Sen. Rand Paul (R-K.Y.) continued his quest to expand the Republican Party's inclusiveness on Friday with a bipartisan speech to the National Urban League in Cincinnati, where he pressed for fairer treatment of minorities in criminal justice and education. He suggested that “race still plays a role in the enforcement of the law” and argued more needs to be done to ensure minorities receive fair sentencing.
“Three out of four people in prison right now for non-violent crimes are black or brown. Our prisons are bursting with young men of color and our communities are full of broken families,” said Paul. “Yet studies show that white kids use illegal drugs just as much as African Americans or Hispanics.” As to why the problem still exists, Paul believes "it’s easier to arrest and convict poor kids in urban environments.”
Highlighting some inconsistencies in drug sentencing, Paul announced he would introduce legislation to eliminate “any disparity” between crack and powder cocaine. As part of “rethinking the entire war on drugs”, he also called for an end to mandatory minimums for those incarcerated for non-violent crimes.
Last year, Paul appeared before a Howard University audience in his ""third way" campaign to broaden the appeal of the Republican party. His address to the National Urban League was given in a similar vein, laying the groundwork for a much-rumored 2016 presidential bid.
The GOP has an increasing problem with its support among African Americans. In the 2012 presidential election, 6% of African Americans voted for Mitt Romney compared to 93% for Barack Obama. In every presidential election since 1972, Democratic candidates have garnered at least eight in 10 black votes.
In his speech Friday, Paul also touched upon the NSA’s phone spying scandal, telling the audience “what Americans do on their cell phone is none of the government’s damn business.”
Discussing unemployment for African Americans, Paul said “black unemployment is twice white unemployment.” He took a swipe at President Obama for not having the right policies to tackle the problem. “This is why we need to talk about policies, not caring. I think there are people in both parties who care,” he said.
Revealing some of his libertarian credentials, Paul argued that “the government doesn't get to choose who gets the money. You do.” He proposed a ten-year plan to help areas with high unemployment and poverty to “lower taxes and promote employment.” Citing Detroit, Paul said his plan would leave $1.3 billion in the city over 10 years. By creating a "fiscal stimulus that works for everyone...a stimulus that leaves money in the local economy", Paul believes that the money should not come from Washington. Instead, his plan is about "allowing money to stay at home". Paul said creating a plan for boosting employment was key to the country's future. “For American to thrive, Americans need to have meaningful jobs again,” he said.
Paul also said that “education is the great equalizer but all schools aren't equal.” Suggesting that more options are needed through school charters, vouchers and competition — which “breeds excellence and encourages innovation” — Paul argued the status quo is “unacceptable, but Washington has no clue how to fix education”.
Throughout the speech, Paul was keen to distance himself from Washington and the political parties. There was no direct mention of the Republican or Democratic parties and President Obama did not receive a direct name check. “I hope we can work together to find some new solutions," he said.