On the eve of talks between the United States, Mexico and Canada to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is encouraging policymakers to look at the “success story” the pact has created in his city.
“Free trade works,” Faulconer told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Tuesday evening. “We’ve grown our exports in San Diego by $5 billion since NAFTA. Mexico is our biggest export partner from San Diego.”
As mayor of the state’s second-largest city — and through sheer attrition of Republican officeholders — Faulconer is seen as a leading figure in California’s GOP. While once again declaring that he is not running for governor in 2018, as some have encouraged, Faulconer laid out his blueprint for the party’s return to statewide relevance, which includes support for free trade policies.
President Trump has called NAFTA “the worst deal ever made,” and argued that talks beginning Wednesday should focus on reducing the trade deficit with Mexico, which he says has cost the United States manufacturing jobs.
Faulconer disagrees, and will travel to Washington, D.C., next month in an effort to convince lawmakers that NAFTA has been a job creator at the border.
“I’m going to tell that story of how free trade works, of how our relationship with Mexico is a strength, of how we’re creating those good quality jobs,” he said. “If we don’t tell our story of success, nobody is going to tell it for us.”
Most of Faulconer’s remarks on Tuesday night outlined his model of the “New California Republican.”
The mayor wants his party to take a big-tent approach that encourages inroads into minority communities, focuses on infrastructure development and government reform, and preaches a moderate stance on immigration and the environment.
“I campaigned in communities Republicans wrote off as lost, and Democrats took for granted,” he added.
But Faulconer reiterated that he will not run for governor in 2018, reasoning that “there’s a lot of unfinished business and I love the job.”
He wasn’t willing to throw his weight behind the two Republicans already in the race, Assemblyman Travis Allen and San Diego businessman John Cox. Instead, it sounded like Faulconer will take on the role of recruiter before next June’s primary.
“I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of great candidates come out,” he said. “I’ll be extolling some of my fellow Republicans to jump in.”