2016 prospect Rand Paul in new book: GOP willing to change

Published 9:12 am Thursday, May 21, 2015

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul reaches out in his most direct way yet to African Americans in a new book that highlights his libertarian policies on government surveillance, the economy and criminal justice reform.

“My party has let the bond it once enjoyed with minorities fray to the point that it is near beyond repair,” the Kentucky senator writes in “Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America,” set to be released later this month. He continued, “My Republican Party, the Republican Party I hope to lead to the White House, is willing to change.”

Paul, 52, has made reaching out to racial minorities a centerpiece of his political brand as he embarks on his 2016 campaign for president. More than a decade has passed since the Republican Party last won a presidential contest, due in part to the GOP’s struggle with minority voters, a growing segment of the population that has overwhelmingly favored Democrats in recent years.

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The new book, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, comes as Paul plays a starring role in the debate over government surveillance. He spent hours on the Senate floor Thursday protesting the planned extension of the Patriot Act, which includes a provision allowing the National Security Agency to collect bulk records of phone calls made by Americans.

Many Republicans support the surveillance program, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, whose description of Paul as a “wacko bird” is featured prominently on the book’s back cover.

In the book, Paul writes that such surveillance programs allowed the government to spy on prominent civil rights leaders in the past, most notably Martin Luther King Jr. He said he raised such concerns during a private meeting with then-Attorney General Eric Holder last February.

“Surveillance was used to try to cripple the civil rights movement. You would think this president above all others would be mindful of the potential for abuse in allowing so much power to gravitate to the NSA,” he wrote, referring to President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president. “Holder nodded his understanding but was noncommittal.”

He said he later challenged Holder more directly. “How could our first African American president condone pervasive spying on Americans?” Paul asked, to which he said Holder responded, “Let’s just say the administration’s position on the NSA is not monolithic.”

“He left it at that, which only left me with more questions,” Paul wrote. “Did the attorney general mean he was against the spying? If so, why was his voice falling on deaf ears?”

Holder, who recently left his position as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, did not respond to a request for comment about Paul’s description of the meeting.

Paul also criticizes former President George W. Bush for adopting the Patriot Act in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, charging that “because of President Bush’s overreach, the Bill of Rights protection of our privacy began to fall apart.” He adds that such protections have been further shredded by Obama.

Paul specifically notes that he doesn’t “ascribe bad motives to the president,” but that such broad surveillance powers have the capacity to corrupt.

“Power needs to be reined in, because we never know when a leader will arise who will use the power to target Jews, or blacks, or evangelical Christians, or the tea party, or any other minority,” he wrote.

Paul won praise from black leaders as one of the only members of Congress to visit Ferguson, Missouri, after an unarmed black man was shot to death by police last year. But he was widely criticized for his comments after racial violence erupted more recently in Baltimore, when he said in a television interview he was “glad the train didn’t stop” as he passed through the city.

Paul writes at length about his support for criminal justice reform, which includes ending mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders and restoring voting rights to nonviolent felons. He also opposes the use of military weapons by local police departments and supports the creation of economic freedom zones with low tax rates in depressed urban areas.

“Although I was born into the America that experiences and believes in opportunity, my trips to Ferguson and Detroit and Atlanta and Chicago have revealed to me an undercurrent of unease,” he wrote. “I want to be part of a united America in which every child, rich or poor, black or white, truly believes that they have a chance at the American Dream.”