. I know we can begin to change that culture and start putting the county on record more often. I think we can really see progress.
During a long conversation full of short takes about county agencies and what they do and don’t do, things came to a full stop with the County Law Enforcement Review Board came up.
I want to those 22 deaths in county custody investigated. This is typical smoke and mirrors nonsense you see from the county. This is the bs we have to call out.
So you have 22 deaths in county custody. They have their little group that’s supposed to investigate and they don’t do it. Then they say, well, one year has passed, we can’t investigate. That’s not what the law says. When you read the law it says you can’t punish an officer for something they did wrong more than one year after it happened.
They should have never let these investigations drag on for a full year. They can still investigate them, they just can’t punish the officers. If there’s tactics and training and policies and procedures that can be done. Or there could be a civil action that gets taken when the facts are brought to light. But that the County would say we’re not now going to investigate, we’re not even going to look at it–22 deaths. That’s insane.
If Republican Bonnie Dumanis should win the November election, things at the Board of Supervisors will continue on the same as they have for thirty years. Same as it ever was — five smiling faces making weak excuses for not doing the right thing.
Nathan Fletcher believes he can lead a community alliance to change that status quo.
Click Here for the complete list of SDFP endorsements.