Transcript: Rand Paul on Kentucky, Iowa, Mississippi Senate races, the war on drugs and his outreach to Black voters

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) discussed developments in the Kentucky, Iowa and Mississippi Senate races, his outreach to African Americans across the country and his own upcoming political travel plans during a brief interview with The Washington Post Wednesday afternoon.

This weekend, he travels to Texas to speak at the state Republican Convention and then returns to Kentucky to help open a state Republican party office in western Louisville, a predominantly black section of the city. Next weekend, Paul flies to Park City, Utah to attend the annual meeting of former donors and supporters of 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. After stopping by the Romney meeting, Paul will fly to Idaho and Iowa to speak at state GOP conventions there. He also has stops scheduled in California in the coming weeks.

A transcript of the exchange, edited for length and clarity, appears below:


Kentucky Senators Rand Paul, left, and Mitch McConnell address the media during a news conference following McConnell's victory in the Republican primary Friday, May 23, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Q: How does the message to Republicans change as you talk to them in Texas or West Louisville?

"It’s the same message. I think the thing I’ve been emphasizing more to people who live in cities and are coming from circumstances that may not be as good as circumstances – higher unemployment, higher levels of poverty – is the thing we’ve talked a lot about recently are economic freedom zones.

"This is sort of an extension of the idea Jack Kemp worked on with Enterprise Zones. They’re enterprise zones on steroids. Jack did some grants and tinkered with the thing, we just go in and dramatically lower the tax rates. And we do it for a 10-year period. It’s a pretty significant amount of money. In Louisville, it’d be $650 million left in Louisville that really originates in Louisville and just never goes to Washington over a 10-year period. For Detroit it’d be $1.3 billion. And really for rural Kentucky it works too. In the Eastern Kentucky it’d be over $1 billion over 10 years. Because it would apply to any high employment area, doesn’t have to be a city, could be a rural environment also.

“We think this would be a way to stimulate the economy that is different than what Democrats have proposed. Democrats have proposed to stimulate the economy, but they say, first send us your money in Washington and then we’ll send it back to you and we’ll choose who gets it. The problem is that when you choose who you think would be good in business, you’re wrong nine out of 10  times, because most small businesses fail. Whereas if you were to send it back in the form of lowering taxes on people who are already sending it, the community votes everyday on who succeeds.

“If you own a Minute Mart or a gas station or a Burger King or a manufacturing firm, you’re being voted on every day. So when we send it back in the form of tax reduction, I’m sending it back to someone who’s already capable, because you’re being voted on, you’re being approved by the economy every day. I think it would have more effect. Dollar-for-dollar you’d have more bang for your buck and you’d get more jobs created if you send that back to people who are already in business rather than people who you think might be good in business.

Q: You’re doing the Louisville office opening and you've helped open a Detroit office for the Republican National Committee. You’ve been elsewhere too, right?

“I did an event in Chicago recently. It was an all-girls school, Josephina, in Chicago that just has phenomenal success. Not only a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, but nearly 100 percent are placed in college. What’s interesting is to meet these families. Most of them don’t have any money, most of them are there on scholarship, but you find the people whose parents are just really, really motivated to drive their kids 45 minutes on buses to get them to these schools, and they get great educations. These are the kids who will be the success stories.

“What I ask the people who oppose charter schools or any of these schools, I say, you know, look at these kids, look them in the eye and explain to me why you wouldn’t want more kids to have this opportunity. Now, could every kid have that? I don’t know, but I’d want more, not less to have that opportunity.

“I was at Boys Latin School in Philadelphia about a year ago and did a commencement speech there. That’s 100 young men, almost all, if not all African American males. Boys school, they teach them Latin four years in a row. They also teach them citizenship and how to be a good part of your community. It’s really a good program.”

Q: What kind of followup or feedback do you get from people in those crowds? Do they call after the fact?

“I think good, in the sense that it’s not always ‘I’m going to change parties,’ or, ‘I was a Democrat and I’ve seen the light and now I’m going to be a Republican.’ But it’s usually good in the sense that they’re happy that Republicans are showing up. To me there’s a sense that people think they’ve been taken for granted. In some communities, I show up and they say, ‘Well, we haven’t seen our Democrat congressman in 10 years.’ People are noticing that we’re showing up and that we’re trying.

“We also ask them frankly what kind of problems you have and one of the problems I learned about that I didn’t know much about was child support. If you go to prison, your child support adds up. When you get out of prison, it’s almost impossible – if you have $3,000 of child support and you have a $9 an hour job, you’re never paying it back.”

Q: Have you encouraged your colleagues to visit these areas? Do you get any sense of why others aren’t doing this? [Republican National Committee Chairman] Reince Priebus is a big supporter of doing this.

“Reince and I are on the same page and we’ve talked a lot and I’ve really participated with them and them with me and me pushing them and them pushing me. It’s really been both of us, I think really pushing for this. I don’t get any push back, nobody’s saying, oh, you’re crazy that’s a stupid idea. I think it’s just a matter of directing your energy. And I just sort of have really directed a lot of my energy towards it because I truly do not believe we can win nationally unless we’re a more diverse party.

“I also truly believe that I have a sincere message and I’m also honest, I tell people I want more African American votes, so I am there as a politician. But I also have something to say, which is my message on criminal justice, school choice and economic freedom zones is a message that will resonate I think in the African American community.

