The Right Wing

No, We Can't Trust Rand Paul on Race Issues, Says Civil Right's Pioneer

"I would say that he is the great pretender."

Civil Rights pioneer and former Kentucky state Sen. Georgia Davis Powers.

Editor’s note: Georgia Davis Powers, 91, has spent her life in the civil rights movement. She was a friend and confidante of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1967, she was the first woman and person of color elected to the Kentucky state Senate, where she served for 21 years. Powers wrote an op-ed for the Louisville Corrier-Journal, “Don’t Be Fooled By Rand Paul,” in response to the U.S. senator and 2016 Republican presidential candidate’s efforts to cultivate black voters.

Steven Rosenfeld: I understand that Rand Paul opened a campaign office in the African-American section of Louisville, and spoke about racial justice at the National Urban League’s conference. You’re saying don’t be fooled. Why?

Georgia Davis Powers: I have been involved in politics for the past 50 years. I go by a person’s record. And his voting record does not show me that he is sincere. And I believe that he’s reaching out into the African-American community trying to bring more votes for himself and his party, but understand that our trust has to be earned. And he has not proven to me that he has earned the trust of the African-American community. I look at his record and he has been opposed to so many things that I have fought for, for years, having served in the Kentucky Senate for 21 years. I know your record is your legacy.

SR: What is that record that people need to know about?

GDP: Some of his actions. He opposes the minimum wage, which I support. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, take healthcare away from 421,000 Kentuckians. He wants to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. And he opposes the Paycheck Fairness Act, which ensures that men and women are paid equally for equal work. I have been fighting for that for many many years. He voted against the Violence Against Women Act. And he opposes lowering interest rates on student loan borrowers, which I support. His record to me belies trusting him now.

SR: Behind one’s voting record are one’s beliefs. What does Rand Paul believe?

GDP: I would say that he is the great pretender. His belief system to me is a farce. I do not believe that he is sincere. I believe that he has a motive for delving into the black community, to convince black Americans that he is sincere. He must earn our trust. We don’t give it freely.

SR: You’ve said Rand Paul supports the rights of businesses to discriminate. Why is this so disturbing?

GDP: I think if you are in government, in business, you are opening up your business to all people. When he believes that private businesses should have the right to discriminate to who comes in their business, that’s in opposition to what I think. He thinks it would be right for a restaurant to discriminate against Dr. Martin Luther King.

SR: There’s a new line in the Republican Party. We hear it from Rand Paul. We hear it from the Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, that race doesn’t matter anymore, that as a nation, we are beyond having to pay attention to race.

GDP: That’s not what I think. I think that race does matter. It seems like the conservatives have taken over and race matters in many of the issues that come about. They make it matter. The Supreme Court has made it matter.  

SR: What does it make you think when hear a politician saying that now?

GDP: I have lived in the black community and I have never moved out from the black community. I know opportunities are not as great in the black community as they could be and should be. Educational opportunities are not as great as they should be. Our children are not given the advantages that other children of other races are given. I know about Kentucky, and I’m sure other states are not too different. Our children do not have the opportunities that other races have. And once given the opportunity, we can be as bright and great as anybody else. So there is a difference. I see the difference every day.

It seems like to me there’s certain areas that are trying to take the African American back 50 years ago. We’re not going back. We’re not going to let it happen. So we have to expose those who are pretending to be our friend; at the same time, they are trying to diminish our influence, diminish our employment, our educational opportunity. I just can’t trust it.

SR: Rand Paul is a leading 2016 presidential candidate. What would you remind people to take a hard look at when they see his name in the polls?

GDP: I am urging people to vote against him—that’s what I would be doing. And you know there also is an opinion [commentary] by the mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, have you seen that opinion, Blacks Shouldn’t Be Fooled By Rand Paul? She’s also the Secretary of the Democratic National Committee. So she feels the same way that I do. I read her opinion in the last couple of days.

It’s not just me. There are many people in positions who speak out. They know, or they feel like they know, Rand Raul’s views, and his actions. It doesn’t matter what he runs for, senate or president or whatever, he cannot win my trust. I go by what he’s done in the past.

SR: You wrote some of the people he has surrounded himself with are white supremacists. There’s really not a nice way to say that.

GDP: They are. There is no other way to say it. As a matter of fact, the day after my article was in the Courrier-Journal, the very next day his article, opposing my article, was there. He didn’t refute anything that was in my opinion piece. I don’t think he even wrote it. I understand somebody else did. But it did not deny anything I said. That tells you a lot right there.

SR: You’re correct. He did not deny anything. He says ‘I’m a good guy now.”

GDP: Yeah... a leopard does not change its spots.  

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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