SAN DIEGO -- Some in the LGBT community have been enamored with Nathan Fletcher’s good looks and Colgate smile, but other local leaders and certain labor groups question whether his courting their support in the Nov. 19 San Diego mayoral election will culminate in a political “one-night stand” with a guy who has no intention of calling in the morning.
It’s been no great secret that in the past 14 months the former Assemblyman has undergone a well-publicized changing of political stripes.
Fletcher’s metamorphosis began in March 2012, shortly after he addressed the San Diego Republican Party Central committee with an impassioned speech seeking the party’s endorsement in the 2012 mayoral race.
“I’ve been a Republican my entire life,” he told the committee. “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.”
Then, exactly 17 days after he lost the committee’s endorsement to then City Councilman Carl DeMaio, Fletcher announced that he would not be dropping out of the race, but would continue his candidacy as an Independent.
The change of heart was resonant of the 1962 speech by Ronald Reagan, with Fletcher essentially saying it was not so much that he was leaving the GOP, but that “in many ways the party has left me.” Two months later, he went on the record with U-T San Diego indicating that despite his new colors, his positions had not wavered.
Fast forward to May 2013, when almost one year to the date after his U-T San Diego interview, the former Republican turned Independent announced that he was coming out as a Democrat.
“I’d had time to reflect on my values and principles and where they fit best,” he wrote on his Facebook page where he first made his announcement. “My votes and positions, candidates I endorsed and voted for had been in line with the Democratic Party.”
Democrats slow to welcome Fletcher into party
Some Democrats have lauded his decision and are welcoming Fletcher with open arms. Others are equating the switch to political opportunism, as San Diego city politics appears to be turning increasingly blue.
They say the flip-flop is less about Fletcher batting for a new team; their concern is more grounded in him claiming to have completely shifted his fundamental idealism on LGBT and labor issues from one end of the proverbial spectrum to the other.
Fletcher tells San Diego Gay & Lesbian News that questions about his party switches are fair. He has, though, maintained that his core values and his approach have always been the same.
“Parties change, and people change,” Fletcher said. “I've always been passionate about equality, school funding and a woman’s right to choose.”
Taking stands on LGBT issues
When you take a closer look at his standpoint on issues important to the gay community, though, some accuse Fletcher of being wishy washy at best.
As a Republican Assemblyman, Fletcher voted against the establishment of Harvey Milk Day, against grant funding for domestic violence protection within the LGBT community, and against providing health care for those in the LGBT community.
On the flip side of that coin, he broke party ranks and made a passionate endorsement of ending the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. His DADT stance carried weight in the Assembly’s resolution since Fletcher served in the Marine Corps and was a Republican at the time.
“My relationship with the party leadership began crumbling when I took a stand against ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” Fletcher said. “I was the only member of the Legislature who had served alongside gay men in combat and had the experience to know the policy was baseless and discriminatory.”
Then, just before the 2012 mayoral primary, he told LGBT Weekly that he not only supported marriage equality, but felt the mayor of San Diego should stand up and fight for it. This was a stark switch from 2010 when he was running for his second term in the California Assembly, when he’d gone on the record as saying he believed marriage was between one man and one woman, but felt the government should stay out of it.
Fletcher's record on labor
When it comes to labor, Fletcher’s positions have been more cut and dry. The night he addressed the Republican Party Central Committee in hopes of gaining the party endorsement, for example, he said he supported a ban on Project Labor Agreements and the outsourcing of City services.
His lifetime voting record on labor issues is 18%, which, as was pointed out in a Sept. 6 open letter from American Federation of Teachers Guild Local 1931 teachers union president Jim Mahler, “means he has voted against labor 82% of the time he has had a chance.”
But now, after registering as a Democrat, he’s started to gather some union support.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who served as secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council until she was elected to state Legislature in June, endorsed Fletcher for mayor on Sept. 5.
Fletcher has also picked up the endorsement of Unite HERE Local 30, which represents local hotel and hospitality workers.
Mahler, the AFT Guild Local 1931 president, remains unimpressed.
