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Kevin Dayton

Know Thyself, Republican: You Could Be the Next Nathan Fletcher

What’s the point of a political analysis of Nathan Fletcher, the former Republican member of the California State Assembly who jettisoned his party affiliation during his 2012 run for Mayor of San Diego and now identifies himself as a Democrat? The editor of www.FlashReport.org – Jon Fleischman – sent a Tweet on May 6 with this inquiry:

Do I write, or not, on the latest @nathanfletcher voter registration switch? I’m indifferent — you choose: http://on.fb.me/16O4FKp 

By a five to one ratio, people didn’t want to read about it. Actually, a psychological analysis of Fletcher’s transformation would be more interesting than a political analysis.

Nathan Fletcher apparently aspired to a high-profile political career despite a lack of well-developed, well-defined fundamental principles about the purpose and limitations of government.

Fletcher appeared to regard government as a pragmatic agent to solve problems and make the world a better place, without defining where that government activism crossed the line into inappropriate coercion and intrusion into commerce, church, and family. He frequently referred to his “heart” as an influence in how he made public policy decisions, and people liked that.

But think about it: do you want politicians taking and spending your money – and the money of other taxpayers – based on irrational emotional impulses, devoid of known boundaries? The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Without an intellectual foundation, Fletcher’s positions seemingly could not withstand the whims of culture or the distress that comes with professional challenges and setbacks. Being a Republican and defending a minimalist role for government just didn’t feel good.

Some supporters of economic freedom were taken aback in January 2011 when Assemblyman Fletcher gave an award to San Diego County union leader Lorena Gonzalez and posted a photo of the event on his blog. (It’s now removed.) Be vigilant when a politician’s appropriately polite respect for political opponents turns into friendship and praise. It was a significant omen.

Then, Assemblyman Fletcher ran for Mayor of San Diego at a time when two other credible Republicans were running for the office. Meanwhile, the mismanaged San Diego Unified School District desperately needed fresh, fiscally-responsible elected leadership on its board of education. One office would be glamorous and a potential stepping-stone to statewide leadership, while the other office would be miserable but important work for someone who truly valued public service. The choice was obvious: glamour and ambition.

Californians will probably have a chance to perform their own psychological analyses in the context of Nathan Fletcher’s next run for public office. He’s continuing to portray his political transformation as courageous, rather than flaky, and some people are buying it.

Without a doubt, one of the most significant events in the political life of Nathan Fletcher was the notorious adulatory March 2012 David Brooks profile in the New York Times. Never would such a profile be written about an earnest, rock-solid constitutionalist such as Congressman Tom McClintock.

That profile was truly special. It provoked secret envy in many ambitious California politicians!

In contrast, any elected official or candidate in California who now identifies himself or herself as a Republican immediately earns derision from the state’s educated establishment and from a substantial faction of the people. Republicans are basically irrelevant as the “progressive” vision of social democracy advances on the state and local level. Residents have forgotten, rejected, or never learned about the reasons for constitutional checks and balances, and they seem fine with the direction of their government.

A triumphant statement from San Diego Unified School District board member John Lee Evans on May 26, 2009 after unions won a Project Labor Agreement on school district construction reflected new political perceptions in San Diego and beyond:

I think the bigger picture that people are realizing – and this is what scares some people – is that San Diego is changing, the United States is changing…this is a different city…we are looking at a different community.

Nathan Fletcher apparently recognized this. Republicans and allied supporters of economic and personal freedom cannot ignore it.

Even the strongest among us on the Right are always only a few temptations away from second-guessing ourselves and going the same direction as Nathan Fletcher. The rewards of holding fast are few right now, and the relief and rewards of being acceptable are enticing.

Who looks forward to be condemned by today’s cultural leaders as an ignorant, unenlightened defender of free markets, limited government, and personal responsibility? Who wants to be attacked in next year’s high school history textbooks as obstacles to so-called progress? A majority of Californians seem to agree with Nathan Fletcher that the government is a benevolent force to be wielded to solve collective problems. Those that distrust the power and authority of government are classified with what California Democratic Party chairman John Burton derides as “a shrinking minority of Tea Party fanatics.”

Wouldn’t it be more pleasant to get a thoughtful analysis of our very own personal selves in the New York Times, still regarded as the newspaper of record for people who matter?

Wouldn’t you like to be Senior Director of Corporate Development at a major corporation as well as a Professor of Political Science at a reputable college after leaving office? If you remain a Republican, you may end up having to move to Texas to get a public policy job.

There is one benefit to remaining a Republican in California, or at least remaining as a defender of free markets, limited government, and personal responsibility: your convictions will be battle-tested and your character will be sound if the political pendulum swings and Californians turn to economic and personal freedom. You may never enjoy fame, power, prestige, and money, but you and your principles will be vindicated.

A Selection of Sources: 

Nathan Fletcher: Leader, Educator, Innovator – personal web site

Nathan Fletcher: Results, Not Politics and Nathan Fletcher: Why I’m Leaving The Republican Party – video announcements from Nathan Fletcher that he was leaving the Republican Party as a candidate for Mayor of San Diego – March 28, 2012

A Moderate Conservative Dilemma – the notorious commentary by David Brooks in the New York Times – March 29, 2012

Convenience Not Conviction – Nathan’s Play In The San Diego Mayor’s Race – by Jon Fleischman in www.FlashReport.org – April 4, 2012

Wilson, Rove, Gingrich…and Fletcher – “The Chair’s Corner,” San Diego County Democratic Party – May 2, 2012

I Joined the Democratic Party – Nathan Fletcher’s Facebook Page – May 4, 2013  

Fletcher Goes Dem; So Much for Independence and More ReactionsVoice of San Diego – May 4, 2013

Ex-GOP Pol Nathan Fletcher’s First Days as a DemocratUT San Diego – May 5, 2013

Nathan Fletcher’s Spin: Expedience = IdealismUT San Diego (editorial) – May 6, 2013


Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.comFollow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

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