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Is Sheriff Nienhuis Using Identity Politics to Pander Black and Christian Voters?

HERNANDO – Politicians use various tactics to earn the trust of voters during an election year. A Republican candidate might make promises to their base that reflect traditional conservative values, like lowering taxes and reducing the size of government. A Democrat might build their platform on important liberal issues, like protecting abortion rights and stiffening laws on gun control. Whether or not they keep their promises is irrelevant because it's the vote that counts.

Democrats have historically controlled the black vote, upwards of 84% on average, but Republicans say the black community has been lied to by Democrats, and they have done nothing but sew division between blacks and whites.

Republicans claim Democrats are masters of using identity politics to sway the black vote; telling black communities that police are systemically racist, and Republicans are trying to suppress their vote by asking voters to present identification at the polls, are just a few examples.

Former Senator Hillary Clinton and President Joe Biden have been accused of pandering the black community throughout their entire careers. In 2007 during a speech in Selma, Alabama, Hillary Clinton used a strong southern black accent when she spoke to members of the First Baptist church, saying in part, "I don't feel no ways tired. I come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy. I don't believe he brought me this far to leave me..." In May 2020, President Biden said "Well, I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black," during the Breakfast Club radio show.

Hernando County is overwhelmingly Republican but in an open primary election, the Democrat vote can tip the scales in any given election. There are only two candidates running for the top law enforcement position, incumbent Sheriff Al Nienhuis and his challenger, veteran law enforcement officer and flight instructor Joe Puglia. Both candidates are registered Republicans, but anyone can vote in the primary election on August 20th.

Recently, R News received several complaints from residents who say Sheriff Al Nienhuis, a Republican, is using a page from the Democrat playbook to sway certain voting demographics, because he needs every vote he can get to hang on to his seat.

Cover Photo Published on HCSO's Facebook Page June 14, 2024

Those who voiced complaints say Nienhuis is pandering to the black voter by posting a photo of himself with a young black girl as the cover photo for the agency's Facebook page. After viewing every cover photo posted by the agency over the last 8 years, R News only found one other cover photo of Nienhuis posing with a young black girl or any black child. That photo was posted on May 4, 2016, which happened to be an election year. All other similar cover photos since that time have been of Nienhuis posing with white children. R News contacted Sheriff Nienhuis on June 19th regarding the photo but instead of responding to our questions he just replaced the cover photo with one showing him posing with a white child.

Cover Photo Published on HCSO's Facebook Page June 21, 2024

R News also received complaints that Sheriff Nienhuis is pandering to the Christian voting base in Hernando County after he posted images of a swearing-in ceremony held at Grace World Outreach showing the word Jesus behind the deputies. Some say Nienhuis should not be choosing one religion over another because there may be employees who are not Christians. Others said he should not be promoting religion at all, because of separation of Church and State issues.

Photo Published on HCSO's Facebook Page June 17, 2024 at Grace World Outreach

R News searched the agency's Facebook page but could not find a previous ceremony highlighting Christianity.

Photo Published on HCSO's Facebook Page in 2022 at Grace World Outreach

R News contacted Sheriff Nienhuis and asked why he chose to highlight Christianity in the ceremony and why he chose to do so during an election year. Nienhuis said he's used Grace World Outreach several times to hold ceremonies and that it depends on the number of deputies. Nienhuis refused to comment on why this was the only time he chose to promote religion while holding a ceremony.

Candidate for Sheriff Joe Puglia (R)

"It's unfortunate that our current Sheriff has made his position so political," said candidate for Sheriff Joe Puglia. "Here is what I will do. Be the people's Sheriff, regardless of ethnicity or political affiliation. I will treat everyone fairly and with respect. We are all members of one community – our community."

Candidate for County Commissioner Marvin Baynham (R)

Candidate for the District 3 County Commissioner Seat Marvin Baynham (R) is running against incumbent John Allocco. Bayhnam says he understands full well how the Democrat Party controls the black community, and he wants no part of it. Baynham tells R News, "Historically, the black community has always been conservative. They had strong families and communities until the welfare state was created. They started voting Democrat and never went back. The Republican Party has always been the party of Freedom. Donald Trump asked for the vote of all members of the black community who want to see a better future. Conservative values are the only way to get there." Baynham goes on to say, "Regarding the use of identity politics, I believe it is reprehensible. Sadly, division is the only thing Democrats have left to offer."


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