Although his presidential campaign fizzled early, Sen. Rand Paul’s outreach to minorities is the most far-seeing thing any Republican has done to expand the GOP’s shrinking base.
Paul’s calls for criminal justice reform make him an important voice in his party and the U.S. Senate and are enough to earn our endorsement in the May 17 primary.
This country has the world’s highest incarceration rate because generations of politicians have appealed to voters’ fears with “tough on crime” policies and a misguided “war on drugs” that Paul correctly says have trapped “non-violent offenders — disproportionately African-American men — in a cycle of poverty, unemployment and incarceration.”
Paul held a “listening session” with black leaders in Ferguson, Mo. after a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in 2014. He has written, “Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention.” Paul supports rolling back mandatory minimum sentences, especially for non-violent drug offenders, and filed legislation to restore felons’ voting rights. He teamed up with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey on legislation that would allow non-violent juvenile offenders a fresh start by clearing their criminal records and restore public supports such as food stamps to some low-level drug offenders.
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Paul also has championed privacy rights against expanded government surveillance and questioned U.S. interventionism.
Disappointingly, Paul has failed to convince his fellow Republicans in the Kentucky Senate to support voting rights for felons. Despite Paul’s urging, the Republican Senate this year again killed a felon voting rights amendment.
Paul’s ineffectiveness extends to Washington. He has no legislative accomplishments in his first term. He put more energy into raising his profile than forging alliances and getting things done in a Senate that, admittedly, does very little. Voters deserve to hear what, if anything, Paul intends to accomplish in a second term.
Paul’s GOP challengers — Navy veteran James R. Gould of Lexington and energy industry engineer Stephen Howard Slaughter of Louisville — are running modest, intentionally under-funded campaigns as a statement against the corrosive effects of money in politics.
Slaughter calls for campaign finance reform via constitutional amendment. Gould says big money from out-of-state special interests is “the central problem” in the system and drives lawmakers to extremes.
Their message is one that both parties should heed.
Unendorsed candidates may submit a 250-word response by 10 a.m. Monday.