The lone Democrat in the race said he wouldn’t support efforts to “Defund the Police.” The top Republican fundraiser made a point to say “Black Lives Matter.”
In an election year when candidates in many races race to their party’s base, a Tiger Bay forum showed House District 72 candidates establishing their independence.
The most notable instances came in a discussion of how the district’s next Representative should approach police brutality and systemic racism.
Attorney Drake Buckman rebuffed a question about whether he would support calls to “Defund the Police.”
“Police should not be defunded,” he said. But Buckman, who more than a decade ago helped secure a record settlement from the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office over a questionable search, said he would support more appropriate use of social workers instead of police in many instances.
“No one who is not a criminal should be afraid of the police,” he said while advocating better societal training. “I would agree we do ask police to do too much.”
But the candidates still running in a primary engaged in more heated discussion.
Republican Fiona McFarland called defunding police dangerous, but she said it’s critical in the wake of instances such as George Floyd‘s death that institutional racism be addressed.
“We need to say these words,” she said. “Black Lives Matter. Police also matter. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive.”
The naval reservist compared racism in police and other institutions to sexism that kept women from combat positions even when she joined the military barely more than a decade ago.
Republican Donna Barcomb, a Sarasota County Charter Review Board member, was the only one to balk somewhat at any embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement. She said in the Sarasota community, a number of diversion programs for drug offenders and homeless individuals already exist to ensure police and jail time don’t become overused tools.
“But defunding or taking money away from the police that protect us is not the answer,” she said.
The physical therapist practice owner distanced herself from identity politics. “I have all walks of life come into my office — low economic status, every race and color. I treat people as people. I don’t look at their color; I look at the content of their character.”
Attorney Jason Miller said as a former prosecutor, he knew well the problems between police and the Black community.
“In the wake of a number of different incidents we have all seen on TV, we see a disproportionate number of Black lives at risk,” he said.
“We hear people say, well White lives matter. We hear Brown lives matter or women’s lives matter. The analogy I heard was if you have a number houses the proverbial fire department is meant to protect, but one of those houses is on fire, where should the attention be?”
Buckman said there is some need to demilitarize police so that people don’t view it as an “occupying force.” “What we need is equality under the law.”
The debate touched on other issues as well, with McFarland and Miller, while distancing themselves from abortion, said Planned Parenthood provided some important women’s health services. Miller even said he’d accept an endorsement from the group if offered.
Barcomb, on the heels of a pointed question over McFarland’s residency, reminded her opponent she holds a homestead exemption of property outside the district. McFarland said she’s living in Sarasota despite owning property outside the district.
On school response to COVID-19, Miller broke with a mandate from the Governor’s administration and said school districts should be able to set up reopening plans of their own. “What’s confusing to me is resisting some mandates and embracing others.”
But McFarland and Barcomb both said it was important to reopen schools.
“Children aren’t major vectors and are less likely to contract the disease,” McFarland said.
Barcomb said virtual learning only works for families with the means to make it work.
“The only way to get out of generational poverty is through education,” Barcomb said. “The option to go to school should be an option.”
Buckman trashed the directive and overall leadership from Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“There is no planning and no leadership,” Buckman said. “There is no plan to agree with or not agree with. God bless the parents who have to make this decision and provide the leadership we are not getting.”