Official Statement of the Libertarian Party of Orange County Executive Committee
The Libertarian Party of Orange County Executive Committee has taken the unusual step of endorsing Joe Lopez for Orange County Sheriff at our September 18 regular business meeting. Most Libertarians have passionate and bold opinions about criminal justice reform. Many are deeply skeptical of law enforcement at all levels. It's rare to find a sheriff candidate that meets our criteria for endorsement - particularly since Orange County Sheriff is a partisan race and we almost never endorse Democratic or Republican partisan candidates.
However, Joe Lopez, a former Florida Highway Patrol officer, Marine, and non-partisan candidate for sheriff, won our endorsement due to his strength on two signature Libertarian issues along with a general consensus of our executive committee that he would be an incremental step of progress in Orange County law enforcement back towards constitutional and accountable community policing. We also appreciate that Lopez has private sector experience as a security manager at Walt Disney World - while we are not necessarily fans of the Mouse's influence on Orange County politics, we do believe that it is important that elected officials also have that context of private sector experience to balance out their public service.
Contrasts on Surveillance
One of the many issues Libertarians have with one of the other two sheriff candidates - John Mina, the current Orlando Police Chief - is his eager attitude toward promoting warrantless surveillance reinforcing the divide between "us" and "them" in law enforcement. This approach is best exemplified by the Amazon facial recognition via camera pilot program. We recoil at the notion that the police should be spying on the public at all times, and decry this program in particular - as we like to remind people, 1984 was a cautionary tale, not a "how to" manual. Lopez, by contrast, first caught our attention due to his public and repeated advocacy to end red light cameras, another unconstitutional form of surveillance. He cited the same statistics we have brought up to various city councils, particularly Apopka, regarding the fact that red light cameras actually make intersections less safe for motorists.
While ultimately the decision on red light camera contracts is up the Orange County Commission and the various city councils, historically they have done so using the testimony of law enforcement to promote and justify their decisions. To have the top law enforcement officer in the county backing the Libertarian Party on one of our signature issues would be huge. Beyond that - as our friendly rivals in the Orange County Constitution Party agree - Lopez shows a generally solid understanding of the principles of constitutional policing, something sorely needed in Orange County.
Accountability and Integrity
Lopez has made accountability and integrity the cornerstone of his campaign themes. This is music to the ears of Libertarians who are deeply concerned about law enforcement seeing itself as above its own laws and as a different class of more valuable citizens than "civilians." But is this any more than just a campaign promise? Lopez's background in the Marines and in the Florida Highway Patrol give us hope that it is more than just a campaign prop.
Lopez did not come up through the establishment power structure in Orange County - neither through the Orange County Sheriff Department nor through the Orlando Police Department. Thus, Lopez is - or at least should be - beholden to no one and has the potential to be a truly independent law enforcement leader. His credentials also give him credibility to potentially make real changes with the deputies in the Sheriff's Office and be able to lead by example. Conversely, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and almost every other establishment career politician - Republican or Democrat - in Orange County endorsed Lopez's opponent John Mina. And it's no surprise why - as Orlando Police Chief and the handpicked successor of outgoing sheriff and incoming Orange Mayor Jerry Demings, Mina is literally the establishment status quo. And that is exactly what Libertarians don't want, particularly because the City of Orlando Police has the worst record in the entire state of Florida on police killings of residents (per FDLE reports) even beating out Miami, Hialeah, and Jacksonville. We would like to see a Sheriff who can make his own independent constitutional decisions for what's best for the county based on solid first principles.
The Florida Highway Patrol are known for being one of the few departments willing to cross the thin blue line and arrest other officers for wrongdoing, particularly in local departments. In conversations with our Executive Committee, particularly our Membership Chair, Lopez seems to have retained this attitude after leaving FHP, and clarified that deputy integrity and accountability has to come first to regain public trust in law enforcement - even when it's difficult. Lopez has repeatedly criticized Mina in particular on the lack of the transparency across the board: for how Mina handled the Pulse shooting response, obfuscating the abuse in custody of accused police killer Markeith Lloyd (we condemn Lloyd's actions, but still believe that all are entitled to the same constitutional protections regardless of their crime), and Mina's general disdain for citizen review boards. Finally, Lopez also showed a solid understanding of the one form of surveillance we do support: police body cameras. He understood not only how they can protect the public from police abuse and excessive force, but also how they also can protect deputies from false accusations, as well as the many pitfalls that can render their deployment less effective.
Concerns and Caveats
As the Party of Principle, we would be remiss if we did not mention some areas where we disagree with Lopez. We were dismayed to see Lopez advocate continuing the War on Drugs at the Pine Hills Community Council debate, which is exactly the opposite of what that community needs. While drug addiction and abuse is a truly sad situation, it merits sympathy and medical treatment towards addicts while encouraging them to maintain their social support structures, not locking them in cages and leaving them to rot with murderers and rapists - and cannabis users shouldn't even be on the radar in the first place. The associated gang violence, which is the core problem in many communities affected by drugs, is a direct consequence of Prohibition in much the same way as Al Capone's gangs during Alcohol Prohibition in the early 20th century. The lessons and statistics are clear: enforcement of Prohibition makes things worse, not better; this includes making things far worse for law enforcement officers being unnecessarily placed in harm's way to enforce unjust laws. Lopez has shown great promise in analyzing the statistics of red light cameras to come to a counter-intuitive conclusion - we hope he will take to the time to do the same regarding alternate approaches on drug enforcement. While we have strong reservations about the Democratic candidate Darryl Sheppard regarding his personal record, we do commend that he had the courage to openly call for ending the Drug War in this same debate; it's a breath of fresh air to see any sheriff candidate make this call. We ask Lopez to at least consider that the current model has totally failed and Orange County needs new leadership and priorities regarding drug enforcement.
We were also disappointed to hear Lopez agree with Mina on the three day waiting period for gun sales and similar gun rights restrictions in Orange County during the League of Women Voters debate. While this is the status quo in Orange County and state law limits just how far the county can go down this rabbit hole, we believe the Sheriff should be one of the strongest defenders of the 2nd Amendment in Orange County - certainly the Orange County Commission won't be. We ask Lopez to reconsider this position in light of a few premises:
- Violent criminals aren't particularly deterred by a waiting period and can easily purchase guns on the black market, so this law only affects law-abiding residents in the first place - there are no statistics showing that this policy actually helps anything or reduces violence
- All gun restrictions, except those applied to individuals by due process in a court of law, are infringements on the 2nd Amendment.
- The three day waiting period and similar restrictions CAN hurt the most vulnerable in our county, such as a young mother who has realized her abusive partner or ex-partner is an immediate domestic violence risk and understands that a restraining order is just a piece of paper - this is also part of why the Libertarian Party opposed the Republican gun control bill SB 7026 this year since it stripped the rights to purchase firearms from 18-20 year old adults.
Conclusions and Recommendation
We endorse Joe Lopez in light of a measured consideration of his strengths and weaknesses relative to our party platform and principles. Lopez is not a Libertarian, and we don't agree with all of his policies, but in the absence of an ideal Libertarian candidate we believe he is a solid improvement over the status quo in Orange County that merits your vote. Even his policies that we disagree with are still not worse than the status quo in Orange County, which is one of the metrics we use for endorsements. We believe that Lopez will be a solid choice to turn around the Orange County Sheriff's Office and make improvements towards constitutional community policing that work toward restoring integrity and trust in the Orange County Sheriff's Office.