In an ongoing effort to court the emerging majorities of Black and Latino voters, the Republican party dispatched Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to speak in Detroit at the grand opening of their local "African American Engagement” office. The Republican party plans to open similar offices in cities nationwide and Detroit was simply the first to get a taste of what the Republican party has to offer after they failed miserably to make headway at the ballot box with communities of color in the most recent election cycles.
In his remarks, Senator Paul fared far better than his previous attempts to reach out to Black voters—especially his abysmal speech at Howard University, which was deemed condescending by most observers, as the senator seemed to be trying to teach HBCU crowd a lesson in the Republican party’s history with Black voters. Unsurprisingly, that didn't go over so well.
Senator Paul told EBONY.com that he is not just talk when it comes to the War on Drugs and the disparities of the criminal justice system, claiming he's willing to put his name on legislation and proposals that would work to “get rid of some of the overly zealous” drug enforcement laws which put offenders in prison for long mandatory minimum sentences.
“I co-authored legislation with Senator Patrick Leahy to address the problem of mandatory minimums. I plan on testifying before a Senate committee this spring that will address the restoration of federal voting rights,” says Paul.
The senator has also touted the idea of flat taxes for areas with high unemployment and decreased regulation. “[Republicans] don’t do well in big cities in general and that’s why I was there in Detroit to talk about economic freedom zones.” Economic freedom zones, in Senator Paul’s vision, mirror the Republican party’s messaging the past generation, defined by cutting taxes and shrinking the size of government. “[And] it’s not based on the color of your skin but on your economic position.”
Progressive blogger Chris Savage, who attended Senator Paul’s events in Detroit, is very skeptical of Senator Paul’s message. He tells EBONY.com, “Detroit is a city where over one-third of its residents are below the poverty line and where unemployment is approaching 20%. What's keeping businesses from setting up shop and investing in Detroit – things that would actually create jobs – is not that taxes are too high. It's that the city's infrastructure is crumbling, the crime rate is very high, and the schools are in dire straits…Investments in infrastructure, in small businesses run by Detroit residents, and in education along with eradicating blight are keys to bringing Detroit back from its current crisis.”
There is no question that the Republican party has a huge problem with race and with the emerging majority of Black and brown voters, the GOP must finally realize that in order to have any chance of winning national elections in the future, they need to repair the relationship their party has with people of color, women, and low income workers. That is going to be a very heavy lift and since the 2008 and 2012 election losses they’ve attempted to soul search to make their tent broader. Time will tell whether Senator Paul’s rhetoric will evolve into substantive policy changes, that has a chance to pass the Republican led House of Representatives and that actually impacts the lives of the citizens the Republican party is trying to court.
Black voters are loyal to the Democratic party, but that's not just because of soaring speeches and rhetoric that sounds good. Policy and policy change have been critical to our stance. President Barack Obama is known for his inspiring speeches, but Obamacare will be his true legacy and communities of color were the most likely to be uninsured before it came into fruition. Ironically, it’s Senator Paul’s own state of Kentucky that is among Obamacare’s greatest success stories at this early stage, due to the Democratic governor Steve Beshear's willingness to expand Medicaid for his citizens and implement the law with a state -exchange.
The problem for Republicans is that Senator Paul’s rhetoric doesn’t match how the party operates in reality. If the GOP really wants the votes from people in the groups who are the most likely uninsured, their opposition to the health care law and their refusal to put forth a serious and detailed alternative plan stand out as a key substantive policy difference between the parties that puts communities of color on the side of Democrats.
“We haven’t done well with Black voters because we haven’t tried. My focus on individual rights and abuses in the criminal justice system resonates with Black voters. They go hand and hand with a libertarian perspective,” says Paul.
Senator Paul and the GOP have their work cut out for them and while his speech in Detroit was better received than previous remarks targeted at Black voters, many still remain skeptical. “As much as Rand Paul and his Libertarian colleagues would like to believe that tax cuts are the universal panacea for every problem in our country, they are dead wrong about how to return the Motor City to being a vibrant, livable city that attracts investment and residents," says Savage."
"Rand Paul spoke eloquently about the disparate impact the War on Drugs is having on the Black community. However, if the Republican Party wants to engage Black people in Detroit, a good place to start would be by actually supporting initiatives that would help Detroiters rather than just talking about them."
Will Paul's talk translate into action in Detroit and beyond? We won't hold our breath.