Rep. Val Demings, Orlando’s first woman police chief, relied on her law enforcement chops to help prosecute the House impeachment case against President Trump. And the Florida Democrat did it again this week after the president pledged to use military might to stop violent demonstrations in major cities.
“I was a law enforcement officer for 27 years. I took that job to heart. In America, we should never ask our military to police our streets,” Demings tweeted Monday after crowd chemical controls were deployed outside the executive compound.
I was a law enforcement officer for 27 years. I took that job to heart. In America, we should never ask our military to police our streets. https://t.co/Kk2jpBtuSD
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) June 2, 2020
The second-term House lawmaker is one of many high-profile women under the political microscope as Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee and former vice president, considers his own No. 2 options.
Pundits continue to weigh the personal and leadership qualities Demings, 63, would bring to the 2020 Democratic presidential ticket. Symbolically, she’s also a black woman from the crucial swing state of Florida, and Biden has promised to stack his Cabinet with officials who reflect the demographic makeup of the country should he win in November, a vow made long before the civil unrest wreaked last week by George Floyd’s death.
Protests against the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, while in Minneapolis Police Department custody, showcase the volatility of the issue six months ahead of the general election. They also underscore how any blight on Demings’s record during her 10 years as her city’s top cop could break the cardinal rule of any presidential understudy: Don’t hurt the top of the ticket. Yet some speculate she could simultaneously blunt Trump’s efforts to make the fall fight about law and order.
University of Central Florida professor Aubrey Jewett, based in Demings’s hometown of Orlando, foreshadowed possible problems for Biden should he choose the dual House Judiciary and Intelligence Committee member, particularly among liberals “uncomfortable” with her prior occupation.
“On the one hand, Demings can speak with authority and suggest solutions to many challenges that face police departments as they struggle to deal fairly and improve relations with minority communities,” he told the Washington Examiner.
Although she and Biden could expand the Democratic coalition by appealing to centrists and independents attracted to her law enforcement credentials, the Politics in Florida author added: “On the other hand, given that the Orlando Police Department also had several allegations and incidents of misuse of force, including against minority suspects, while Demings was chief, this could clearly be used as a legitimate political attack.”
The Orlando Police Department, for instance, settled million-dollar lawsuits while Demings was in charge over accusations of excessive force. She’s bragged about reducing violent crime before she retired in 2011 and made her first foray into politics in 2012 with a failed campaign for Congress. And there’s that embarrassing censure she received in 2009 for not properly securing her gun in her car when it was parked outside her home.
For The University of Florida’s Sharon Austin, “there’s no way” any individual can serve as police chief for a decade without being involved in “some type of controversy.” Yet Austin countered by saying Demings won her congressional bid in 2016, despite red flags unearthed by reporters who dug into her past. She was similarly vetted when she tried her hand at mayoral politics in 2014, though she ended up pulling out of the race for the position held by her husband Jerry Demings since 2018.
“I’m sure her opponents will see her as ‘the enemy’ if she’s selected because some people have such a strong distrust for the police that they don’t want to support anyone with a police background,” Austin said.
Demings may have softened any potential blowback by proactively publishing an op-ed this week in the Washington Post, according to Austin. In the piece, Demings asked her “brothers and sisters in blue” what “the hell” they were doing, before outlining a range of policy prescriptions.
The politics professor also suggested Demings, who she described as “very well-respected in Florida,” may mitigate Trump’s “law-and-order” message. Trump touted himself as the “law-and-order president” during a Rose Garden speech this week meant to address the national turmoil surrounding Floyd, a sign of what’s to come in the fall.
“A Biden-Demings ticket can discuss their intention to have law and order while also having responsible policing tactics,” she said.
At the very least, Theodore Johnson, a senior Brennan Center for Justice fellow, believed Demings’s unique perspective certainly wouldn’t turn off voters who were “solidly behind or leaning towards Biden” anyway.
“Her bigger hurdle will be name recognition since so few people know who she is and also her relative lack of governing experience since she’s only been in the House of Representatives for three years. That inexperience will probably hinder her candidacy more than her professional background,” he said.
Demings and the Biden team are courting each other as the veepstakes picks up in intensity, with both sides publicly acknowledging she’s on the shortlist. Biden has told donors he expects to make a decision around Aug. 1, ahead of the Democratic National Convention, slated for Aug. 17-20 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Demings, the youngest of seven children born to a maid and a janitor in Jacksonville, has welcomed the process.
“If I received a call from Joe Biden, I would absolutely accept the job and accept the challenge,” Demings told CBS’s The Late Late Show with James Corden this week.
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