Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said no other U.S. lawmaker is doing more for minorities and their civil rights than his latest efforts.
The libertarian-leaning senator made the comments during an event Monday in west Louisville, at least his fifth stop in the predominantly African-American area in the last eight months.
This time, Paul touted his civil rights credentials on education, and slammed a recent editorial by former state Sen. Georgia Davis Powers, who warned African-American voters not to trust the Republican lawmaker’s recent overtures.
Powers took Paul to task for saying he disagreed with a provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination by private businesses.
Calling the editorial “harsh rhetoric,” Paul said he sticks by his claim. “I don’t think there’s anybody in Congress doing more for minority rights than I am right now,” he said while touring the Village Learning Center at the Midwest Church of Christ.
A recent Bluegrass Poll showed Paul’s efforts might have cracked an opening among Kentucky’s black population. The survey found 29 percent of black voters backed Paul over Democrat Hillary Clinton in a mock presidential contest.
No Republican presidential candidate has received over 15 percent of the black vote since the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed into law.
“What I’ve found is that people think they’ve been neglected somewhat by the Democrat Party,” Paul said. “They may not be ready to be Republicans yet, but they’re people who want to see competition to say really it should be both parties coming down here to Pastor Stephenson’s church saying I can do even more for education.”
Many West End leaders who gravitate towards Paul say they are fed up with Democrats, who they claim take black voters and their agenda for granted.
“What I am concerned with is 81 percent of the children in this neighborhood read below grade level,” said the Rev. Jerry Stephenson, a charter schools advocate, Paul ally and pastor of Midwest Church of Christ.
“I respect Sen. Powers tremendously for what she has done in the past, but we’re in the 21st Century now,” Stephenson added. “And we got new issues. Those of the 1950s and 60s, they’re not the issues of today. Education is our issue.”
Paul’s minority outreach attempts have been successful in some areas, mostly where his libertarian views overlap with those of civil rights groups, Democratic lawmakers and social justice advocates seeking to change U.S. drug and sentencing laws, for instance.
The Kentucky Republican is co-sponsoring another bipartisan bill this week with Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. The proposal will address more reforms to the criminal justice and federal prison sentencing, according to a Paul spokesman.
There is still work to be done in winning over African-Americans even when they agree with Paul in principle.
For example, Mendell Grinter, who is the Kentucky director of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, concurs with Paul’s views on school choice. He said black voters’ skepticism of Paul is likely to remain, however.
“We have the common understanding because he is Republican a lot of African-Americans feel they just can’t trust him,” said Grinter, who attended the Village Center tour with Paul. “Paul has a huge trust factor. Opening the office in west Louisville was a good step for him, but he has a long way to go to ensuring he has a relationship with the African-American community.”
Local political activists such as Janice Rucker, who lives in west Louisville, remain wary.
She said Paul meeting with handpicked leaders isn’t moving the needle with her neighbors.
“Those folks are telling him what he wants to hear and he doesn’t want the truth,” said Rucker, a member of the West Louisville Urban Coalition. “The black community is saying the same thing that the country is saying. Pass a minimum wage law, have stricter gun laws, pass the Violence Against Women’s Act, and pass the president’s jobs plan.”
“We in the West End aren’t saying anymore than the country is saying, so if you’re not listening to the country why do we think you going to come down and listen to us?”