Black History Month is over, but Republican outreach to African-American voters is only just beginning.
Don’t expect these overtures to have much success, writes Peter Beinart. The party’s effort to court black voters “coincides with a GOP push to decrease the number of blacks who vote at all.” He cites Republican “views on early voting, voter ID, and the voting rights of ex-prisoners.”
Days after Beinart’s column appeared, Republican Sen. Rand Paul returned home to Kentucky to testify in support of restoring voting rights to some non-violent felons. Paul had praised a House committee for advancing the voting rights measure in January.
“I applaud the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee for passing House Bill 70, a constitutional amendment which would restore the right to vote for non-violent felons,” Paul said in a statement. “A government of, by and for the people is only possible with a free right to vote.”
On one of his next trips back to Kentucky, Paul celebrated the accreditation of a historically black college in Louisville. “Simmons College has a rich history that stretches over a hundred years,” he said. “I’m proud of the graduates who have fought for advancement, equality and for really the only justice that can’t be denied, and that’s education.”
Around this time, the NAACP expressed interest in Paul’s “Economic Freedom Zones” proposal. “We’d love to talk with him about it and work with him on it,” the civil rights group’s interim president said on C-SPAN.
Paul’s idea was to attract private investment to Detroit and similar urban areas, “enterprise zones on steroids.” He also advocated school choice, a fairer criminal justice system and reforming mandatory minimum sentences.
When other Republicans criticized Attorney General Eric Holder’s initiative to address racial disparities in drug sentencing, Paul joined Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in voting for the Smarter Sentencing Act.
Is there a Republican doing more to change the party’s image — and solve government-created problems — in communities of color than Rand Paul? The question is sure to elicit dismissive eye rolls.
But at some point, doesn’t what Paul is doing in 2014 matter more than what Murray Rothbard (who died in 1995) thought about the Civil War decades ago? Does the impolitic observation that a civil rights law Paul supports has costs as well as benefits outweigh actions to ameliorate the costs of the war on drugs?
Conservative Republicans have cared about these issues — and courted black voters — before. The Christian right has a longstanding interest in prison reform. Mainstream conservatives have pushed school choice since the Reagan years, when Jack Kemp was already selling enterprise zones. William F. Buckley Jr. went further than Paul has yet on drug legalization.