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Pence calls Biden a choice for 'radical left' in Tucson visit

VP accepts 'Cops for Trump' endorsement, blasts Dems over 'defunding' in city where they just increased police budget

Vice President Mike Pence claimed former Vice President Joe Biden will "defund the police" while the incumbent was endorsed by the Arizona Police Association during a brief stop in Tucson — a city where Democrats just substantially bolstered the police budget.

During a 30-minute stump speech Tuesday at the Westin La Paloma, Pence attacked Biden's presidential campaign, arguing that the former VP would support "the radical Left" and defund police departments across the nation. 

Pence, once again using Southern Arizona as a backdrop for the administration's political concerns and President Donald Trump's political campaign, made his remarks after receiving an endorsement from the police group, which represents agencies employing about 12,000 law enforcement officers in the state, said the organization's president, Justin Harris. 

Pence told a crowd of about 170 people, who sat in chairs placed about six feet apart by organizers, that "the truth is you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America." 

"President Trump, I'm proud to say, has supported the men and women of law enforcement everyday," Pence said to the room, which was mostly empty in the section behind the press riser.   

"But, Joe Biden and the radical Left say that we have to choose between supporting our police or supporting all the families of our communities. Well, I think the people of Arizona know different. The American people don't have to choose between supporting law enforcement and supporting our African American neighbors. We can do both—we have done both." 

Throughout the summer, protestors have taken to the streets to decry violence committed by police officers following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd's death in late May prompted a national outcry after video showed him pinned to the ground by four police officers, including one later identified as Derek Chauvin. 

As seen in the video, Chauvin forced his knee into the man's neck for more than eight minutes, as the 46-year-old man pleaded for his life, telling the officers "I can't breathe." Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, and all four officers have been fired. 

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In Tucson and Phoenix, protests were marked first by vandalism and clashes with police, prompting Gov. Doug Ducey to implement a week-long curfew. However, over the rest of the summer, despite 100 degree temperatures, protestors repeatedly took to the streets calling for cities to "defund the police," or shift money from police budgets to social services. 

This includes one on June 25, in which more than 100 people blocked Broadway to protest the death of Carlos "Adrian" Ingram-Lopez, a 27-year-old Tucson man who died in Tucson police custody. Ingram-Lopez died in April, but the Tucson Police Department kept his death under wraps until June 24 when TucsonSentinel.com broke the news of the in-custody death. 

Before Pence took to the stage, Ducey and U.S. Sen. Martha McSally both made their cases against Biden and Democrats. 

McSally argued that the November election was down the main question of "who do you trust" to keep people safe, and she said that she was "standing in the way" of Sen. Chuck Schumer, the current minority leader in the Senate, from "being in charge." She also called her Democratic opponent, Mark Kelly, a "Trojan horse" for  what she also called the "radical Left." 

Ducey said that police engage in "self-less and honorable work," and argued — picking up the talking point of the day — that Trump and Pence would "stop Joe Biden and the radical Left from defunding and defaming our police." 

"It's time somebody started defending our police," Ducey said. "The choice in November is crystal clear. There is only one presidential ticket on the ballot that believes in law and order in this country. And, that's why I'm grateful for all of you and your support, and helping send President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence back to the White House for four more years." 

Justin Harris, the president of the Arizona Police Association, spoke about the organization's endorsement of the Trump campaign, arguing that a "horrendous spike in violent crimes" had come because of "foolish talk" about defunding police departments. Although based in Arizona, Harris focused his ire on incidents in Chicago, Seattle and New York, decrying calls to "abolish the police or calls to defund the police. Law enforcement is under attack," Harris said. 

"Look no further than places like Seattle, New York, Chicago Los Angeles," Harris said, adding that in Seattle, city officials proposed a 50 percent cut in the Seattle Police Department's budget, and a $1 billion cut to New York's police. 

"It is clear who the law and order candidate for president is: President Donald J Trump," Harris said. "These liberal socialist elected officials have essentially told their constituents that law and order important is no longer a priority." 

"The inmates are running the asylum," Harris said. 

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Pence claims Biden called police 'the enemy'

Pence began his speech by asking the crowd to praise Ducey, saying that Arizona governor has "literally emerged as one of the best governors in America" and has led Arizona through "trying times." 

Though Pence is still ostensibly in charge of the White House's COVID-19 task force assigned to oversee the administration's efforts against the disease, he barely mentioned the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 162,000 people, and infected more than 5 million. During a moment, Pence said that his "heart goes out" to the families of those who have lost loved ones to the pandemic, and praised the governor  for bringing down Arizona's positivity rate for COVID-19 tests down to 12 percent in recent weeks. 

Pence used the COVID-19 outbreak to praise "first responders" and then pivoted to arguing that Biden called police "the enemy."

"It's amazing to think that with all that heroism in recent days, that some of the leading politicians in the Democratic party liken law enforcement officers to stormtroopers. Joe Biden said not long ago that well-armed police become, in his words, 'the enemy' when confronting lawlessness." 

During an interview, published on July 8, Biden told progressive activist Ady Barkan that some police funding would need to be redirected, and he criticized the use of surplus military equipment. 

