The elected sheriffs in Bucks and Montgomery counties have dueling political endorsements ads airing on televisions in the Delaware Valley in the hotly contested Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race as crime and public safety have become a focus of the campaign.
With the general election fast approaching Dr. Mehmet Oz's team has attempted to use John Fetterman's signature issues of sentencing and criminal justice reforms, and his record as chair of Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, to paint the lieutenant governor as dangerous for Pennsylvania.
He has found support from Bucks County Republican Sheriff Fred Harran in a 30-second ad now in heavy rotation. Harran repeats Oz's claims that Fetterman does not back the police and wants to release convicted criminals and wants to end life sentences for felony murder.
In an ad supporting Fetterman, Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny, a Democrat, rebuts the charges of Oz and Harran in a 30-second ad sponsored by Fetterman for PA.
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Can elected officials appear in campaign ads?
While its political season, several have questioned whether the ads are allowed as both sheriffs appear in uniform and endorse the candidates in their official capacities.
Neither has violated any law as elected public officials are not subject to the Hatch Act, a federal law that restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state, District of Columbia, or local executive agencies and those who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants.
The candidates have turned to the veteran law enforcement officers to bolster their campaigns and counter attacks that could cost them votes.
Fetterman has campaigned on advocating for more nuanced sentencing laws, rehabilitation actions and clemency for model prisoners. He favors abolishing capital punishment and eliminating life sentences for second-degree murder, also referred to as felony murder, in Pennsylvania, which only requires that a person is involved in a crime in which someone dies. He supports providing law enforcement resources necessary to do their job, but also prioritizes "oversight, accountability and violence prevention," according to his campaign website.
Oz has painted Fetterman as soft on crime and that his reforms would make communities unsafe.
On his campaign website, Oz has expressed blanket opposition to all laws that make it harder to have guns including red flag laws. He has pledged not to cut police funding and opposes "anti-law" proposals like "cashless bail." The Philadelphia Police Union and Pennsylvania State Troopers Association recently endorsed Oz for Senate.
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Who are Fred Harran and Sean Kilkenny?
In the Senate Leadership Fund ad for Oz, Harran, who was elected sheriff in 2020 after his long tenure as the director of public safety for the Bensalem, tells viewers that Fetterman is working against law enforcement efforts to keep communities safe and supports reforms that would free criminals.
"It's insane. Just turn on the news. You'll see what happens when guys like Fetterman let the worst offenders out of jail early," Harran said. "Protect your family. Don't vote Fetterman."
Harran, as the former head of Bucks' largest police force in Bucks County, is arguably one of the highest profile officers in the county to deliver the campaign's message to voters.
In 2015, Kilkenny became the first Democrat elected as sheriff in Montgomery County. The retired lieutenant Army colonel was reelected to a second term in 2019.
Kilkenny emphasizes Fetterman's record for criminal justice reforms that give "second chances" to nonviolent offenders and marijuana users, and his support for violence prevention and trial diversion programs that save taxpayers money and reunite families.
He also rebuts the Oz campaign's anti-police allegations noting that Fetterman has a record of voting with law enforcement experts nearly 90% of the time.
"John Fetterman has the courage to do what is right. Dr. Oz doesn't know a thing about crime. He only knows how to help himself," Kilkenny said in ad.
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This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Bucks County, Montco sheriff endorsements in Fetterman-Oz race raise questions