San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio’s mayoral campaign over the last few weeks has relentlessly criticized Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher’s 70 percent absentee rate this year for votes in Sacramento.
On Thursday the campaign brought together a group of supporters to call on the assemblyman to return his pay for those missed days.
Hitting political opponents for their votes missed during election season is now commonplace in American politics. Political scientists, however, have said the practice misses much of a legislator’s job description.
DeMaio supporter Steve Francis, who ran for mayor in 2005 and 2008 and formerly served in the Nevada state Assembly, said there are enough round-trip flights through Sacramento that Fletcher could reasonably attend legislative sessions while campaigning in San Diego.
Per Assembly rule, Fletcher has surrendered his per diem for days missed. Francis said the logic of the rule suggests you shouldn’t be paid at all on those days. DeMaio’s supporters want him to return the prorated amount of his $95,000 annual salary for days missed.
“I do agree that you’ll always have this issue, and if you’re not doing your job, you should give your paycheck back,” Francis said. “The issue here is you’re getting paid to vote and you’re not voting. This has been going on since January and it’s not reasonable.”
Ronald King, professor of political science at San Diego State University, said the percentage of votes missed is a “phony” measure of whether a legislator is doing his or her job.
A legislator’s job description also includes meeting with constituents, writing legislation and holding policy meetings, among other things, he said.
And since the outcomes of most votes are predetermined, abstaining from a vote isn’t always detrimental in the first place. The Assembly isn’t a debating society, he said, and flying to Sacramento to cast a vote on an issue already known to be favored 200 to 4 wouldn’t maximize time or resources.
“With this data only, it’s a set-up issue for silly political embarrassment,” he said. “To make the case, far more detailed data would be necessary, and I have no idea if DeMaio has it, or if Fletcher has been doing it. This data by itself is unconvincing that Fletcher isn’t doing his job, and it shows not very much understanding of what the job of a legislator is.”
He said the press is ultimately responsible for letting this line of attack become common.
“Fourth-rate politicians make fourth-rate scandals out of other fourth-rate politicians,” King said. “It’s what we expect out of elections, but all we should actually do is giggle. The press has gone to sleep.”
Other DeMaio supporters at the press conference were retired Maj. Gen. Dennis Keneally, former Councilman and Assemblyman Larry Stirling, former Councilman Fred Schnaubelt, San Diego Tax Fighters Chairman Richard Rider and local business owner Leo Hammel.
Following the event, Fletcher supporter Scott Dickey, CEO of Competitor Group Inc., issued a statement condemning what he called “political theater.”
Dickey was part of a group of Fletcher supporters who founded the group Movement to the Middle following Fletcher’s decision to leave the Republican Party.
“The fact is, Nathan Fletcher has been an extremely effective leader in the state Assembly and has a track record of garnering bipartisan support for legislation to improve the quality of life in San Diego,” Dickey’s statement read.
Kelly and Brent King, parents of Chelsea King, namesake of the child predator legislation Chelsea’s Law that Fletcher authored, also issued a statement praising his legislative history in the Assembly.