San Diego Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher stunned more than a few people this week when he announced that he would switch his political status to Independent from Republican.
Once considered a bright star in an otherwise shrinking Republican universe, Fletcher said that he was tired of all the partisanship in Sacramento. Sounds principled enough.
But not to be lost in his critique of "the system" is Fletcher's race for the nonpartisan position of San Diego Mayor, where he is one of four major candidates in the June 5th contest. So much for the principle stuff.
Motivations notwithstanding, Fletcher's departure from Republican ranks opens the possibility for another vote on the upcoming state budget.
California requires an absolute two-thirds vote in each house on matters relating to taxes, which translate to 54 of the 80 votes in the Assembly and 27 of the 40 votes in the State Senate.
That's the highest requirement of the 50 states. Even with huge majorities in both houses, the Democrats are two votes shy of the threshold in each chamber.
Now that shortfall may be reduced to one, which could make it considerably easier for Democrats to round up the 54th vote in the Assembly.
The voters eased the requirement for passing a budget in 2010 when they reduced the minimum to a simple majority. But a majority vote to pass a budget does little good when state law still requires an absolute two-thirds agreement to increase taxes which are used to fund state programs and services.
If Fletcher does play ball with Assembly Democrats, he could be rewarded with Democratic support tacitly, if not publicly.
True, Democratic Congressman Bob Filner is also in the race, but in a nonpartisan contest party loyalty doesn't carry nearly the same clout as it does in a partisan race, giving Assembly Democrats a lot more wiggle room to help their cooperative colleague, should Fletcher chose that path. And besides, Congressional Democrats and Assembly Democrats are two different fraternities, shared values or not.
All this points to the sticky web in California otherwise known as partisan politics. With his abandonment of Republican ties, Nathan Fletcher may do both state Democrats and himself some good. It's a risk, yes, but one that could provide payoffs all around in the months to come.