Politics & Government

Rand Paul refocuses on his re-election, promotes a smaller, weaker government

Rand Paul on Donald Trump

Sen. Rand Paul talks about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Wednesday, July 27, 2016, at a campaign event in Lexington, Ky.
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Sen. Rand Paul talks about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Wednesday, July 27, 2016, at a campaign event in Lexington, Ky.

Fresh off not getting the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland, Rand Paul is pursuing Plan B — re-election to the U.S. Senate — with a series of campaign events across Kentucky this week.

Speaking Wednesday at the Lexington Public Library downtown, Paul reminded the crowd of his Libertarian desire for a much smaller, weaker government than most Democrats and even many Republicans in Washington support.

Paul said the Orlando nightclub shooting last month that left 49 dead and 53 wounded drove the political left to demand gun control measures that would have violated the Second Amendment without stopping the killer. However, the political right also overreacted by calling for expanded police powers, such as letting FBI agents bypass judicial oversight by authorizing their own search warrants, he said.

“Do we give up our freedoms because we’re afraid?” asked the freshman senator, who faces Democratic challenger Jim Gray, the mayor of Lexington, on Nov. 8.

“When I talk about the Bill of Rights, I say that they’re for everyone, but they’re particularly for the least among us,” he said. “If you’re part of some group — it could be a minority, you could be African-American, you could be Mexican, you could be evangelical Christian. There’s a lot of different ways you can be a minority. And if you’re someone who has an unorthodox thought, if you’re not part of what everybody else thinks, you think the government might someday come for people with unorthodox thoughts, you don’t want them coming without a warrant.”

Voters should also be wary of politicians who promise benefits, such as free college education, without explaining how they’ll pay for it, Paul added. Raising taxes “at the top” to pay for such benefits is a bad idea, because workers’ wages rise when the wealthy and corporations have more money, he said.

“Whether you are a worker or an owner, we’re on the same team. When the owner does better, the worker does better,” he said. “Envy is a bad thing for political policy. You shouldn’t want to bring down someone who’s — like, everybody says, ‘Oh, the rich are only paying 15 percent. And I’m paying 28 percent!’ Well, instead of making them pay 28 percent, let’s all pay 15 percent.”

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis doesn’t support Paul’s belief. Median household incomes have fallen in inflation-controlled dollars over the past decade even as corporate profits soared. And the average corporate chief executive made 303 times as much as his average employee, up from a 20-to-1 ratio in the 1960s, according to Fortune magazine.

Paul started this year running for president in a crowded Republican field that ultimately was crushed by billionaire businessman Donald Trump. During the primaries, Paul likened Trump to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels and called him “a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag.” He skipped last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland where Trump accepted the GOP nomination.

At Wednesday’s forum, Paul avoided mentioning Trump until he was directly asked what he thinks of his party’s new leader. In response, Paul said he is encouraged to hear Trump suggest that he would cut taxes and corporate regulations and help Kentucky’s coal industry.

“You know, I voiced some of my differences with him during the (presidential) debate,” Paul continued. “Some of what I talk about for the party is, I want a bigger, more inclusive party. And I’m not saying he doesn’t. But I have a different way, I think, of approaching it, of trying to welcome people into the party. And I’ll continue to be that distinct voice.”

Although he favors less government spending, Paul sent out a news release this week to claim credit for a $14.1 million federal grant the city of Lexington has received for the Town Branch Commons Corridor Project. That led Gray, his challenger, to criticize him for “hypocrisy.” Paul wrote a letter in support of the grant to the U.S. Department of Transportation and then voted against funding for the project, Gray’s campaign said.

“It’s an insult to the hard work of Mayor Gray and the extensive support of Sen. (Mitch) McConnell and Rep. Andy Barr for Rand Paul to claim credit for this grant,” Gray campaign spokeswoman Cathy Lindsey said in a statement. “Taking credit for someone else’s hard work is a pretty shady thing to do. But after spending a year running for president and ignoring the state he was elected to represent, I guess Rand Paul feels desperate to latch on to anything that might trick Kentuckians into thinking he’s actually doing his job.”

Paul said Gray was “being dishonest” about his vote on the project. His vote was against a much larger federal spending package that included the source of funding for the project, he said.

“I think he’s kind of confused. He wrote me a nice letter and thanked me for helping him get the grant. But I guess now — once campaign season starts, people get kind of confused,” Paul said.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics