Spanberger flips the script on policing in the race against Auxiliary Deputy
The only catch: Vega herself is a former police officer — and still in uniform as an auxiliary deputy in the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office.
“I find it laughable to be honest with you,” Vega said of the announcement in an interview, saying she voted against the budgets that were due to her. opposition to tax increases.
The ad offers insight into how the police are likely to play a key role in a highly competitive race between two female law enforcement backgrounds. And it comes at a time when Spanberger is co-leading a congressional push with Rep. Tom Rice (RS.C.) to increase funding for Justice Department grants for local police departments to hire and train more officers through an existing program, part of a larger package of police funding bills that are expected to be introduced in Congress.
It’s the kind of effort that Spanberger could almost single-handedly signal to crush a “defund the police” attack from Republicans, even if the bills have drawn criticism from the most wing. more liberal from his party and from civil rights groups, who want to see more emphasis on police accountability.
Spanberger had sharply criticized the “defunding the police” rhetoric in the 2020 cycle during a tense intraparty debate following the deluge of attacks from Republicans, especially in neighborhoods like his. But she said her bill was not a response to that rhetoric and was primarily about the needs of her district’s police departments — needs she argued Vega, even in uniform, had voted against locally.
“There is a verifiable place where we, in a position to elected office have the capacity to support the police,” she said. “Every time I’ve had the opportunity to vote to increase support for federal law enforcement or local law enforcement through federal grants, I’ve done so.
The two candidates have taken divergent paths in law enforcement to find themselves on the same campaign trail.
Spanberger, the daughter of a federal law enforcement officer, followed a similar path to her father, working as an investigator at the US Postal Inspection service before becoming a CIA officer specializing in counter-terrorism. These experiences have informed much of her work in Congress, from providing a law enforcement lens to explain why she supports certain gun control measures to speaking out about terrorism threats. interior.
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Vega has often told the story of what inspired her to become a police officer: the MS-13 gang shot her brother and killed his friend when they were teenagers. Vega, a daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, joined the Alexandria Police Department in 2011, became a hostage negotiator with the Manassas Park department and eventually ended up in Prince William’s sheriff’s office. She appears in uniform at the end of every campaign message to supporters – putting her experience as a police officer at the center of her campaign with promises to tackle crime, trafficking and illegal immigration on the southern border.
“Those are the issues that I had to address,” Vega said, “and so I’m passionate about public safety. I’m passionate about law and order, and that’s really where my heart is when it’s about being a policeman.
The day after Spanberger’s ad was released, Vega hosted a roundtable on law enforcement, which she said focused on police shortages – which she partly blamed on rhetoric “anti-police” among Democrats — and how he thinks drug and human trafficking across the border can still affect the 7th Precinct. The next day, she unveiled the endorsements of nine sheriffs, representing the majority of sheriffs in the district.
One, King George County Sheriff Chris Giles, said Vega’s background as a local law enforcement officer was the biggest draw for him – but more specifically, did he He said she had first-hand experience understanding how a lack of mental health resources in a community affects law enforcement. .
“That’s one of the biggest things that really helped me realize that she understands the mental health issue because she works in law enforcement,” he said, “And she wants to help as best she can — or so she tells me — at the federal level.
Vega became county council supervisor in 2020. She said she has never voted in favor of any of the county budgets since taking office because she opposes tax increases that were included, especially during the pandemic and a time of high costs and rising inflation. She also pushed this year to hire more police officers, an effort that ultimately did not make it to the Democratic-majority board except for a few more civilian positions.
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Asked what she thinks of Spanberger’s bill in Congress that would provide federal grants to hire more officers, Vega said, “It’s election season Abby who is ready to do and say whatever she needs to say because for her it’s about self-preservation. For me, it’s literally putting my life on the line to defend the community I love. She denounced Spanberger’s vote for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which included a provision to make it easier to prosecute law enforcement.
But Spanberger said Vega’s own comments in recent weeks have called into question his support for law enforcement. She pointed to recent comments in Vega’s campaign posts calling the FBI “corrupt” over its search for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, as well as Vega’s past sympathy for rioters in the January 6, claiming that they had been unjustly persecuted.
“I carried a gun every day for a few years. I wrote my fair share of search warrants and arrest warrants. I have a set of experiences too. That’s why I find [Vega’s] position on the commitment to law enforcement so frankly offensive,” Spanberger said.
Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington, said if Republicans had a firm grip on “law and order” messaging for decades, Jan. 6 may have changed that. Now, he said, Democrats have an opening to undermine their Republican opponents’ stated commitment to law and order and turn the script back on them — exactly what Spanberger sought to do.
“One of the realities of politics is that the best defense is a good offense,” he said. “Two years ago many Republicans tried to attack Democrats for minority comments that talked about defunding the police. Now many Democrats are likely to attack Republicans for not supporting the police enough , especially the day after January 6.”
More recently, some Congressional Republicans have made it easier for Democrats by calling for literally defunding the FBI after his search warrant at Mar-a-Lago. Vega, like many Republicans, immediately sought to discredit the court-approved search, claiming in fundraising emails that the FBI was part of the ‘deep state’ and that the search was ‘for no reason’. . classified documents and, as The Washington Post reported, agents were looking for documents related to nuclear weapons.
Vega said she would not support funding the FBI, but would support an audit of the agency if elected, calling the search politically motivated.
“Anyone who would label FBI agents and corrupt and Deep State law enforcement agents, that’s disqualifying,” Spanberger said.
Farnsworth said Spanberger’s efforts to turn the tide on Vega, focusing on those comments, could energize the party’s more liberal base who otherwise might not be too thrilled about her leading the charge to raise police funding in Congress.
Spanberger and Rice’s bill was part of a public safety and police funding package — including Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s (DN.J.) Invest to Protect Act — that was delayed in late July. The Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus wanted more police accountability provisions added to the bills if they were to include more funding for the police. Many criminal justice and civil rights groups have echoed these concerns, including the ACLU.
“We don’t need to repeat the mistakes of the past and spend more public money without public accountability for results,” Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU’s justice division, said in an email. Post.
A vote on the legislative package has been delayed so that negotiations to include more funding safeguards can continue, and it is unclear when the package will be able to come back up. Spanberger said the discussions had been constructive and that she did not view police accountability and funding as “mutually exclusive”, seeing the value in doing both, or using funding as a tool to enable departments to have more resources for de-escalation training or body cameras.
The legislation was popular with a number of law enforcement officials in his district, including Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins, who invited Spanberger for a spin earlier this year. Jenkins said smaller police departments in the district could use the grant money to hire quality community-focused officers and improve training, ingredients he said were key to building trust with residents. .
The leader said he has nothing against Vega, but based on work Spanberger has done in Congress – including a bill she spearheaded to increase resources to improve mental health and addictions. . resources – he had decided to throw his support behind her.
“I haven’t seen anyone in a long time who is more supportive of law enforcement and our community,” said Jenkins, who identifies as a Republican but notes that he doesn’t vote party.
He added: “At the end of the day, I think there’s a group of people who will vote the party lines, and I think there’s another group of people who love me who will decide the election based on who they think is the best candidate regardless of their issues.”