“I don’t think Nathan Fletcher will serve anyone’s needs other than those who have money; I think he can be easily bought and will blow whatever way the wind blows that will be politically expedient for him to be,” Mahler said. “This is a guy who, 14 months ago, was making an impassioned speech for the Republican endorsement about what a solid Republican he is. He’s not going to help working people or families.”
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 135 president Mickey Kasparian shares similar concerns.
“I was really pleased when [Nathan] indicated he wanted to become a Democrat. Anyone who wants to go to the progressive side, I’ll welcome that,” Kasparian said. “What I find to be problematic is that you want to change parties, great, but then you want to become Mayor and frankly, his voting record on labor issues is terrible. For us to support a candidate that has not been supportive of working families would be irresponsible.”
LGBT community remains divided over Fletcher's record
The LGBT community is equally divided.
San Diego Human Relation Commissioner Bruce Abrams held an in-home fundraiser for Fletcher in early September. He told SDGLN that he believes the newly Democratic candidate is good on labor issues and feels it’s unfortunate that his opponents are using his Republican voting record against him.
“He’s become more educated on labor issues,” Abrams said. “During his last campaign, he talked about treating workers fairly and respectfully.”
His breaking ranks with the GOP in order to support the overturn of DADT, he said, is also telling in terms of personal transformation and growth.
“There aren’t as many straight men that I have met that are as respectful, inclusive and tolerant of the LGBT community,” Abrams said.
Longtime LGBT activist Nicole Murray-Ramirez and local advertising executive Jonathan Bailey agree.
“Many of us believe that Nathan, just like Clinton and Obama, has evolved on our issues,” Murray-Ramirez said. “If we can accept the evolvement of Democratic officials, why can’t we accept the evolvement of Republican officials?”
Bailey’s 10-year-old daughter was thrust into the national spotlight late last year after President Barack Obama responded to her letter thanking him for agreeing that it was OK for two men, like her dads, to love each other.
“What I do think is that he represents the best hope for us to have strong leadership within the mayor’s office,” Bailey said. “I feel he supports families and families like mine.”
Local Log Cabin Republicans skeptical of Fletcher's change of heart
AIDS Walk San Diego founder and San Diego Log Cabin Republican president Susan Jester, however, questions the candidate’s true colors and motivations.
“Nathan is probably the best-looking candidate and would have the most appeal to gay men based on his very handsome persona, but it takes more than good looks and personality to lead a city the size of San Diego,” Jester said.
“He may have served in the Marines but I don’t see any honor, duty or courage or anything that the Marines really stand for coming out of this guy. He just sticks his finger in the air to see the latest polling issue or group appeal and changes to match it.”
Jester said she’s simply not buying that he’s “seen the light.”
“For him to switch from one extreme to the other right before the election, without having a gay kid to help him look at our community from a different perspective, it gives the appearance of a political opportunist who is saying what he needs to say in order to get elected,” she said. “I see him as someone who will be easily swayed based on who will fund his campaign and re-election coffers.”
San Diego Democrats for Equality endorse a Fletcher rival
And despite his efforts to court LGBT backing, Fletcher failed to win the important endorsement of the well-organized San Diego Democrats for Equality. City Councilman David Alvarez picked up the 60% margin needed for backing after members voted late last month, and Fletcher finished second.
“I think for many in the club, they were more comfortable with someone who has been a registered Democrat for a long time,” said Doug Case, president of the Democrats for Equality. “There were a lot of reservations among people in terms of whether to endorse a person who has gone from Republican to Independent to Democrat in such a short period of time. That, and when he was a Republican in the State Assembly, he didn’t have the best voting record on progressive issues.”
Experts believe Fletcher’s 180-degree switch in political idealism is going to be a hard sell, especially in such a short election cycle.
“When it comes to individual voters, voters are already very skeptical of politicians,” said Brian Adams, San Diego State University political science professor. “It’s easy for his opponents to say he doesn’t have any principles and that really resonates with voters because they think that politicians in general don’t have any principles. People question whether he genuinely believes what he now says he believes, and despite him saying ‘no, I really do believe this now’, I don’t see him as having given any particularly compelling argument thus far.”