Former GOP Assemblyman Turned Independent Nathan Fletcher Registers as a Democrat
Fletcher’s explanatory email to friends and supporters follows:
Ralph Waldo Emerson had a famous saying, “Life is a journey not a destination.”
For me, the last couple years have been quite a journey—going to war, serving in the State Assembly, campaigning for Mayor (of San Diego) and now teaching and working in the private sector.
You were a part of that journey as a friend and supporter. I appreciate your faith in me more than you will ever know. You hung with me when people said we had no chance of winning and then when every campaign was working overtime to make sure we didn’t. And you were patient with me in the aftermath of losing. There are no two ways about it—losing sucks. But time and distance have a remarkable way of providing clarity and perspective.
I was reluctant to make this move. It wasn’t due to any doubt about where I belong. It was simple dread over the criticism I would face. I know this is the party that reflects my values and beliefs, but I was reluctant to admit it. No one likes to be criticized. We all want to be liked.
After I left the Republican Party, some compared it to me leaving a wounded Marine on the field of battle. There isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t think about my relatives and friends who died in war or how hard we worked to save soldiers wounded in combat. It is embarrassing, but I still cry when I meet the mother of a solider who was killed. Could people be so jaded to not see the difference between that and the politics of political parties? I think I’ve got pretty thick skin but to be perfectly candid I didn’t want to go through it again.
Adding to that is the simple fact that life is good right now. I take my son to school, coach tee ball, surf with my friends and feel like I actually have a life. I love my work at Qualcomm and UCSD. I’m not sure I have ever been happier. I don’t know if I will run for office again but have no plans to do so now. But I knew a change in party registration would immediately trigger a wave of “what is he angling for now”. And frankly, I didn’t want to deal with that either.
So why am I emailing you? Why now?
It is because of a conversation near the 10thAnniversary of the invasion of Iraq with someone who knows me better than almost anyone else, Lou Orozco. Lou and I served together as Marines in Iraq. We lived together, trained together, deployed together, and remain the closest of friends. After reminiscing about 130 degree Iraq heat, a couple funny and one or two sad stories our conversation turned to family, daily life and eventually politics.
Lou asked if I missed the Republican Party. I was honest—I didn’t miss it one bit. Then he asked how independent was working out for me. Again, brutal honesty–it didn’t fit. It felt empty.
I shared with him a conversation I’d had early this year with a Member of Parliament from Myanmar who I was helping train for his new role as a lawmaker. He had “googled” me (the surest sign of an open society) and read about my becoming an independent. His reaction was blunt: “It doesn’t mean anything. It conveys no values.”
He is a member of the National League of Democracy, the minority party that is led by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. He went on to tell me that parties are imperfect, sometimes frustrating, but they reflect values, organize like-minded people and help govern societies. In America, our elected officials wear lapel pins signifying membership in Congress or the state Legislature. But in Myanmar, they wear a party pin. This gentleman removed his NLD party pin and gave it to me. Until I figured things out, he said, I could be in his party.
Here I was getting advice from a man I had traveled 8,000 miles to advise. His observation seemed obvious—true in any country or language — and I knew he was right.
I told Lou that during my year without any party affiliation I’d had time to reflect on my values and principles and where they fit best. My votes and positions, candidates I endorsed and voted for had been in line with the Democratic Party. I told him I’d watched President Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention three times trying to find something I disagreed with. I couldn’t.
It was clear – at least to me – that I was a Democrat.
I explained to Lou that because I grew up in a working class, blue-collar Democratic family I was often asked why I was a Republican. It was because I thought their policies provided the best access to the American Dream. I no longer believe that is true. In my opinion, the GOP today is more focused on protecting those who have already achieved the American Dream than allowing others access to it.
I believe in the amazing opportunity available to us here in America. What unites us is the fundamental belief that there is nothing you can’t accomplish if you work hard, play by the rules, are willing to fail and start all over. That has been the path towards the American Dream for generations. But believing it requires a real commitment to ensuring that opportunity exists for everyone.
That means ensuring all children can access a quality education, afford college, and ensuring a strong middle class that the poor can not only aspire to reach but have a realistic shot at joining. It means working to create and protect the jobs that grow our economy.
Access to the American Dream means real solutions on issues like immigration and healthcare. It means that all people regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation enjoy equal rights and equal treatment. We should all be working towards a future that is inclusive, safe and free that creates opportunity and prosperity for every citizen. For me, that is the goal of a more perfect union.
Those values and principles haven’t changed but I believe the Democratic Party will better make them a reality for people.
Lou wasn’t judgmental or surprised. This friend who has known me for years — well before any political career — said he never understood why I was a Republican in the first place. He laughed when I told him a lot of local Republicans shared his thoughts.
He then nonchalantly said, “So be a Democrat. That’s who you are.” I told him about the criticism I would face. People would question my loyalty and say that I don’t stand for anything. I would feel like I let people down. I just didn’t want to go through it.
He reminded me that the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis doesn’t mean “Always Faithful” to a political party or group of people. It is higher than
that. It is always faithful to your country, your faith, your values and convictions. The Marine Corps values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment require you to be true to what you know in your heart is right. Lou finished by telling me if I was a Democrat, then I needed to just acknowledge it, tell people why and move on. He and I had learned together that life is too short and precious to live any other way.
He was right. A few snarky emails and maybe a bad story in the paper are a small price for doing what you know is right. Shortly after this I tracked down a voter registration card and checked the box for the party where I belong.
My decision will make some people happy. Like my Mom, a life long Democrat. Ironically, it will please both local GOP and Democratic leaders. The Democratic Party Chair and many elected officials have been encouraging me to take this step for a while and the local GOP party chairman has said publicly that I should be a Democrat. Who knew I could unite them?
Despite my change in partisan affiliation, I have no animosity towards the Republican Party. I know many good people there, including friends, co-workers, and many I hold in high regard. I just owe it to them and myself to admit that I don’t belong anymore.
And I’m certainly not the first one to realize they were in a party where they didn’t belong. Prominent people, who have changed parties in the past, declared that they didn’t leave their party, their party left them. This was the case when Ronald Reagan went from being a FDR Democrat to a Goldwater Republican. It has also been true for Republicans that have changed to Democrat.
It is hard to dispute the Republican Party has changed over the last decade. In many ways, the party has left me. But it is also true that during the same time I’ve changed as well.
Our life experiences contribute greatly to how we view the world. In the last decade I went to war, became a father, governed in a period of great economic crisis and am now preparing to put two children in public school. I’ve sat with janitors who can’t afford healthcare, small business owners struggling to make ends meet, attended services for cops killed in the line of duty, met dreamers who are in the only country they have ever known and sat in classrooms with teachers doing the best they could in a tough environment. I learned a lot while confronting new information and a changing world.
That journey Emerson talked about has brought me to the Democratic Party. I’m proud to join the party and comfortable with my decision. I hope you will respect my decision and not fall into the cynicism that so often dominates our political discussions.
Either way, I will take the acceptance or criticism in stride and know that I am doing what I believe in my heart is right. I have found if you do that, you never go wrong.
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