Republican Party of Florida ads claim Patrick Henry has pledged to “defund the police.”
But the Daytona Beach Democrat, fighting for the House District 26 seat Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff ousted him from in 2018, said such claims distort the truth. He attacked the Republican lawmaker for delivering a dishonest messaging missive. And even one area Sheriff backing the Republican has come to Henry’s defense.
“It should come as no surprise that my Republican opponent Elizabeth Fetterhoff is taking a page out of Donald Trump’s book as she lies and attempts to distort my record on policing,” he said.
“Since serving on the Daytona Beach City Commission, I have always been supportive of law enforcement and providing them with the resources necessary to do their job and keep our community safe.”
The semantic argument comes as Republicans in Florida stress support for law enforcement ahead of the General Election and after a summer when incidents of police-related violence led to Black Lives Matter protests in the streets. Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed legislation cracking down on anti-police protests.
While both Fetterhoff and Henry have said they do not support calls to defund police, the phrase made it into the recent attack ad, funded by the state party.
“Radical politician Patrick Henry pledged to defund the police,” a narrator in the ad states. It then shows a pledge, followed by images of riots accompanying some protests.
“Here’s what happens on our streets if Patrick Henry gets his way. Patrick Henry is funded by out-of-state radicals trying to defund our police. He took their pledge, took their money, and if Henry wins, he’ll take their side.”
Similar messaging has appeared in sponsored social media posts from the state party.
Fetterhoff has not returned calls about the advertisements.
Henry defends his own history working with law enforcement. And Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, who was elected with no party affiliation, has already come to his defense.
“When I was police chief in Daytona Beach, Patrick Henry was there to support us, even when the economic downturn forced tough decisions on spending,” Chitwood wrote on Facebook.
“No police officers lost their jobs, and we had all the critical resources we needed thanks in large part to the support of Patrick Henry and the rest of the City Commission. Even though I endorsed Elizabeth Fetterhoff in this race, you should know the truth about Patrick Henry’s strong record on law enforcement.”
Henry served on the Daytona Beach City Commission before serving in the Florida House from 2016 to 2018. During that time, he supported purchasing body cameras for officers. He has also called for criminal justice reforms.
“While there is great need for (systemic) reforms to our criminal justice system, I have never supported the dismantling or defunding of law enforcement,” he said.
“As a mental health counselor by profession, I believe in the need for more training as well as a shift to community-based policing. Two methods that are proven to help strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and those they are sworn to protect and serve. During my tenure in the legislature I introduced HB 931. This bill sought to create a de-escalation program within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to give local law enforcement more resources to better train their officers and keep us safe.”
The greatest issue the Republican ad takes with Henry’s platform comes with a pledge he did sign with Future Now, a national advocacy group. That pledge doesn’t include the words “defund the police.” It does call to “end mass incarceration” and for “freedom from ethnic and racial profiling for everyone.” Henry makes no apologies on that front.
“What it did mention however, is the need to end mass incarceration. Something that we all should be in constant pursuit of,” he said. “The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population, yet nearly 25% of its prisoners. That means we incarcerate more people per capita than any other industrialized nation in the world. Given the large amount of cash Elizabeth Fetterhoff has received from private prison companies and special interest groups like GEO, it makes sense how she views ending mass incarceration as synonymous with not supporting law enforcement.”