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Nathan Fletcher faces criticism for anti-LGBT voting record and homophobic tactics in past campaign

Nathan Fletcher with Vice President Mike Pence
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In his race for San Diego County Supervisor District 4, Nathan Fletcher is campaigning as a Democrat who promises to be a progressive vote on issues, but is now struggling to explain a controversial, anti-LGBT voting record while he was in the State Assembly.

Winning District 4 would mean Fletcher would serve as the voice on the county board for San Diego's dominant LGBT community in Hillcrest which may be counterproductive given his affiliation with anti-LGBT groups in the past. 

Fletcher began his career in politics by working as a Republican operative for some of the most conservative leaders in the Republican Party – including serving as District Director for disgraced Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham and the Executive Director of the entire California Republican Party itself.

In a San Diego Gay and Lesbian News article dated October 2013, California-based Republican political consultants Kevin Spillane and Max Rexroad said Fletcher was not just a typical conservative Republican, but a conservative moment activist. 

“I’ve known him for a long time and was a donor to him in the past, in both his Assembly campaigns and even in the last mayoral race,” said Rexroad. “He was a gung-ho Republican, not just an employee, but a high-ranking, high-paid member of the Republican Party. For him, his registration was not just a casual ‘R’ or ‘D’ after his name. He woke up every day to get Republican officials elected to the legislature and to Congress and that’s what he did.”

Anti-LGBT Voting Record

In 2008, Fletcher ran as a pro-life, pro-gun conservative Republican for the 75th Assembly District and won – thanks largely to high profile endorsements from individuals like Karl Rove, leaders within the far-right evangelical community, and supporters of the controversial Prop 8 Initiative that banned gay marriage.  

While serving in the Assembly, Fletcher cast a number of anti-LGBT votes – including voting against marriage equality by opposing recognition of same-sex marriages legally conducted in other states.  Under Fletcher’s vote, married LGBT couples would face legal limbo if they moved to California and a surviving LGBT spouse would not have any rights if one of them were injured or died while vacationing in California.

Fletcher even voted against a resolution honoring “Harvey Milk Day” throughout the state.  

San Diego Gay and Lesbian News reached out to Nathan Fletcher's campaign last week. We asked where he stood on LGBT issues and if they have changed in the decade or so since Prop 8. We have not yet received a response. 

However, when pressed on his anti-LGBT voting record and significant changes on a wide variety of issues from the environment to guns, Fletcher told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he has switched political parties from Republican to Democrat and he has “evolved” on the issues.  He claims that he is now more “comfortable” as a progressive Democrat than being a conservative Republican.

Fletcher did indeed switch to become an Independent in 2012 after he lost the Republican Party endorsement in his race for Mayor.  Then in 2013, Fletcher switched to become a Democrat to prepare for a run for the Special Election for Mayor to replace Bob Filner. 

Anti-LGBT Campaign Tactics

In the 2012 Mayoral Election, Fletcher sought the Republican Party backing against two openly LGBT candidates: former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio and former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

Coming just 4 years after he ran as a conservative for Assembly, for the 2012 Mayoral Race Fletcher publicly positioned himself as a pro-business candidate with the backing of some of the city’s most powerful business interests while he simultaneously softened his stance on social issues.  Fletcher even came out against "Don't Ask Don't Tell." 

“Fletcher was a shape-shifter in the 2012 Mayoral race trying have it both ways – he courted the moderates in public while simultaneously running to the far right in private,” says Tommy Knepper who helped manage DeMaio’s campaign.

In fact, during 2012 Fletcher received support for his Mayoral bid from conservative evangelical leaders such as Bishop George D. McKinney who is aligned with the anti-gay group National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and was a vocal outspoken supporter of Prop 8.

In the weeks leading up to the March 2012 endorsement vote of the Republican Party in the Mayor’s Race, Fletcher tacked far-right and highlighted his family values against DeMaio and Dumanis. 

In a highly-criticized letter to conservatives and Republican Party delegates a week before the Mayoral race endorsement vote, Fletcher attacked DeMaio and wrote:

“Family values are important to me. As a married father of two, I take very seriously my commitment to my wife and children. As a Christian of strong faith, I take seriously my commitment to my God.”

Fletcher ended his letter with a call that DeMaio “man up” in the race.  (Of note, in 2014 Fletcher divorced his then-wife and publicly revealed he was in a relationship with Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.)

Then the day before the March 2012 endorsement vote of the Republican Party in the Mayor’s race, an anonymous email was sent from a fictitious “Reverend Awbrey” to each of the 48 delegates to the Republican Central Committee that were set to vote.  The email reminded the Republican delegates of DeMaio’s sexual orientation and savagely attacked DeMaio for “sinning before God by engaging in an immoral relationship with another man.” 

At the time Fletcher not only denied being behind the homophobic email but also denied even knowing about it – a fact disputed months after the election by former Fletcher staffer Clinton Soffer.

To the surprise of many, DeMaio prevailed and won the Republican Party endorsement for Mayor. 

“I worked hard to get the endorsement and met individually with each of the 48 Party delegates to ask for support, but I have no doubt that it was Nathan Fletcher’s slimy anti-gay attacks in the days before the vote that pushed undecided delegates into my camp,” said DeMaio in an interview. 

“I still remember how much emotion of pride and optimism I had when we got the Party endorsement because it was like breaking a glass ceiling for gays in the Republican Party,” DeMaio shared recently.  “Even though Bonnie Dumanis was my competitor at the time, she came up and gave me a big hug because she too knew how significant the vote was in our fight for equality,” DeMaio says.

