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Val Demings should be our next vice president | COMMENTARY

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who served as one of the seven House Democratic impeachment managers, speaks with aides on Capitol Hill in Washington in January.
Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who served as one of the seven House Democratic impeachment managers, speaks with aides on Capitol Hill in Washington in January. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

Now that former Vice President Joe Biden has clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, his next big task, save for polishing up his convention speech, is to pick a running mate.

Mr. Biden, who emerged from a packed list 12 years ago to join then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on the ticket, may seek to avoid the hurly-burly of 2008.

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Mr. Biden has already taken a big step toward that end by announcing in March that his vice presidential choice will be female. If he follows through on the pledge, that woman would be the third to be named to a major party’s running mate slot.

Making the promise may be the easy part for Mr. Biden, as he is blessed with an embarrassment of riches in terms of candidates who meet any reasonable expectation for a running mate.

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But his best play would be to select Florida Rep. Val Demings to join him on the ticket, though the move would come with some risks.

Ms. Demings, in the middle of her second term in Congress representing the city of Orlando, where she was formerly police chief, rose to national prominence earlier this year as one of the House managers during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Her prosecution of Mr. Trump was as vigorous as any of her colleagues, earning Ms. Demings praise in progressive circles. Right off the bat, on the trial’s first day, Ms. Demings came out swinging against the president, saying, “No president in history has ever done anything like this. Many presidents have expressly acknowledged that they couldn’t do anything like this.”

Ms. Demings’ personal story — the youngest of seven children raised in a two-bedroom house in Jacksonville, Florida, and the first in her family to attend college — is an appealing one. That she rose through the ranks of the Orlando police force to become its first African American chief, should make her attractive to independents and moderate Republicans looking for a reason to vote blue.

It is, however, that police tie that is also Ms. Demings’ biggest drawback as a potential vice-presidential pick. While violent crime in Orlando dropped by nearly 44% in the four years she was chief, from 2007-2011, the department drew heavy criticism for a number of excessive force allegations as well as violent arrests of black suspects.

In addition, according to the Orlando Sentinel, the city shelled out more than $3 million in damages following nearly 50 lawsuits claiming excessive force, false arrests and other complaints. Ms. Demings was personally censured 11 years ago when her gun was stolen from her truck, which was unlocked at the time.

Of late, Ms. Demings, perhaps owing to her increased visibility and with an eye to heightened scrutiny of police in the wake of recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, has called for a national database of police shootings. And she led off a Washington Post op-ed last month with the pithy line, “As a former woman in blue, let me begin with my brothers and sisters in blue: What in the hell are you doing?”

Of course, Mr. Biden will have no shortage of quality African American women to select if he seeks to choose from the most historically loyal and long neglected pool of Democratic voters.

Among them are former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams, a darling of progressive voters, as well as former United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who would bring heft on the national security front that Ms. Demings doesn’t have.

Ms. Demings’ most notable contender from this category is likely California Sen. Kamala Harris, who has been an even more vocal and persistent Trump critic. Ms. Harris, who ran against Mr. Biden in the presidential primary, has made no secret of her interest in joining him on the ticket.

However, Ms. Harris, who was formerly California’s attorney general and San Francisco’s district attorney, is likely to face some of the same criticisms of her criminal justice record as Ms. Demings. Plus, if Mr. Biden is looking at the map, he knows that California’ 55 electoral votes are already solidly in his corner, so adding Ms. Harris to the ticket does little to alter the landscape.

But, selecting Ms. Demings, who has won twice in Florida’s vote-rich Interstate 4 corridor, may help him wrest the swing state away from Mr. Trump, who won there by only nearly 120,000 votes four years ago. Florida has voted for the winner in all but one of the last 14 presidential elections making adding Ms. Demings the smart move.

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Milton Kent teaches journalism at Morgan State University and hosts “Sports at Large” on WYPR (88.1 FM) each Monday. His email address is sportsatlarge@gmail.com.

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