Several Democrats who are engaged in competitive House races have altered their stances on criminal justice provisions they previously championed as the midterm elections approach.
Crime has become an important concern for voters ahead of the November elections, with a poll last week indicating that they believe Republicans are more equipped to handle the issue that is now of more importance to them than abortion.
According to the survey produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates in New York City, the economy (89%), education (77%) and inflation (76%) topped out the issues voters consider “highly important” as midterms loom, but those issues were followed closely by crime at 69%, which beat out abortion at 62%.
In New York’s 11th District, Max Rose, a Democrat who represented all of Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn for a single term from 2019 to 2021, is seeking to once again represent the district in the House as he looks to defeat the woman who ousted him from office in 2020, incumbent GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis.
In 2018, during a candidate questionnaire through the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, Rose stated that he supported “federal and state efforts to enact criminal justice reform and end mass incarceration, including sentencing and prison reforms (for example, HR 3356 Prison Reform and Redemption Act), bail reform, and the closure of Rikers Island.”
Rose has since expressed a change of heart from his 2018 support for bail reform. During an appearance on Fox and Friends in August, amid concerns that he trailed Malliotakis in the 2022 rematch to represent the district, Rose suggested there is a “causal relationship” between liberal crime policies and the surge in violence around the country.
“There’s definitely a causal relationship to this and the stats do not lie,” Rose said. “Emerging in New York, particularly over the last year, there is a revolving door, a culture of criminality without consequence, some of which I think is undeniably tied to this bail law. And what’s shocking about this is that this solution is so obvious. We need to give judges discretion to actually make decisions pending to the individual case, particularly as it pertains to these individuals who keep on committing crimes. It’s my belief that we should be listening to law enforcement officials on the ground.
“Every single year it feels like New York State Democrats come back and tweak this bail law,” he added. “We all know that they’re going to do it again. They should do it as quickly as possible because it’s not just people’s lives on the line, it’s people’s businesses.”
Regarding cash bail, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who currently represents the Empire State’s 18th District in the House and is seeking re-election to the House to represent the state’s newly redrawn 17th District, offered similar comments during his campaign for attorney general of the state in 2018.
During a Manhattan Neighborhood Network debate for the attorney general candidates at the time, Maloney strongly stated that he believed in “ending cash bail” and said he would “absolutely” make it a “top priority.”
Since those remarks, however, Maloney has suggested it’s time for bail reform laws, writing in an April 2022 tweet that “NY’s budget includes important reforms to bail law” and that “no one can say the old system was working and didn’t need reform.”
“It’s essential that we keep dangerous people off the streets,” he added in the tweet. “These changes are an important and necessary step.”
Maloney, who currently serves as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is facing a challenge from Republican New York Assemblyman Michael Lawler to represent the state’s 17th District.
Democrat Rep. Annie Kuster, who is seeking re-election to represent New Hampshire’s Third Congressional District, also appears to be weighing the impact that crime could pose on her election chances.
In 2020, Kuster, through her website, touted her “Opportunity and Justice for All Legislative Agenda,” which included the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that limited qualified immunity, as well as the Human Correctional Healthcare Act that granted Medicaid coverage to incarcerated individuals.
As of September 2022, Kuster’s website appears to no longer link to that agenda, and it does not appear under the “priorities” section of her website.
Kuster will face off on in the Nov. 8 election against GOP nominee Bob Burns, a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention from the state.
Similarly, New Hampshire Democrat Rep. Chris Pappas, who currently represents the Granite State’s First District in the House, previously touted his support for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act through his website in 2020. At the time, his website stated through a section titled “Keeping our Communities Safe and Strong” that Pappas supported the measure to “hold problem officers accountable, ban the use of chokeholds, and require body cameras.”
As of September 2022, the same section of his website under the “on the issues” tab includes no mention of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and instead focuses heavily on gun violence.
Pappas is slated to face off in the November election against Republican Karoline Leavitt, a New Hampshire native who earned her party’s support earlier this month in the GOP primary election.
Rising crime is also weighing heavily on the campaigns of two Minnesota Democrats who voted in favor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and are now seeking to retain their seats in Congress.
In statements to the Minnesota Star Tribune, both Rep. Angie Craig, who currently represents Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, and Rep. Dean Phillips, who currently represents Minnesota’s Third Congressional District, distanced themselves from the qualified immunity proponent of the measure and moved to embrace police-friendly messaging.
“While I supported much of the Justice in Policing Act, I did not favor the language on Qualified Immunity,” Phillips said in a statement to the outlet. “I voted to forward the legislation to the Senate with the hope and expectation that negotiations would generate a compromise.”
Similarly, according to the outlet, Craig said, “Knowing what I know now and how attacks on law enforcement have negatively impacted recruitment and retention and morale and how these factors hurt public safety efforts, I think that qualified immunity must remain in place for our law enforcement officers.”
Phillips is slated to face off in November against Republican candidate Tom Weiler, while Craig faces a challenge from Marine veteran and Republican candidate Tyler Kistner.
Hillary Scholten, a Democrat running to represent Michigan’s Third Congressional District, also appears to have removed content related to “criminal justice reform” from her website since her prior run for the same seat in 2020, which she ultimately lost to Republican Rep. Peter Meijer.
During her 2020 campaign to represent the district, Scholten said through her website she would be “proud to work for positive bail reform so that financially vulnerable people aren’t unfairly criminalized at higher rates” and suggested that it was time to “rethink how we’re keeping our communities safe, who we’re incarcerating, and what that period of incarceration looks like.”
As of September 2022, the “priorities” section of Scholten’s website noticeably does not include any content related to criminal justice reform and focuses instead on many of the things she had touted in 2020, like “jobs and the economy” and “education.” It appears Scholten’s website added a section titled “common-sense gun safety reform.”
Scholten will face off against Republican nominee John Gibbs in the November general election
Michelle Vallejo, the Democratic candidate to represent Texas’ 15th Congressional District in the House, also removed language from her website that considered the criminal legal system to be “racist” after she won her primary election.
In a section titled “embracing the border and immigration system” that was posted under the “Michelle’s priorities” section of Vallejo’s website earlier this year, a passage stated, “We must create clear boundaries between the immigration system and the racist criminal legal system.”
That language no longer exists on Vallejo’s website as of September 2022. Vallejo is slated to go head-to-head with Republican Monica De La Cruz in November.
Crime and support for law enforcement is a crucial topic among voters throughout the U.S. as crime surges in cities nationwide. Sixty percent of voters overall consider crime a major issue in the lead-up to the midterm elections — 52% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans, according to an August poll from Pew Research.
Fox News’ Jon Brown contributed to this report.