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May 9, 2013
Guest Opinion: Nathan Fletcher 2.0 should just stay away from partisan politics

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(May 9 -- By Bill Whalen, Special to The Bee)

A year ago, Nathan Fletcher caused an uproar in the world of San Diego politics. Faced with a dwindling chance of surviving the city's mayoral primary, the Republican assemblyman walked away from the GOP, declaring himself a born-again independent.

This past weekend, Fletcher - no longer an officeholder thanks to term limits and a third-place finish in that primary - set off another seismic disturbance after telling the world, via a rambling 1,700-word missive on his Facebook page, that he's now a Democrat.

The immediate fallout? Lots of Democratic crowing and Republican snarking, plus egg on at least one dullard's face - that would be me, who once wrote on these pages that Fletcher had GOP rising star written all over him.

Personally, it makes no matter to me what party Fletcher joins. It's a free country - one Nathan Fletcher has fought for, in combat, to his considerable credit - and he's free to switch teams.

Not so forgivable is the cynicism this move invites.

While Fletcher went into great detail as to why he's now in the Democratic fold (among the reasons: Bill Clinton's knockout speech at the party's 2012 national convention), the fact is it's his second political conversion in 13 months. Fletcher earned a combat "v" for valor in Iraq. In California, he gets another "v" - this one, for vacillation. He may yet earn a third "v" - "very disappointed" - when he discovers that few Democrats in the Golden State care for Clintonesque triangulation.

So, is the California Republican Party a loser here? You might think so, judging by Fletcher's words: "In my opinion, the GOP today is more focused on protecting those who have achieved the American Dream than allowing others access to it."

About that exclusive party: California Republicans ran the more diverse of the parties' slates in 2010 - fewer old white guys, a pro-choice woman at the top of the ticket. Had he stayed the course, Fletcher right now could be working with new leadership that's actively engaged in rebuilding the party's brand. Too bad he ducked and ran.

Ironically, that's not the path chosen by Carl DeMaio, the San Diego Republican who finished well ahead of Fletcher in the mayoral primary. DeMaio has just cause for crossing the aisle: He's openly gay and not in sync with conservative Republicans over same-sex marriage. Instead, he's stayed with the GOP - most likely, a congressional candidate in 2014.

Sadly, Nathan Fletcher 2.0 - the one with disdain for both parties - won't be a candidate. And there won't be tell-it-like-is statements like this one, when he bids adieu to status quo politics: "I'm leaving an environment that thrives on playing the game. I'm leaving behind a system that is completely dysfunctional. I'm embracing an independence to focus solely on solutions on working with people if their ideas are good and focus solely on advancing the interest of our city, not a political party."

Thirteen months later, the best Fletcher can offer about that independent persona: "(It) didn't fit. It felt empty." What a sad statement for those who yearn for a third and better way of politics in the Golden State.

Empty is an apt word. A decade ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger exploded onto the political scene. In the easiest of scenarios for securing higher office - a 60-day recall campaign largely devoid of partisan litmus tests - a deep-pocketed and already-recognizable Arnold could have run as an independent. And he could have parroted what Fletcher said in terminating his relationship with partisan politics in 2012. But Arnold didn't go that independent route - and California's the worse for it.

The hope here is Nathan Fletcher proves us cynics wrong. And there's an easy way to do so: Don't run for office.

At present, there's soft talk of a recall campaign in San Diego against the embattled mayor, Bob Filner (assuming it could survive a legal challenge). Should multiple Republicans enter the race, a lone Democrat stands a good chance of replacing Filner - i.e., the newly minted Nathan Fletcher.

What could Fletcher do with his time if he stays away from the flame? As UC San Diego's first "professor of practice," he could remain in the classroom and educate future generations as to the perils of our political system.

Talk about a grand concept: California with one fewer self-aggrandizing politician.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and a former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Reach Whalen at whalenoped@gmail.com.

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