Two prominent African-American leaders in Louisville want voters to pay close attention to Republican Rand Paul’s outreach to minorities as Kentucky’s junior senator gears up for a possible presidential bid.
University of Louisville Professor Ricky Jones and the Rev. Kevin Cosby held a public dialogue on Wednesday to address Paul’s recent efforts.
Jones and Cosby differ on dealing with Paul, but discussed ways a new black agenda can be formed as GOP lawmakers begin to discuss ways to gain support from minority communities.
Cosby says it is strategic suicide for the African-American community to support Democrats automatically.
“I don’t think that we should be endorsing politicians, I think that we should have an agenda and a politician should be endorsing our agenda,” he says.
Earlier this year, Paul did introduce a bipartisan measure aimed at reforming U.S. drug laws while citing racial disparities in sentencing. He has also made comments indicating support for restoring felon voting rights in the state.
Reaction to Paul’s overt attempts have been somewhat mixed among local leaders and activists.
Louisville Councilwoman Attica Scott has said she is willing to have conversations with Paul about ways the federal government can help deal with the rise of the city’s vacant and abandoned properties. Others such as Kentucky state Sen. Gerald Neal point to continued controversies regarding Paul and race, such as a former aide who once belonged to a neo-Confederate group.
“Republicans will very quickly tell you or black folk anyway, ‘You should be a Republican. This is the party of Lincoln. This is the party that freed the slaves,'” says Jones. “And if you don’t know your history and the progression of that party, then you cannot come back effectively and say to them, this isn’t the same party of the 1860s.”
Paul visited Cosby’s west Louisville church as early as 2010, and the senator was at the city’s historically black university—Simmons College of Kentucky—this year to discuss his reforms and other issues such as charter school legislation.
Cosby hasn’t withheld praise for Paul, and at one point compared the senator’s filibuster against the Obama administration’s use of military drones to the activism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Some such as civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis disagreed with that assessment, telling WFPL that Paul is no Dr. King.
But Cosby says those comments aren’t meant to be an endorsement of Paul for any public office, but that he believes the Tea Party affiliated senator is catching up with black constituents.
“Rand Paul has only been in politics and public service for two years. I’ve been the pastor of St. Stephen Church since Abraham Lincoln was a precinct captain,” he says. “If you look at any of my writings or any of my positions, or if you listen to any of my sermons these are positions that I have held before Rand Paul. It just so happens that Rand Paul, instead of me endorsing him, took some positions that affirm positions that I had. And I applauded him for doing that.”
Jones called for the public dialogue after writing a column disagreeing with Cosby’s assertions about the senator. He hopes the two will continue to hold these discussions in order to educate and show black leaders can disagree while forging an agenda.
Both agreed that African-Americans should be free to engage with leaders of either political party, and that Democrats are taking black voters and their interests for granted.
But Jones says he remains wary of Paul’s views and controversial remarks against historic civil rights legislation.
“Overall I think Rand Paul is dangerous. The brand of libertarianism that’s practiced right now by libertarian politicians is dangerous when you talk about minimal government or especially folks who talk about state’s rights,” he says. “State’s rights is a code word for the old Confederacy and usually that’s coming out of someone who has a racist agenda. Now I’m not saying that Rand Paul has a racist agenda, but when I hear those code words I kind of perk up.”