“And it isn’t something I made up to resonate there, it is what I believe. Some of it, particular the criminal justice proposals, is part of the sort of libertarian-ish message that I’ve always had – that the war on drugs has been unfair and it just turns out that it’s had a real racial component to it. Inadvertent, but it’s still necessarily it is.

“I mean, three out of four people in prison for drugs are black or brown. Nobody sort of wrote that policy down, but it’s related either to poverty or ease of conviction. But for one reason or another, when you look at polls, white kids use drugs just as much as black and brown kids, but white kids aren’t going to jail at nearly the rate. Some of the government promote it too, because government actually gives out grants based on conviction rates. And you think, I’m a police chief, you might think, where’s it going to be easiest to wreck people, where they’re all standing outside smoking pot or doing whatever, or where they’re in the suburbs in grandmother’s million dollar house in the basement smoking pot? It just inevitably has led to more poor kids being arrested. But it’s also really bad thing that we’re doing, I mean decades in jail for possession and stuff. I think there’s still going to be a problem in Colorado and places with maybe being too lax, but it’s also problems with destroying peoples’ lives with incarceration.”

Q: So you have several busy weekends coming up.

“Next weekend I’m in Utah, going to a Romney event in Utah. The Idaho state convention then the Iowa state convention. And they’re trying to get me to go to California after that the same weekend and I said I can’t do that.

“We’ve done quite a few state conventions: Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, Idaho, Iowa.”

Q: What’s the plan for the Romney meeting?

“He has an annual meeting and he invited me last year. It’s his circle of people that have been friends and/or donors. I think it was a couple hundred people last year. He’s got a strong connection to Utah as well. I think he has a home in Utah, I think it was in Park City last year.”

Q: If you’re going to the Iowa State Convention, you’re walking into a bit of a maelstrom in that some of your supporters have been booted, no?

“Yeah, I think some of that has been overplayed and we’re kind of glad it’s over with. The state chairman voluntarily stepped down, really tried to make it easier and to get some of the feelings to heal really. I think that’s helping. Some of our people didn’t run, some were beaten, but we really think it’s on the mend and on the upswing there.”

Q: When you say “our people,” how many people do you have in Iowa?

“It’s top secret. I’d have to kill you. No, I don’t know. Within the structure of it, they controlled the party for a couple of years. I don’t know if any of them are left on the central committee or any of them still will be. But that isn’t really that important to us. If I had to guess, I’d say we have several thousand activists that we communicate with on a frequent basis and that we talk to. The former state chairman is now helping us as far as organization there and he works for our leadership committee.”

Q: Looking at this week’s primary results, did you have any skin in the game?

“I wasn’t involved in either Iowa or Mississippi.”

Q: What do you make of Sen. Thad Cochran’s runoff?

“You know, it was a close race. That’s not news to you. I really didn’t know – that’s sort of what people were saying the polls would be. Runoffs are unpredictable. Enthusiasm tends to win runoffs, but I don’t know which way the enthusiasm is going in that race.”

Q: And you don’t plan to get involved?

“I probably won’t get involved. I haven’t gotten involved in as many primaries this year. We just decided not to from the very beginning. We’ve been involved in a few, but not very many.

Q: Joni Ernst seems to have done a remarkable thing by uniting everyone in Iowa.

“Yeah, she got people from the tea party, from the right, from the mainstream, from the establishment. A lot of people. That’s extraordinary to get in a race like that. To get 50 percent in a wide open race when it’s an open seat and there were at least probably four candidates that really ran campaigns – only two probably had any money. Her and the wealthy businessman.”

Q: How are things looking for Mitch McConnell in Kentucky?

“You know, I heard there was a poll the other day – I think it was a Rasmussen Poll – that he was up 48-41. So that’s encouraging. I’ve discovered from polls – and it takes awhile to discover this – that it really matters how many Democrats and Republicans you put into your formula.”

“You know, Democrats still are one and a half bigger than Republicans, but you have 20 percent of Democrats who haven’t voted for a Democrat in 20 years – for federal office. They might vote for their sheriff or for state office, but haven’t voted at the federal level for a long time.

“But I think it’s good news. I think he’ll solidify the party. People have hard feelings after a primary, but I think it dissipates over time. So I think the real key will be in about a month or two, when we get to the summer, are Republicans solidifying around him, is he still able to get 10, 20 percent of the Democrats to vote for him? We’ve been hurt very hard by the war on coal and these new regulations. It’s almost you would think an impossible position for his opponent to be in. most of her money is coming from people who are giving money to her because they’re very much for the president’s policy against coal. They’re from California, from Hollywood – that’s where a lot of her money is coming from.

“So, she’s in this weird position where she has these press conferences, or she very rarely talks to anybody and people are like, ‘Why won’t she talk to people?’ I don’t think it’s that she’s not capable, I think she’s afraid to speak. Because if she says she’s for coal and for Kentucky and for Kentucky jobs – which you think you need to be in order to win in Kentucky – then she’ll anger her left wing donors. And if she tries to please her left wing donors, she’ll get no votes.”

RELATED: Rand Paul on Alison Lundergan Grimes: ‘I think she’s afraid to speak’ on coal issue

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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