Fletcher reacted by storming out of the Convention meeting.  In a turn of events that surprised Republican Party delegates, Fletcher two weeks later announced he was leaving the Republican Party and blamed his lost endorsement on “social conservatives who made a deal with DeMaio because he tacked far-right to get their support.”  In announcing his switch to Independent, Fletcher claimed it was because the Party had become “too conservative.” 

“This is classic Nathan Fletcher – he plays the victim and accuses his opponents of doing the very things that he himself was doing,” says Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric.  “In 2012 Nathan Fletcher said whatever he needed to pander for votes. Committee members saw a narcissist willing to say and do anything to further his political ambitions. Clearly not much has changed."

How the Supervisors Race is Shaping Up

Given Fletcher’s troubling votes and behavior against the LGBT community, it may come as a surprise to some that Fletcher not only has received the endorsement of the San Diego Democrat Party but also the LGBT-oriented San Diego Democrats for Equality in his current race for Board of Supervisors.

However, some political observers are not surprised.

“Fletcher got the Party endorsement because he’s married to State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and she was twisted every arm and called in every chit to brow beat people to line up behind her man,” said one Democratic activist who used to hold an elected position and asked to remain unnamed for fear of retribution.

“This is the seedy, unprincipled side of politics where who you know is far more important than what you believe in,” said the Democratic activist.

In a May 8, 2018 piece in the San Diego Reader, Matt Potter says “It helps to have a political spouse with clout, and plenty of special interest money.” 

Campaign disclosures for both the Fletcher campaign and the San Diego Democrat Party show hundreds of thousands of dollars of contributions from Sacramento lobbyists, special interests and businesses that have legislation pending before a committee chaired by Lorena Gonzalez. 

California State Assemblymember Lori Saldana (D) who is also running for the Board of Supervisors seat against Fletcher says she is troubled by the Democrat establishment’s embrace of Fletcher.  

She warned against Fletcher’s past voting history, speaking out against San Diego Democrats for Equality's endorsement of Fletcher. Saldana wrote in an April 20 Facebook post: 

San Diego Democrats for Equality believe voting for a candidate who:

Voted AGAINST Working Families 100% of the time

AGAINST Reproductive Justice 100% of the time

AGAINST Marriage Equality

AGAINST Equal rights for same-sex immigrants

FOR GUNS 93% of the time

And was ENDORSED by the NRA - National Rifle Association of America

is an "opportunity"?

A former California State Assemblymember, Saldana talked to San Diego Gay and Lesbian News about Fletcher,  "I'm very proud of my years of advocacy and support for the LGBTQ community. I was the only San Diego Assemblymember who co-authored and voted for Marriage Equality in 2005 and 2006. I joined the lawsuit to overturn Prop. 8, and supported the recognition of out of state same-sex married couples. I worked with Equality California on a Hate Crimes bill that Weber re-introduced re: perceived sexual orientation.

"At this point in this election, I'm happy to share my voting record in support of LGBTQ equality, safety, and justice. I'm certain you will find others who will comment the different record of my opponent."

William Rodriguez-Kennedy, the president of Democrats for Equality, defends his club’s decision to endorse Fletcher.

"Our movement benefits of changing hearts and minds and thus it is important for us to embrace elected officials who have evolved on our issue," Rodriguez-Kennedy says adding that they vetted each candidate for District 4 and voted overwhelmingly to back Fletcher, "Lori Saldana was present at that meeting and she didn’t get a single vote,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said.

On the Republican side, there is openly gay Bonnie Dumanis also running for the District 4 seat. She says people make a mistake by judging people by party.

Dumanis says she has supported both Democrats and Republicans in her career. "Chris Kehoe and Toni Atkins to name a few," she thinks she's done a lot as a Republican in helping people get comfortable with gay marriage and she will continue to open doors for the LGBT community. "We’ve come a very long way, particularly in San Diego. Our Republican mayor, Kevin Faulconer, was national co-chairman of Mayors for Freedom to Marry, former Republican mayor Jerry Sanders made national news when he announced his support for marriage equality, and they have been hailed and admired for doing so."

She says that she thinks Fletcher will support the LGBT community because it politically benefits him, but as a constituent, she says she's worried about his commitment to his job. 

"He’s ambitious and he’s always used politics to climb so rather than do the job, he seeks headlines. He had a terrible attendance in the Assembly, missing 60% of his votes, and this position is just a platform for his political comeback. I’ve spent 35 years fighting for his county and I can hit the ground running and make a real impact."

Dumanis asserts that her commitment to the LGBT community can be seen by her openly running for Municipal Judge in 1994 and in 1998 running for Superior Court Judge. Then in 2003, she made history as the first openly gay or lesbian District Attorney in the United States.  

“I have received the Nicky Awards, LGBT Trailblazer Award, LAMBDA Archives Award, Grand Marshall in the Gay Pride Parade and Tom Homman Pioneer Award. I Attended almost every Pride Parade and for the first time, DAs office had a truck of DDAs and their families participate from 2003-2016.”

“My biggest contribution to the community was being openly out in San Diego politics and doing this while being a Republican. San Diego needed and still needs the LGBT community to have a voice at the political table no matter what party they belong to. To quote Harvey Milk “Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better”

Absentee balloting started May 7 and Election Day is June 5.  If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will advance to the November runoff.

As a matter of full disclosure, Hale Media Publisher Johnathan Hale is married to Carl DeMaio.