Fletcher’s Exit – Stage Right

Photo courtesy nathanfletcher, flickr

This past week, the Republican Party in California lost two of its young shining stars when Mindy Fletcher and her husband Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher made the decision to leave the Grand Old Party and become Independents.

Mindy (Tucker) Fletcher was George W. Bush’s political press secretary when he was Governor of Texas.  She moved to the Presidential campaign in 2000 as press secretary and served as spokesperson during the Florida recount.  Afterwards, she became Communications Director at the Republican National Committee.  She was the voice of the Department of Justice during 9-11, married Nathan and moved to California just prior to his first Iraq war deployment.  The life of a military wife is one I’ve never had to bear, but I kept in regular touch with Mindy as she awaited Nathan’s return from battle.  Her career flourished in California as Deputy Campaign Manager to Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Governor’s Director of External Affairs. I thought of her often as Nathan was overseas fighting for our country.

One of my favorite Fletcher moments was opening the Fletcher’s Christmas card – “Home for the Holidays” back in 2004. I kept it as a reminder of homecoming for young men and women overseas.

After Nathan returned from two tours in Iraq, he left military service (largely at Mindy’s urging) and looked for other ways to serve.  He thought of his early life growing up in a blue collar family, the first in his family to go to college. As a teenager, he had been politically engaged, registering voters for the Republican Party and later in life, served as Political Director at the California Republican Party.  Work ethic had always been a trademark and sometimes he worked such long hours on campaigns that he spent the night at headquarters.  He served on International Republican Institute missions to Cambodia and East Timor to teach democracy.  When he ran for State Assembly in the 75th District in 2008, I was running for the 15th Assembly District.  I lost but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Fletcher would win.

While in the legislature, Fletcher served in the Assembly GOP Leadership, raising and contributing more than $250,000 to candidates over the last two cycles.  He was vice chairman of the Assembly Health Committee and the Select Committee on Biotechnology. This past year, he chaired a new committee, the Select Committee on Job Creation for the New Economy.  By all accounts, Fletcher has been successful in helping to highlight regulatory burdens and seek solutions to make California a better place for new technologies and innovators.

His crowning achievement is Chelsea’s Law – comprehensive legislation that reforms the way California deals with violent sexual predators who target children. This legislation received the backing of the Speaker of the Assembly and wouldn’t have become law had Fletcher not set out to change things.  Chelsea’s Law is among twenty-eight pieces of legislation Fletcher carried that have been signed into law.  An avid Ironman tri-athlete, marathon runner, alpine mountaineer and mountain biker, Nathan has always lived on the edge and has never been accused of being your typical Republican establishment guy.

On March 10th, the San Diego Republican Party met to consider endorsements in state and local races.  GOP candidates vying for endorsement as Mayor of San Diego included Fletcher, San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio and San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.  The Democrat in the race is Congressman Bob Filner.

DeMaio, Fletcher, and Dumanis are all qualified Republicans.  With the San Diego mayoral race being non-partisan, it was a given that at least one of the Republican candidates would most certainly make the June 5th run off.  That fact alone makes you wonder why the San Diego GOP decided to get involved rather than let three good Republicans fight it out.

For reasons that only insiders can fathom, the county party chose to back only one candidate – Carl DeMaio – who is considered by some to be the conservative in the race.  Some believe it was that move alone that pushed Fletcher to change parties but those that know him know how wrong that assumption is.  Fletcher’s background as a counter-intelligence and human intelligence specialist prepared him to think tactically.  He knows how to build winning coalitions focused on winning the war, not just small battles.  He has fought for his country, seen the enemy, and lost not one but two cousins from the same family who fought in the war in Afghanistan.  The party battle must have seemed silly relative to his life lessons.

In an email to supporters, San Diego County GOP Chairman Tony Krvaric said on March 12th:  “You also have my word that you will NOT see any communication from me or the Party saying anything negative about either Nathan or Bonnie. My response will always be: ‘We respect both candidates and both are good Republicans.’ PERIOD.”  Yet, according to a recent Fox and Hounds Daily piece that ran 17 days later, that wasn’t the case.  The executive director of the San Diego GOP also appeared on San Diego television saying that Fletcher couldn’t be trusted.  It only took 17 days for party leaders to back down on their written promise.

Just after the party switch, New York Times columnist David Brooks said Fletcher represents a nationally important test case.

We won’t know until June 5th if Fletcher will make the run-off.  If he does, he will face another battle in November to get elected as San Diego’s Mayor.  In the short term, he gained 8 points in overnight polling after he left the GOP.

I am a maxed out donor to Nathan Fletcher’s campaign for Mayor of San Diego.  While his party change made me sad, I understood why he did it and support and pray for him and Mindy.  Former Gov. Pete Wilson and other notable Californians are also sticking by him.  They believe he’s the right man for the job.  Whether it’s pursuit of our freedom abroad or economic empowerment, Fletcher’s candidacy represented a strong symbolism for the Republican Party of doing what’s right and getting things accomplished.  We can use more like him, not less.

(Judy Lloyd is a senior manager and strategist specializing in government affairs, community outreach, development and public relations.)