"Surplus military equipment for law enforcement, they don't need that," Biden said. "The last thing you need is an up-armored Humvee coming into a neighborhood. It's like the military invading. They don't know anybody—so they become the enemy— they’re supposed to be protecting these people."

Pence has already used this line before, prompting a fact-check by WRAL.com in July, but Pence pressed on, arguing that police "are what literally separates order from chaos." 

Pence’s arguments about a Democratic drive to defund the police fails to reflect the reality in Arizona, where Democrat-led city councils have maintained the budgets for city police. In Phoenix, officials passed a $745 million budget for police, including $400,000 for an oversight office.

And in Tucson, the City Council — with six members and the mayor all Democrats — just overwhelmingly approved increasing the Police Department's budget by $2 million, including an increase of $5.5 million from the city's general fund from the previous year.

"If past is prologue, Arizonans won’t be surprised when Mike Pence arrives in Arizona today and misrepresents Joe Biden’s record in an attempt to distract from the Trump Administration’s failures on COVID-19," said Tyler Cherry, a spokesperson for the Arizona Democratic Party. "Biden’s record is clear: he opposes defunding the police and will prioritize keeping Americans safe." 

"But no matter what he says, Pence can’t erase the consequences of his boss’s disastrous pandemic response, which has put hundreds of thousands of Arizonans out of work and continues to put our most vulnerable communities at risk," Cherry said. "Now Trump is working to cut unemployment insurance, threatening to drain Security Security funding, and failing to deliver a national school reopening strategy that will keep students, teachers, and families safe. Arizonans won’t be fooled by Pence’s performance. We need a president who will prioritize our health and safety—and that president is Joe Biden."

Arizona Dems also noted that the Trump campaign continues to refuse to pay for police services in Arizona from the 2016 election. As the Arizona Mirror noted in February, Tucson and Mesa billed the campaign for police protection and other services at rallies in 2016 and 2018. Tucson billed the campaign for around $82,000 for Trump's March 2016 rally. 

The Center for Public Integrity reported that the campaign owes at least $841,219 to nine cities, including Tucson and Mesa, however, a report by Business Insider estimates that the campaign owes nearly $2 million to cities. 

"We are passing through a time of testing," Pence said. "I'm here today because we will soon come to a time for choosing the choice of this election has never been clearer. Stay tuned. It really is a choice between freedom and opportunity, versus socialism and decline. Joe Biden and the radical left offer path starkly different from the president set our nation on three and half-years ago."

Pence's visit to Mesa and Tucson comes as the campaign continues to lose ground against the Democratic choice for president. In recent weeks, Biden has polled as high as 10 points over the incumbent president. 

Mike Noble with OH Predictive Insights said in July that Biden was polling nearly five points above Trump, leading the president 49 to 44 percent in a state that has historically been a Republican lock. Noble also noted that enthusiasm for the president has declined in Arizona, narrowing to statistical tie. 

"Donald Trump has long been able to count on the enthusiasm of his supporters to overwhelm his opponents," said Noble. "But now Trump and Biden’s voters are expressing the same level of enthusiasm." 

At the same time, Kelly seems to be polling above McSally, leading by 5 points according to OHPI. Both polls presage a possibility that McSally could again lose to a Democratic opponent—after losing in 2018 to Krysten Sinema for Jeff Flake's vacated seat—and that the president could lose control of Arizona. 

Pinal County sheriff wants more officers, training

Pence was preceded by Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb. During his roughly six-minute speech, Lamb argued against the "defund police" movement, and said that instead police should be given more money, because sex trafficking and child trafficking are "out of control" in the United States. 

Lamb said the FBI estimated that there are 421,000 children who went missing last year. "We shut down the country for 150 COVID deaths?" Lamb said. "Where's the outrage." 

"If you want to talk about defunding the police, we need more police to protect those children." 

Lamb's argument runs against data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a clearinghouse and advocacy group for runaway and abducted children. 

As the group notes, in 2019 there were 421,394 entries to the FBI's National Crime Information Center, known as NCIC. "This number represents reports of missing children," NCMEC said. "That means if a child runs away multiple times in a year, each instance would be entered into NCIC separately and counted in the yearly total. Likewise, if an entry is withdrawn and amended or updated, that would also be reflected in the total." 

NCEMC said that the group had helped law enforcement with more than 29,000 cases of missing children. And, of those, almost 91 percent were endangered runaways, while 4 percent were family abductions. Less than 1 percent were called "nonfamily abductions." 

Of the nearly 26,300 runaways reported to NCMEC in 2019, the group said that "1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking," or about 4,383 children. 

Along with Lamb, Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier and Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, both elected Republicans, were in attendance. But neither Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus, or Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada, a Democrat, attended the event. 

Pence finished his speech, by arguing that the administration would "win a great victory for the American people" and that the administration would work to make "Arizona safer than ever before." 

At the end of Pence's speech, the crowd surged forward, ignoring the social distancing rules put in place by event organizers and crowded the stage for a chance to take a photograph of the vice president. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to supporters during a 'Cops for Trump' event at the Westin La Paloma Tuesday morning.

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