With violent crime on the rise in many parts of the United States, Republicans see a winning strategy in portraying Democrats as soft on crime ahead of this year’s election. In ads, campaign appearances and interviews, the GOP has torn up liberal policies and blamed Democratic lawmakers from the White House to city councils for the violence.
But in Oklahoma, where Gov. Kevin Stitt is being targeted for mass commutations and a felony involving cannibalism, the attacks are different: Stitt is a Republican.
In one ad, a woman’s voice says Stitt commuted the prison sentence of a man who later “brutally murdered his neighbor and then tried to donate his organs to his family.” The ad, paid for by a group called the Conservative Voice of America, concludes, “Oklahomians deserve a governor who cracks down on violent criminals, not one who lets them go.
Democrats have borne the brunt of political blame for the rise in homicides and other violent crimes in recent years. In some cases, that means backtracking on major criminal justice overhauls or insisting they don’t want to defund policing, as some campaigners have advocated.
But now the attacks on some other Republicans are intensifying a split in the GOP between hardliners and conservatives who have turned to alternatives to prisons, largely to save money. Groups advocating various types of criminal justice reform fear the attacks could undermine the significant changes that have occurred, many of them in heavily Republican states, such as Oklahoma, which has one of the lowest incarceration rates. higher, and Texas.
“We’ve seen a kind of growing bipartisan consensus on reforms,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. But it has become more difficult due to rising crime and politics.
“There’s still some of these old recalcitrants who are just ‘lock ’em up, throw the key away’ types,” Ring said. “They’ve always been there, and I think they’ve used the increase in crime to argue for a return to that stance by the party.
Brett Tolman, executive director of the conservative criminal justice advocacy group Right on Crime, said “the charge of being weak on crime comes very quickly”, causing “a lot of hesitation” in Congress. The former US attorney said he now has to work with people mostly behind the scenes.
Republicans who support the changes say they can reduce crime as well as costs to taxpayers. When Stitt approved the mass commutation in 2019 of more than 450 inmates in a single day, he said the release would save Oklahoma about $11.9 million in the cost of keeping them behind bars. . The commutations primarily benefited those convicted of drug possession or minor property crimes.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, said his state saved billions of dollars by investing in alternative sentencing and closing prisons. He’s now defending Stitt, who faces a flurry of attack announcements as he seeks a second term as governor of Oklahoma.
“I see the reforms in Texas have proven to be tough on crime but tough on the taxpayer, as any conservative policy should be,” Perry wrote in a newspaper column defending Stitt.
The attack ads targeting Stitt were paid for by black money groups, who don’t have to make their donors public. They accuse Stitt of having signed the parole of a man now accused of three murders, including those of a 4-year-old girl and a neighbor whose heart he cut out and tried to feed relatives, according to the authorities.
Donelle Harder, spokeswoman for Stitt’s re-election campaign, said it was unclear who is funding the groups.
“Undisclosed special interest groups are not conservatives and they are not being honest about their intentions,” Harder said. “Governor. Stitt’s commitment to leading as a conservative political outsider clearly bothers some.
Trebor Worthen, a GOP political consultant who leads one of the black money groups, Sooner State Leadership PAC, said he is dedicated to public safety and has raised $10 million. Worthen declined to identify specific donors.
“We are funded by business and community leaders who care deeply about our future and want to exercise their First Amendment rights to advocate for the policy changes Oklahoma needs and deserves,” said said Worthen.
The issue also surfaced in the GOP primary for Nevada governor. Former Sen. Dean Heller slammed Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, saying he wants to cut funding for the police. Lombardo told The Associated Press and other media that he had no problem with his department losing funding if the money was used in another area that would benefit law enforcement.
“Who goes on NPR and says they want to defund the police?” Heller told a Nevada television station during an interview, comparing Lombardo to progressive Democrats who often anger conservatives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “AOC, the squad and Sheriff Lombardo. They are the ones who say that. »
In Illinois, Democrats who control state government worked hastily this spring to provide more funding for law enforcement after passing a major criminal justice overhaul last year that established strict standards for police behavior and eliminated cash bail from next year. Republicans blasted the criminal justice legislation.
Among the most vocal critics is GOP gubernatorial candidate Richard Irvin, a former prosecutor and defense attorney who is now mayor of Aurora, a Chicago suburb. Irvin, who faces multiple Republicans in the GOP primary, often touts his prosecution record as he lambastes Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker.
The Democratic Governors Association and Irvin’s GOP rivals, however, have questioned his crime-fighting credentials. In one ad, the DGA criticized Irvin’s work as a defense attorney, and other Republicans attacked Irvin, who is black, for voicing support for Black Lives Matter.
A spokesperson for Irvin dismissed the attacks. Eleni Desmertzis said Pritzker “was scared” and faced “a former criminal prosecutor, tough-on-crime mayor and staunch supporter of law enforcement who has proven he’s not afraid to stand up for all Lives in Illinois”.
Burnett reported from Chicago.
The Independent Gt