A new radio ad for the campaign of former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, Republican candidate in Florida’s 4th Congressional District, makes the case that he has a unique approach to fighting threats posed by illegal immigration and terrorism.
“Washington has failed to protect our borders and failed to get serious about the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. As sheriff, I took a stand. We didn’t wait on Washington to solve our problems. I trained my officers to enforce federal immigration laws, leading to thousands of dangerous criminals being deported from Northeast Florida … Terrorists now threaten us here at home. I’ve worked with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and gone after jihadists who would do us harm. In Congress, I’ll work to increase our intelligence capacity and ensure proper cooperation between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.”
That’s a tough message to distill into a 60-second spot, and with that in mind, FloridaPolitics.com caught up with Rutherford Tuesday, where he spoke at length about his approach to dealing with these existential threats.
When Rutherford began his tenure in 2003, America had embarked on the War on Terror. Luckily, said Rutherford, the governor of Florida had a solid strategic response, utilizing Regional Domestic Security Task Forces to coordinate responses across the state, synthesizing the efforts of medical, transportation, public safety, and other stakeholders.
Rutherford, early on, noted that his department’s posture (and that of law enforcement generally) had to move from mitigation to prevention. That approach was helped by the DHS’s Fusion Centers, which helped his office synthesize information from such parties as the FDLE and NCIS, moving away from “split stacks of intelligence” to ensure that “everybody had the same information.”
Programs implemented locally and regionally, such as IWatch, also served as important sources of information, allowing for meaningful reportage of threats on government buildings, churches, and other public places, threats which could be investigated to see if there was anything behind them.
Of course, said Rutherford, it was important to “give the public some education on what to look for.”
The idea: prevention before the fact, to avoid the need for mitigation afterward.
Another issue Rutherford dealt with in his term: the impacts created by illegal immigrants who were breaking the law.
Over the course of his term, he addressed that impact to some considerable degree, which was helped by the 287G program, an initiative of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security.
The 287G program allowed Rutherford to train officers using the ICE database, and he focused those efforts on people who were in jail only, with the aim of getting rid of “criminal aliens.”
He did not have his officers go after immigrants outside of the jail system; his theory was that if they were living right, they were “adding to the economy,” but if they broke the law, deportation was an option.
During his tenure, 2,281 illegals — from 175 countries — were processed and deported from Duval County Jail.
“Think how bad the problem must be around the country,” Rutherford said, before noting that 387 of them were processed twice … meaning they had been deported, but found their way back into Duval County Jail, where they were deported again.
The porous southern border, Rutherford said, was a reason for this influx, with “drugs and violence” being the effect created by an influx of illegals.
Beyond that, another move his department took during his term was close cooperation with the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
An example of such cooperation: law enforcement stopping Shelton Bell, a Jacksonville resident, from carrying through on his plans for jihad.
This wouldn’t have been possible without collaboration between local and federal authorities, and that was the product of relationship building.
“I had good relationships,” said Rutherford, “with every diverse part of the community,” including the Islamic community.
“That’s how you get intelligence,” Rutherford added.
For some candidates for office, domestic terrorism is an abstraction, a campaign talking point.
For Rutherford? It was part of the operational reality his department had to navigate.
“It’s here. And it’s been here.”
And beyond overt threats, such as the one Bell posed, there are other issues, with money laundering operations benefiting criminal networks and terror organizations alike.
That kind of impact requires real, consistent investigation.
Rutherford, like all Republicans running for office in competitive primaries, is a critic of the Obama administration, which he believes has failed to enforce the borders, has weakened the military, and has compromised national security.
The fruit of that was borne, Rutherford said, recently in the Orlando Pulse massacre.
“Had they not pulled the human intelligence out of mosques,” Rutherford said, “assets” may have been present to prevent the evolution of Omar Mateen into a jihadi.
Rutherford then went on to make a surprising call.
“We need an elected attorney general on the federal level,” he said, so the office has “autonomy.”
Right now, “the president makes picks, and we have to live with the consequences.”
Among those consequences: the “poor decision” of AG Loretta Lynch not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for her emails.
“She very easily could have prosecuted. There was enough probable cause to take it to a jury. [FBI Director James] Comey laid out plenty of probable cause.
Rutherford also wonders where the “investigation of the Clinton Foundation” will end up.
Along with these national security issues, Rutherford sees the economy, “limping along” at a 1.7 percent growth rate, as a national security issue.
Among his proposed fixes: a balanced budget amendment and tax reform for both individuals and corporations.
Individual tax reform could be along the lines of a flat tax or a fair tax, but “what we have now is killing us,” Rutherford said.
On the corporate level, a “repatriation exemption” for companies now based outside the U.S. could bring up to $2 trillion of capital back home.
Another reform Rutherford supports is the REINS Act, which would remedy the “horrific executive overreach” created by executive branch departments, which cost the economy “trillions of dollars a year.”
The REINS Act would require any edict imposing $100 million or more of economic impact to be approved via a joint resolution, said Rutherford.
By “fixing the tax structure” and “fixing executive overreach,” Rutherford believes America can turn its attention to reversing the $19 trillion of national debt.
Rutherford believes that his experience — running the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for 12 years — gives him a unique perspective on issues created by federal overreach.
When people ask him what he knows about the impact of regulations on businesses, Rutherford notes that he ran a business with a $398 million annual budget, with costs impacted by the Affordable Care Act (“which is not affordable”) and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
He also seeks more accountability from Washington, noting situations like that in the Veterans Affairs Department illustrate the dangers of allowing non-performing federal employees to stay in place.
There are those who quietly cast doubt on Rutherford’s ability to go to Washington and be effective. They see him as “just” a three-term sheriff. However, in a field full of candidates who don’t have tangible records on which to run, many of them relying on red meat rhetoric they’ve recycled from talk radio, Rutherford presents a unique contrast to some members of the field.
“It’s one thing to talk,” Rutherford said, “and another thing to know something.”