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GOP Ramps Up Misleading Policy Attack  06/13 09:23

   As rising murder rates gain attention in American cities, Republicans have 
ramped up a misleading campaign to cast Democrats as anti-police and lax on 
public safety. 

   DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- When Minnesota Republican Tyler Kistner announced 
his candidacy for the U.S. House in April, he asked voters to ponder two 
questions: "What America will we leave for our children?" and "Will they be 
taught to hate their police?"

   Across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, Republicans in the 3rd 
Congressional District aired a digital ad this spring to demand that their 
Democratic congressman "stand up to attacks on law enforcement."

   And in Iowa, a Republican governor who had promised additional checks on 
police conduct after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer 
plans to sign a law making it harder for police to be sued on the job.

   As rising murder rates gain attention in American cities, Republicans have 
ramped up a misleading campaign to cast Democrats as anti-police and lax on 
public safety. It's a message they believe helped them stave off greater 
Democratic gains in last year's elections and one with renewed potency as 
cities consider cuts to department budgets as part of an effort to revamp 
policing.

   It's not at all clear that the GOP strategy, which stretches back to 
President Richard Nixon and was used by President Donald Trump, is a winning 
one. But it may be prominent as Republicans search for ways to gain ground in 
suburban areas critical to winning control of the U.S. House next year.

   A recent special election in New Mexico wasn't a good sign for the strategy. 
GOP candidate Mark Moore used Albuquerque's rising crime and city officials' 
decision to create an alternative public safety department to hit Democrat 
Melanie Stansbury. But Stansbury won easily, with a larger share of the 
district's votes than President Joe Biden garnered last year.

   Stansbury's district is overwhelmingly Democratic, making it an imperfect 
test case. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the party's House 
campaign arm, believes the issue will have a larger impact in swing districts, 
where the party plans to tie moderate Democratic incumbents to their more 
liberal colleagues who have supported the "defund the police" movement. That 
term is used to describe diverting money from police budgets to other social 
services, such as mental health support and drug addiction mitigation.

   The GOP focus is on places such as Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District, 
where 13-term Democratic incumbent Ron Kind is being cast as insufficiently 
supportive of law enforcement, though he does not support defunding police 
departments.

   It also includes Democratic Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota, who beat Kistner 
in 2020 and represents the Minneapolis and St. Paul suburbs where rioting broke 
out last year after Floyd's death.

   Since then, several cities have struggled with the police funding debate, 
while experiencing rising gun violence.

   The NRCC chair, U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, said he believes the 
message will resonate with voters because "crime is rising in America, yet 
Democrats still support the dangerous idea of defunding the police."

   Neither statement is fully accurate.

   It's true that violent crime has risen. The FBI's National Incident-Based 
Reporting System recorded 25% more homicides in 2020 than in 2019, and 12% more 
violent assaults. But the increase in homicides is nationwide, including in 
some cities that increased police spending and in some cities led by 
Republicans.

   Other crimes such as burglaries, drug offenses and other categories, 
however, have decreased.

   It also is not accurate to describe Democrats as uniformly supportive of 
"defund the police" efforts.

   The Democratic-controlled House passed a sweeping police overhaul bill in 
March that did not include a provision to allow diverting money away from 
police departments. Kind was one of only two Democrats to oppose the bill. He 
said it did not include sufficient protections for police. Craig voted for the 
measure.

   The bill has stalled in the evenly divided Senate, where Republicans oppose 
it.

   Like Emmer, U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., tried to 
preemptively blame Democrats -- in this case, Biden -- for what McCarthy 
claimed is widespread rising crime caused by cuts to police budgets.

   "We are concerned about whether the Biden Administration is prepared to 
address the surge of violent crime in American cities," McCarthy wrote in a 
letter Friday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

   It's a noticeable shift in tone from a year ago, when many Republicans 
across GOP-led states briefly joined with Democrats to ban specific physical 
restraints and require tighter scrutiny on police in the tumultuous aftermath 
of Floyd's death.

   In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said last June while signing a bill 
banning chokeholds: "This is not the end of our work. It is just a beginning."

   A year later, Reynolds' proposed racial profiling ban quietly died in the 
GOP-controlled Legislature. Lawmakers passed a crime bill giving police greater 
protection from lawsuits and cracking down on protesters. Reynolds plans to 
sign the measure Thursday.

   Republicans in other states have made it harder for cities to cut police 
budgets. The Republican-led legislature in Missouri made it easier this year 
for cities to be sued for approving deep cuts in police budgets. Similar laws 
were adopted in Florida, Georgia and Texas.

   The change from a year ago reflects the general unpopularity of cutting 
police spending, especially in pivotal suburban areas, North Carolina-based 
Republican pollster Paul Shumaker said.

   Though most racial justice demonstrations were peaceful, some scenes of 
violence and property damage left a lasting image and were highlighted in 
Republican campaign ads.

   A majority of Americans support progressive criminal justice proposals such 
as programs to help people released from prison transition into society and 
changes in sentencing laws to allow probation or shorter prison sentences for 
some first-time convictions, according to a May poll from The Associated 
Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

   The poll also found that about 6 in 10 Americans oppose reducing funding for 
law enforcement agencies.

   The Democrats' policing bill passed the U.S. House without a single GOP 
vote. It would ban chokeholds and end qualified immunity from lawsuits against 
police officers, while creating national policing standards in an effort to 
bolster accountability.

   The bill does not back defunding police departments, and Democrats didn't 
even debate the idea, in part because swing-district representatives such as 
U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., who opposes defunding police, raised 
concerns about the political backlash.

   Shumaker found the issue brought some independents who were unhappy with 
Trump's pandemic response and had fallen away from supporting Republicans back 
into the GOP's ranks last fall in parts of suburban North Carolina, including 
outside Charlotte and Raleigh.

   "The defund the police movement gave Republicans a foundation to go back and 
repair some of the erosion with those suburban voters that was created by the 
coronavirus," Shumaker said.

   It's not clear how crime will figure in the mix of issues in next fall's 
elections. The nation is now just emerging from a year of political battles 
over COVID-19, recovering from the economic fallout and getting a handle on 
Biden's agenda to rebuild the economy.

   During a public appearance outside Richmond on Monday, Spanberger said the 
message on crime can help Republicans unless Democrats speak up.

   "It's always going to be difficult when a simple message is easy to gin up 
anxiety," Spanberger said. "It becomes difficult to counter that. But it takes 
a lot of effort."

 
 
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