Politics
7:00 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Rand Paul Doesn't Have a ‘Distinguished’ Civil Rights Record, Congressional Black Caucus Leader Says

U.S. Senator Rand Paul speaks with students on Monday at the Village Learning Center at Midwest Church of Christ in west Louisville.
Credit Alix Mattingly/WFPL News

The vice chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday blasted Republican Senator Rand Paul for saying he is doing more for minorities than any other sitting U.S. lawmaker.

Paul touted his civil rights record a day earlier in a visit to west Louisville, where he discussed the importance of school choice. Gearing up for a 2016 presidential bid, Paul has tried to reach out to minorities and make inroads in the black community.

In a conference call organized by the national Democratic Party, Congressman G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina said Paul has been a consistent vote against African-American interests in Washington.

"Senator Paul has not distinguished himself on civil rights in any respect," said Butterfield, who is the vice chair of the 43-member Congressional Black Caucus. "I’ve watched his voting record since he has been here, and I call tell you he has not voted favorably on the issues that really matter."

Paul had touted his civil rights record Monday in response to an earlier editorial by civil rights leader and former state lawmaker Georgia Davis Powers who told African-Americans not to be fooled by his recent overtures to black voters.

Paul said: "I don't think there's anybody in Congress doing more for minority rights than I am right now."

Some Louisville ministers and community activists have responded well to Paul's outreach as a sign the GOP is willing to listen. Others in the black community have said there is still a large among distrust of Paul given his past remarks on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other controversies.

"I just want Rand Paul—if he's serious about his position on civil rights—I just want him to come out and say it," said Butterfield. "Publicly say you support the Civil Rights Act of 1964 without reservation and not muddy the issue with all of his libertarian views."

Paul has told WFPL in previous interviews there is no need to apologize for his past comments.

He isn't wavering on trying to make inroads with black voters and minorities overall. Just this week Paul's office unveiled a measure the GOP senator is co-sponsoring with Democratic colleague Cory Booker of New Jersey, aimed at overhauling the criminal justice system.

Called the REDEEM Act, it would offer help to non-violent felons and break the cycle of incarceration.

The legislation would among other things offer adults a way to seal non-violent criminal records; allow for the sealing and expunging of juvenile records; restrict the use of juvenile solitary confinement; and lift a ban on food stamp benefits for low-level drug offenders.

In a news release, Booker, who is the former mayor of Newark, embraced the bipartisan nature of working with Paul.

"I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey and this bipartisan legislation does just that," said Booker, who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. "The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways."

"It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend."

The move to co-sponsor the REDEEM Act with Booker adds to Paul's bipartisan portfolio on civil rights. In June, Paul proposed to expand voting rights for some former felons and last year he co-sponsored a measure tackling U.S. drug sentencing laws.

Still, the local debate about Paul's sincerity among Louisville African-Americans remains decidedly skeptical.

Democrat Ashley Miller is running for the Kentucky state House. She joined the conference call with Congressman Butterfield, and said Paul's outreach has more to do with his presidential bid than minority outreach.

"Now that Senator Paul is running for president he’s suddenly become the supposed champion of outreach to communities Republicans have ignored year after year after year and he expects us all to forget his years of ideological opposition to growing the middle-class and expanding opportunities for African-Americans," she said.

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