Val Demings is the perfect choice as Joe Biden's running mate

Val Demings is the perfect choice as Joe Biden's running mate
© Greg Nash

During some of the most threatening times in our nation’s history — when circumstances have required a leader whose skills and experiences match the challenges confronting us — Americans have always had a knack for finding just the right person at the exactly the right time. In considering his running mate for the upcoming presidential election, former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal Biden vaccine rule sets stage for onslaught of lawsuits MORE may be contemplating such a scenario. 

As a bitterly divided America confronts the social unrest spurred by George Floyd’s murder and the seemingly endless loop of sickening cell phone videos showing similar acts of violence, there is one candidate on Biden’s short list who is uniquely qualified to face this challenge head on: Congresswoman Val Demings (D-Fla.). 

With a biography straight out of central casting, Demings represents the perfect embodiment of the American Dream. Descended from slaves and raised in a poor, black southern family during the turbulent 1960s, Val Butler faced enormous obstacles from the start. Her mother was a maid and her father worked various odd jobs, ranging from janitor to orange grove laborer. The youngest of seven children sharing a two-room home, she attended segregated schools in a poor section of Jacksonville, eventually becoming the first in her family to go to college. She graduated from Florida State University with a degree in criminology and, after a stint as a social worker, she applied for a job with the Orlando Police Department. In 1983, she began work as a city patrol officer, walking the nighttime beat in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. 

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For the next 24 years, she worked her way up the ranks. She was president of her class in the police academy, and by 2007, she was the first woman to be named chief of the Orlando Police Department. Along the way, she met her husband, Jerry Demings, who would himself become a leader in Florida’s law enforcement community, including a decade-long career as Orange County Sheriff. He now serves as mayor of Orange County.  

In 2012, Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsThe Hill's Morning Report - Surging COVID-19 infections loom over US, Olympics Six takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections Cuba, Haiti pose major challenges for Florida Democrats MORE tried her luck at politics, running for Congress as a Democrat. She faced a strong Republican incumbent, falling short in a close race. It was during this campaign that I met Val. While serving my third term in Congress, I heard about the Democrats’ star recruit who was running in a conservative Florida seat not previously considered competitive. At a reception during one of her campaign trips to Washington, I spoke with her about the campaign. It was immediately clear that she was destined for bigger things. She offered a clear and inspiring vision for change — rare for a first-time candidate — discussing lessons learned as she worked her way up the ranks of local law enforcement. 

She was successful in her second attempt for Congress, quickly establishing herself as a national leader while remaining attentive to the local needs of her diverse Central Florida district. I’ve campaigned with Val Demings in her district and joined her on stage during contentious town hall meetings. She has a remarkable ability to connect with people of all backgrounds and bring a calming influence to potentially heated situations. Her demeanor and experience lend a degree of credibility beyond that of most public officials, and her genuine concern for people engenders respect even from those with whom she disagrees. 

After decades of growing division in the country, many fear our nation is coming apart at the seams. Protests in cities and towns across America represent a call to address the long-simmering anger many Americans feel about the inequities of our justice system. That anger that has turned into rage and finally begun to boil over. With cell phone cameras now readily available to record the final moments of victims, we are all witness to events that used to happen only in the shadows. Like too many before him, George Floyd has through death become a household name, seared into the public consciousness through images that never can be unseen. 

In selecting his running mate, Joe Biden has an opportunity to demonstrate that he gets the message by choosing someone with a unique set of characteristics perfectly suited for this moment. As in other crises before, these times call for leaders with a mix of attributes fitting the challenges we face. That person is Congresswoman Demings. With the credibility of a long career in law enforcement — rising from beat cop to police chief in one of America’s most diverse cities — she is perfectly positioned to begin the long process of bridging the partisan divide and bringing Americans together for the long-overdue discussion about reform of our nation’s policing and justice system. 

She is the leader history has presented us at this unprecedented time. Hopefully, Joe Biden will take advantage of this moment and choose her as his running mate in this year like no other. 

Former Congressman Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2007-2013. He is a partner with Integrated Strategy Group, a business and public affairs consulting firm with offices in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @jasonaltmire.