The Kentucky Republican, a likely presidential candidate, has long argued that drug laws disproportionately affect minorities and has also championed restoring voting rights for some non-violent felons. He laid out those views in a speech at the Liberty PAC conference, a gathering tied to his father, libertarian icon Ron Paul. "So many times, Republicans are seen as this party of, 'We don't want black people to vote because they're voting Democrat, we don't want Hispanic people to vote because they're voting Democrat,'" he said. "We wonder why the Republican Party is so small. Why don't we be the party that's for people voting, for voting rights?"
Once in a while, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) sounds progressive notes on voting rights. It's the substantive follow-through that's the problem. Katie Glueck reported last week that Kentucky Republican "blasted his own party for making it tougher for minorities to vote."
If my email inbox is any indication, Paul's supporters believe the senator deserves more credit for making remarks like these, and to a degree, they have a point. With so many Republican policymakers nationwide continuing to impose harsh and unnecessary restrictions on voting rights, unlike anything Americans have seen since the Jim Crow era, Paul's rhetoric is a welcome change of pace.
But rhetoric only goes so far. Paul also happens to be a U.S. senator, where he can write bills, propose policies, and co-sponsor legislation on anything he chooses.
Why doesn't the Republican Party become the party that champions voting rights? It's a good question. But the good follow-up question is, why doesn't Rand Paul do actual work on the problem?
In July, for example, the Kentucky senator boasted, "I'm a Republican who wants to restore a federal role for the government in the Voting Rights Act." Terrific. But there's a bipartisan legislative proposal to repair the Voting Rights Act following last year's Supreme Court ruling, and as of this morning, Paul has neither signed on as a co-sponsor nor introduced an alternative.
Complicating matters, Paul is also largely on board with the substance of his party's voter-suppression agenda, including voter-ID laws that disproportionately affect minority voters.
"We wonder why the Republican Party is so small"? I suppose we do. It might have something to do with the fact that the Senate GOP's most enthusiastic supporter of voting rights hasn't done anything but talk about his affection for voting rights.