Kennett Square mayor leaves Republican Party
By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
In the fall of 1980, when Matt Fetick was a youngster in Downingtown, he joined his mother in canvassing through Chester County in support of Ronald Reagan, who was then the Republican candidate for President of the United States.
Reagan, Fetick recalled, was the statuesque representation of a Republican Party that championed family values, fiscal conservatism and smaller government, and as Fetick began to pursue a career in police enforcement and later a career as an elected official, the principles of the Republican Party remained fastened to him like an emblem on a uniform.
Beginning in early 2017 however, soon after the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 44th President of the United States, Fetick, then into his second term as the Mayor of Kennett Square, began to witness a rapid and visceral erosion of the basic tenets that had defined the party of his affiliation.
At first, Fetick believed that remaining a Republican-elected official would allow him to meld his political and moral ideologies within the framework of a rapidly changing Kennett Square – one that not only was enjoying an economic surge in new businesses but had also transformed itself into a kaleidoscope of demographics and cultures.
Over time, he began to realize that being a “Republican at the table” was having very little impact, and as he began his third term as mayor, Fetick realized that his values were no longer in alignment with a party that had shifted far from Reagan-era conservatism. He saw that his party had not enacted any salient and reasonable solutions to immigration reform, and the plans to build a wall at the Mexican border as a method of reform, he believed, was not a solution.
Fetick also saw that his party had failed to offer any alternatives to comprehensive healthcare reform, other than its continued attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
Fetick had also begun demonstrating his opposition to the current administration’s policies. In Oct. 2017, he joined then-Downingtown Mayor Josh Maxwell in condemning the current policy of the Trump administration that called for finding a replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – or DACA – created in 2012 as an executive action by then President Barack Obama, that shields nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants, including 6,000 in Chester County – who were brought to the U.S. as children, from deportation.
Fetick called the Dream Act “the best of America,” and said
its passage would be extremely important for the “health of the Kennett Square
“Nowhere in history do we hold people accountable for the sins of their fathers,” he told the Chester County Press in 2017. “We do not hold people accountable for what other people do. Yes, it is quite possible that there are kids who now know that their family is here illegally, but when you come here as a child through your parents' choosing, we don’t hold people accountable to that and send them back home. It is not a value that I as a life-long Chester County resident believe in. I don't believe this is a value that this country was built on. We hold people accountable for who they are and what they do.
“It is absolutely ridiculous to use any type of political party or political agenda to have anyone living in fear. No one should be living in fear. That’s not who we are.”
Passage of the Dream Act of 2017, Fetick said, is more about
people than it is about policy. He recalled conversations he had with
administrators in the Kennett Consolidated School District, who have told him
that many students of Hispanic heritage live in constant fear of deportation.
“I understand the need for security and not letting the problem getting worse, but the people in our community are afraid, and when people are afraid, they don't report crimes because they're afraid to come in contact with the police and the government,” he said. “It’s not who we are as a community.”
The proverbial Republican dropping of the ball on healthcare and immigration reform notwithstanding, it was Trump’s response to the testimony of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in the fall of 2019 before the House Intelligence Committee during the impeachment hearings for Trump that served as the last straw for Fetick.
“[Marie Yovanovitch] has been a career diplomat,” he said. “She has served her country overseas for both Democrats and Republicans, and she has an unblemished record. At the same time she was testifying, the President was tweeting awful things about her.
“I think the Republican Party has failed to separate policy from the person. If someone wants to say that they support [the President’s] tax plan, then just say that, but why can’t you also condemn the man when he does irrational things and says irrational things? For me, the ends do not justify the means, and I don’t want to have my name associated with that.”
Fetick officially switched his party affiliation in March, and became a Democrat.
On June 27, the Kennett Area Democrats announced the news on its social media page.
“It is hard to overestimate the value of someone who is so widely respected in our area and who has known to have been a lifelong Republican to talk so publicly about his convictions and what he believes is right in the [upcoming presidential election],” said Wayne Braffman, Kennett Area Democrats chair. “That has incredible power. It was a decision of conviction, but it is also a courageous decision to be vocal about it. He could have just changed registration and been silent, but he has not.
“Matt feels the imperative and the urgency to speak out, not just for his constituents, but that he believes this with his heart and soul.”
Braffman said that Fetick’s decision reflects a broad sentiment expressed by many Republicans he has spoken to, particularly those he met along the canvassing trail prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“In the past, it was taboo for a Republican to speak poorly about the party or their standard bearer,” he said, “but Republicans in Chester County are reasonable, thoughtful people. For many of them, the Trump Republican Party has moved so far away from what they believe about the country, about patriotism, about the Constitution, about the balance of powers, and about right and wrong, that they now find themselves ideologically closer to the Democratic Party.
“I really appreciate what Matt did because it gives others permission to do the same. It tells them that it is okay to speak out about how you are feeling.”
Fetick said that some of his Reagan-era Republican friends have shared his sentiments in the last few years. They stem, he said, not only from their disagreements with policy changes made during the Trump administration, but with their opposition to “the person who is the messenger at the moment,” he said.
“I think there is a lot of distrust and unrest with the things that the President says,” he said. “I think more than ever that people are open to the conversation.”
Fetick said that changing his political affiliation will have no impact on his chances for a fourth term as the Mayor of Kennett Square, should he choose to pursue it.
“I am not interested in building a political career,” he said. “This is volunteer community service. This is about helping people in my community. I used to believe that having a seat at the [Republican Party] table would make an impact. It didn’t.
“Therefore, the only thing I can do now is join the table where I can have the biggest impact.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.