With just more than two months before San Diego’s primary, State Assemblyman and mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher has left the Republican Party and is now running as an independent.
In a video posted to YouTube early Wednesday morning, the 35-year-old ex-Marine said he had no interest in playing the games required of partisan politics.
Bemoaning the partisan environment has been a hallmark of Fletcher’s campaign to date, as he’s argued that he’s the candidate capable of building a broad coalition to solve the city's problems.
He says he agrees with Republicans on fiscal issues but aligns with Democrats on things like environmental stewardship and gay rights.
At a press conference, Fletcher said he’s wrestled with the decision since he first ran for office in 2006 and that he owed it to city voters to make the decision prior to the election.
“I knew I could win the race as a Republican, I just don’t think I could govern as one,” he said following the press conference.
City Councilman Carl DeMaio, a Republican, and Congressman Bob Filner, a Democrat -- both mayoral candidates -- are examples of the partisan bickering he'd like to leave behind, according to Fletcher. He said DeMaio thrives on chaos and disagreement and Filner expects people to vote for him because of his party affiliation.
DeMaio said he'd leave each candidate to run their own campaign, but called himself the most independent candidate in the race.
"I spoke truth to power in city hall, whether it's the new city hall project I was able to kill or the sales tax increase in 2010 I was able to block," he said. "I don't think this changes things at all."
Petitions gathered for Proposition B, the pension reform initiative he championed, were one third Democrat, one third Republican, and one third independent, he said.
Filner issued a response saying he for once agreed with Republican Party Chair Tony Krvaric’s statement that Fletcher is driven by ambition for higher office.
"“I have lived in San Diego a long time and I know San Diegans are too smart to fall for this political ploy,” his statement read. His campaign denied request for follow-up comment.
Fletcher did not reference District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, another Republican running for mayor, in either the video or during his press conference.
Dumanis issued a press release Wednesday titled “My Principles Won’t Change” in which she didn’t mention Fletcher or his decision to change parties.
“When you're in a tough spot, you stick to your principles,” she said in the release. “You stay true to who you are. You don't panic, you don't get desperate.”
Her campaign declined a request for follow-up comment.
Fletcher’s decision comes less than three weeks after the Republican Party of San Diego voted to give its endorsement to DeMaio and less than two weeks after the close of the most recent fundraising period.
He said neither of those events prompted the move, even though he openly campaigned for the local GOP’s endorsement.
“I said if you want a candidate that thrives on dysfunction and chaos, then endorse Carl DeMaio. They said ‘OK’,” Fletcher said.
A culmination of issues convinced him to finally make the switch, he said. He pointed to a Monday vote on an assembly bill to allow municipalities to retain affordable housing money that would otherwise go to the state as part of the unwinding of redevelopment agencies. Party leadership asked for Republicans to oppose the bill, Fletcher said.
“There was nothing wrong with the bill,” he said. “It was just an opportunity to create embarrassment.”
Fletcher has raised $964,000 as of March 17, more than all other candidates but DeMaio, whose $1.26 million raised includes more than a half million from his personal wealth. But a poll by the Center for Education Policy and Law/UT San Diego released Saturday had him tied with Dumanis at 10 percent support. DeMaio pulled 24 percent and Filner 20 percent, with 35 percent undecided.
Fletcher had both the lowest positive and negative ratings of all candidates, suggesting voters are largely unfamiliar with him.
“Now, running dead last for San Diego mayor, and after having raised as much Republican money as he can, Fletcher is trying to hide from his conservatism and partisan Republican record to reinvent himself as something else,” Krvaric's statement read.
Fletcher denied that the decision had anything to do with garnering attention or deciding he could fund the rest of his campaign without financial support from Republicans.
“No position changes, no policy changes — my approach, all of that remains completely consistent,” he said. “Any support I lose will be from people more committed to partisan politics than they were to me.”