Former Spartanburg Police Chief Tony Fisher would seem to be a natural supporter of 2020 Democrat Kamala Harris, a career prosecutor in starkly liberal and more mixed jurisdictions.
Fisher, 69, was the first black police chief in Spartanburg, a northwestern South Carolina city of just under 40,000 people, amid a conservative stretch of territory in a Republican-leaning state. Earlier in his career, Fisher was the first black police chief of Takoma Park, Maryland, a decidedly liberal enclave just outside of Washington, D.C.
Harris, a California senator since 2017, previously served for six years as state attorney general and district attorney for San Francisco, an embodiment of American liberalism.
The daughter of a Jamaican father and Tamil Indian mother, she's making a heavy play in South Carolina, where up to 60% of the February 2020 primary electorate is expected to be African American. She began campaigning in the Palmetto State shortly after announcing her White House bid in January and has returned repeatedly.
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But Fisher, a self-described moderate and fiscal conservative, isn't a fan of his fellow law enforcement professional. In Fisher's view, Harris' record on cases of police violence as a top local and state prosecutor is wanting.
"Harris is too polarizing; it's turning out that way. I didn't think so initially. I think she's becoming polarizing to a certain mistake. I think she needs to be very careful dealing with racial issues based on her history," Fisher told theWashington Examineron Wednesday while attending a campaign event for former Vice President Joe Biden in Spartanburg. "Based on the polling data, I think a lot of African Americans are seeing through" her record on racial issues. "I think she has a lot to offer this country, I think she will have an opportunity to do that, but she doesn't have the history" to be president.
Though Fisher didn't cite specific cases, he echoed Harris' Democratic primary rivals who have drawn attention to her approach to investigating officer-involved shootings. Running for president, Harris, 54, says police shootings and other officer-involved incidents should be handed off to independent investigators. That's a shift from her days as state attorney general, when she resisted taking prosecutorial discretion away from locally elected district attorneys.
"One of the issues that is really important to me is that in many cities that were faced with police out of control, the Justice Department historically went in and worked out a consent decree over how they can improve relationships and policing going forward," Fisher said.
Harris' campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Harris' record as a prosecutor, which her campaign sees as a general election asset if she can make it that far, has previously garnered criticism from Democratic rivals. During the second Democratic debate in July, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard cited blemishes on Harris' prosecutorial record, including the fact that as San Francisco district attorney her office put 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations.
If Fisher is any indication, a number of black voters in South Carolina share his concerns. Polling in the state indicates Harris has a steep battle ahead of her in courting the black vote. A survey released this month by thePost and Courierfound her support at only 12 %, while Biden leads the rest of the field at 36%.
Much of Biden's support — and Harris's deficit — comes from his rapport with black voters. A Morning Consult poll released last month found Harris garnering 16% of the black vote, with Biden receiving 38%. Even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has lagged with black voters since his 2016 campaign, beat Harris with 21%.
"I think Joe has a history. He's been kind to African Americans, others who need a leg up. But he's also been good to the country," said Fisher, who retired from the police force in 2013.