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Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul speaks during the inaugural Freedom Summit meeting for conservative speakers in Manchester, N.H., April 12, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson) Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul speaks during the inaugural Freedom Summit meeting for conservative speakers in Manchester, N.H., April 12, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)  

Rand Paul Touts Education, Prison Reform To Black Audience

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul outlined his views on education reform in a speech to the National Urban League in Cincinnati Friday.

The National Urban League is a political advocacy group focused on issues of importance to black Americans in cities, such as racial discrimination and gun violence. While speaking before the group, Paul attempted to show issues on which the Republican senator could find common ground with black Americans.

One such issue, Paul said, was education, where he championed an aggressive reform agenda based on local control and school choice in the form of vouchers, charter schools, and more.

“Washington has no clue how to fix education,” Paul said.

Various national polls have indicated that African Americans are broadly supportive of charter schools and other choice-based education reforms, despite significant opposition from the wider Democratic Party.

Paul at one point took an indirect shot at President Obama for sending his own children to top private schools while school choice is not universally available and many schools remain “dropout factories.”

“My kids went to great public schools. I went to great public schools. The president’s kids go to great private schools,” Paul said.

In addition to school choice, Paul advocated for major changes in American criminal justice, which Paul said often unfairly punishes black Americans who he said could face arrest for “offenses” such as “waiting while being black.”

“Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice, he’s just not paying close attention,” Paul said to an applauding, but sparse, audience. The auditorium was less than half full for Paul’s early morning address.

Paul cited statistics that indicate three-fourths of all individuals imprisoned for non-violent offenses are non-white, even though research suggests minorities are no more likely to use illegal drugs than whites. He pushed for specific reforms such as reforming drug laws to eliminate sentencing disparities between whites and blacks, and restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentence.

Paul’s speech was the latest of numerous efforts to reach out to black voters across the country, seeking to make inroads into what has been an almost exclusively Democratic constituency for decades. Last year, for instance, he delivered a speech at historically-black Howard University.

Such efforts could be laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential run. No Republican has won more than 15 percent of the black vote in over 50 years, and Mitt Romney won a scant 6 percent in 2012.

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