Blacks Shouldn’t Be Fooled by Rand Paul, an editorial from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced the day Republican Sen. Rand Paul spoke to the National Urban League in Cincinnati. And the room wasn’t even full.
On July 8, the Democratic National Committee’s chief flak Mo Elleithee led a conference call with black reporters after Sen. Paul reportedly said, “I don’t think there’s anybody in Congress doing more for minority rights than I am right now.”
While that statement was a bit much, Sen. Paul has been doing more than dropping names of Black civil rights legends. Paul has been pushing legislation on justice reform that many Democrats who get over 80% of the black vote aren’t even bothering to co-sponsor, much less author.
In a town where mindless opposition against President Obama is practically Republican policy and gridlock is king, shouldn’t it be a good thing when a Republican reaches out to Blacks and talks policy and not just platitudes?
The DNC has other ideas on that.
“Rand Paul falsely claims he supports civil and voting rights,” read the subject line of a DNC e-mail on July 25 that left out the justice reform issue. “Paul yet again falsely claimed he is a champion of the African American community,” the e-mail continued. Clearly 2016 is now.
But will Hillary Clinton support reforms that roll back the war on drugs that her husband advanced with the 1994 Clinton Crime bill? That law spiked incarceration and policies that helped make the U.S. world’s leading incarcerator. Will Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) move any of the justice reform bills?
While Democrats fret about Sen. Paul them may want to check their own record given that support in black and brown communities is connected to issues disproportionately affecting them. Currently many Senate Democrats who are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee at a time when Attorney General Eric Holder is pushing justice reform, are not supporting leading bills on justice reform, including:
Justice Safety Valve Act (S.619) — Introduced 3/20/13. Gives judges more sentencing power over mandatory minimums. Chair Pat Leahy is only co-sponsor. No other Senate Judiciary Democrats are sponsors yet Sen. Rand Paul is.
REDEEM Act (S.2567) — Introduced July 8, has no co-sponsors.
Smarter Sentencing Act (S.1410) — Introduced 7/31/13. Even though 28 Senators including Tea Party Republicans Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Ron Johnson are co-sponsors, Democrats Schumer, Landrieu, Warner, Feinstein aren’t.
Sen. Paul’s focus on the impact of justice policy on communities of color is rare to hear from a Republican. But much of what Paul says would be rare to hear from Senate Democrats. When was the last time you heard Dianne Feinstein quote Malcolm X? During a roundtable with Black reporters and 14 Senate Democrats on June 18, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) bristled at the suggestion that Sen. Paul should get credit on mandatory minimums. But Schumer also refused to say he was against them.
“I say it’s time to restore sanity to in sentencing by ending mandatory minimums now,” Sen. Rand Paul said in a speech to the National Urban League in Ohio on July 25.
For years mandatory minimum sentencing has proven to be expensive and ineffective. Mandatory minimum cases like Marissa Alexander (60 years for shooting drywall?), Plaxico Burress (3 yrs for shooting himself in the leg), Clarence Aaron (conspiracy to possess crack, life sentence, first offense) come and go in the news. Had Aaron not been pardoned by President Obama he would still be one of the most outrageous examples of mandatory minimum sentencing.
On mandatory sentencing, some Democrats appear to be channeling their inner Nelson Rockefeller — wanting to appear tough on crime even if means embracing failed policy. Even though studies have shown that mandatory minimums have been applied in a racially biased way, Senate Democrats Sheldon Whitehouse, Schumer and Feinstein have continued supporting them. Over in the House, Judiciary Committee on July 17, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) joined Republican Lamar Smith on ID theft legislation that included two new mandatory minimums.
And that the failed policy they support has adversely effected a major Democratic voting block for over 25 years heightens the irony. The Justice Safety Valve Act Sen. Paul is sponsoring with Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has only 6 co-sponsors in the Senate.
Senate Democrats Schumer, Feinstein, and Dick Durbin aren’t co-sponsors on the, Justice Safety Valve Act or the REDEEM Act. On the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410) there are 20 Democrats (no Schumer, Warner, Landrieu, Hagan or Feinstein…), 6 Republicans and 2 Independent co-sponsors. But in an ironic twist, two new mandatory minimums were added to that legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Durbin, by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. The result: A bill to reduce mandatory minimums added two new ones.
Will Sen. Paul continue to turn the corner of Senate Democrats on justice reform? If ever the phrase, “no permanent enemies only permanent interests,” means something that time is now.