Former GOP Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher easily won the San Diego County Democratic Party’s endorsement Tuesday night in his bid to “take back our county government.”
Applause and cheers broke out at 8:25 p.m. when county chair Jessica Hayes said “the motion carries.”
Her party Central Committee voted 64-5 to approve a consent calendar that included an item recommending Fletcher be endorsed for the District 4 seat on the county Board of Supervisors, held for 22 years by Republican Ron Roberts.
Watched by his wife, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the 40-year-old former Marine told an audience of 170 at the Machinists Union Hall in Kearny Mesa: “I stand before you as someone with the conviction of a convert. … who deeply understands those principles and values that we hold dear — equality, opportunity and justice.”
Also watching was Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a backer of community activist Ken Malbrough, one of three other Democrats in the supervisor race.
Without mentioning fellow African-American Malbrough, Weber urged the Central Committee to review the endorsement decision and not “rubber-stamp” the Aug. 28 verdict of an area committee.
But her motion to pull the Fletcher item from the consent calendar won only two votes.
Weber didn’t see opportunity and justice in the outcome.
“We have four Democrats, and we supposedly believe in the big tent,” Weber said outside the union hall, where recording devices were banned. “And yet we continually lock people out of the process. And I think that’s unfair — this early in the game.”
She said endorsing Fletcher nine months before the June 2018 primary could backfire in the race featuring former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Republican with deep-pockets backing.
“We overthought the thing with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton,” Weber said. “We overthink these things, but we don’t know what the people in the community are thinking.”
Weber worries that anointing a candidate before the primary may alienate rank-and-file backers of rivals and put their favorites at a fund-raising disadvantage.
“When you have an heir apparent to something, people have a tendency just to not get involved,” she said. “You want to energize them to be engaged, to bring out more people to vote, so that — whoever wins — people feel they were part of the process.”
Fletcher defended the early endorsement — listing the myriad steps that led to Tuesday’s vote.
He noted that every local candidate — two dozen took brief stints at the main lectern — had a chance to speak Tuesday (except Lori Saldaña, who wasn’t present).
“We had a debate on the motion,” Fletcher said. “What this signifies is that the Democrats are overwhelmingly united behind our candidacy to take back the seat.”
He rejected the claim that minority voters deserved someone like former Assemblywoman Saldaña, a Latina, or attorney Omar Passons — the other black Democrat in the race along with Malbrough.
“The communities that need help the most need the most effective supervisor,” Fletcher said, “and I think they’ll need the strongest candidate to win.”
He said his priority, if elected in the largely San Diego district, would be helping those communities “that have been left behind by the current Board of Supervisors.”
He also attacked Republicans targeting him with what county chair Hayes called “persuasion polls” and the critical IheartNathan.com website.
“When the Republican Party and the Lincoln Club want to come into our house and tell us as Democrats who and when we support, it’s time for us to say: No more,” Fletcher said during his 2-minute speaker slot.
Later, he told Times of San Diego: “In a lot of ways, (GOP) efforts really solidified the Democratic Party. When Republicans want to weigh in and tell Democrats who to endorse, it backfired. So tonight you saw over 90 percent of [committee members] wearing stickers that said ‘I heart Nathan.’”
He suggested that a GOP-connected poll “really crystalized what is at stake, it crystalized who they fear most.”
Fletcher again explained his conversion from Republican to independent to Democrat.
“The real question in today’s world … is not why somebody would leave the Republican Party. The question is: Why would anyone stay?” he said.
“I have been very open. I was not a good Republican when I was there. And that’s well-documented. And when I changed parties, I said: On a lot of issues, the party changed. The Tea Party and Trump agenda changed [the GOP]. And on some issues, I changed.
“And as we go through life, we have experiences, and we go through things that shape us and mold us. And I’m not afraid to say that.”
In the dark parking lot of the union hall, supervisor candidate Malbrough, a retired firefighter, wasn’t shocked by the endorsement result.
“He’s got talent. He’s got experience,” Malbrough said of Fletcher. “So it was no surprise.”
But he didn’t quite agree with Weber’s critique of the process.
“I wouldn’t say it wasn’t equal,” he said. “It was [my] lack of knowledge of how it’s done. There are people who have been in this business for a long time. I’m not really a politician.”
But he seconded Weber’s notion that an early endorsement could turn off voters.
“Let me tell you who I think it impacts more than anything,” said Malbrough, 62. “It’s our young, their future, who want to do this kind of work.”
Malbrough said he “drank the Kool-Aid” of Democratic appeals for new candidates. “But once I got in, well …. we’re going to endorse early.”
But Fletcher will probably have “a big target on his back,” Malbrough said, “and so he’s going to have to compete… He may have more funding, but it’s going to be work.”
If Dumanis doesn’t win the race outright in June (with 50 percent plus one of the vote), Malbrough says he would back any Democrat facing her in November.
“I might be able to give some input to whoever that person is,” he said. “I’d be happy to do so if there are things I have concerns about.
“I’m a true-blue Democrat, and I’m going to support the party.”