Fifty-two Democrats seeking state legislative offices were unwilling to go on the record regarding their support for the Black Lives Matter movement’s stated goal of defunding police departments. A survey conducted last week by The Capitolist found that only 12 out of 64 candidates contacted were willing to discuss the initiative at all. Several of those ducked the question and talked about other issues, while a handful openly opposed defunding the police.
Just two Democrats challenging Republican incumbents openly acknowledged their support for Black Lives Matter’s signature issue, raising questions about whether the group has been able to convert the national media attention into real momentum in Florida.
“As for defunding the police, right now I will say I am all for it,” said Keith Laufenberg, who is challenging incumbent Blaise Ingoglia for the House seat in District 35. “It is long overdue and the only way progress will ever be made is to move more of the money that the majority of these departments get to begin with.”
Another Democrat, Franscine Mathis, who is challenging incumbent Republican Mike Hill in House District 1 in the western Florida panhandle, also supports defunding the police.
“Yes I do agree we need to defund our police department,” Mathis wrote in an email. “Spend some of that money on activities for our youth in the community, [and] use some of the money for more educational opportunities in lower income neighborhoods.”
But those two are extreme outliers. The majority of Democrats responding ducked the question altogether, while some, like House District 6 challenger Alicia Bays, had a more artful response, while making sure to mention her attendance at a Juneteenth rally. She is trying to unseat Republican State Rep. Jay Trumbull.
“I personally am not a fan of the term ‘defund the police’ as money is not really the issue,” Bays wrote. “The issue is that there needs to be better accountability, and a more professional, people-focused response to those that need help.”
But Bays supports a proposal called “8 Can’t Wait,” which calls for eight specific policy proposals including requiring police officers to issue a warning before using deadly force in all situations. Law enforcement experts say that proposal is impossible to implement in all situations.
Another candidate, Scott Fretwell, who is challenging Republican State Senator Debbie Mayfield in Senate District 17, also refused to explicitly support defunding the police, but like Bays, supports the “8 Can’t Wait” movement.
“To me, ending police brutality by enacting the #8CantWait policies will remain among my most important issues,” Fretwell wrote. “But it is still one of many issues on the hearts and minds of voters. We need a leader who addresses all the issues.”
None of the other eight candidates who were willing to go on the record supported the defund the police initiative. Several, including Candace Robinson and Debra Kaplan, spoke of their involvement in Black Lives Matter protests, but declined to go on the record regarding their stance on the group’s signature issue.
Another candidate, Joshua Lopez, who is trying to win the open House District 77 seat, said his father was a police officer and explicitly refused to support “defunding the police.” While Lopez didn’t mention Black Lives Matter, he did say he “participated in two local protests.”