A speech by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Friday night (Jan. 31) in Hot Springs seemed less like a pep talk to Arkansas Republicans and more like the first of many stump speeches the freshman Senator could make should he jump into the 2016 presidential race.
It was a possibility the candidate addressed head on when asked about it during a question and answer session following his speech, saying that he was in discussions with his family about a run.
"I've jokingly said there are two votes in my household, my wife has both of them and both of them are a no right now. But there's a little truth to that in that my wife and I are a team. We're a family. We do take our family very seriously, whether or not we can withstand the onslaught of what is involved in this. …I don't mind taking body blows from the media, but I don't like when my family is attacked or included. So that is a difficult decision. It is a lot of time away from family."
While Paul said he understood the personal sacrifice he and his family would have to make for a run, he is also keenly aware that he is an oft-discussed candidate who could come into the race with real name ID.
"I do recognize that I am in a position where I could stand a chance, though, so we really are seriously considering it. I also think that if we do the same thing we've always done, we're not going to win. It has to be different. It has to have a different twist."
The different twist was laid out in a nearly 30 minute speech in which Paul outlined his reason for attempting to block increased government spending, laid out new tax policy proposals, addressed income inequality and changing laws relating to drug use.
On the issue of drug use, the freshman Senator from Kentucky said the current set of laws dealing with narcotics had unfairly targeted minorities.
"I personally think criminal justice, particularly the war on drugs in our country, has unfairly treated some people — particularly African-Americans and Hispanics. I'm not saying let's get rid of the drug laws. I'm saying let's get rid of the racial outcome of the drug laws."
Paul cited unsourced statistics, where he said teens, when asked, would admit to drug use nearly fifty percent of the time — a number that held steady for both whites and African-Americans. But the current population of those incarcerated for drug-related crimes is disproportionate, he said.
"But you know what? If you look at who's in prison for these drug crimes, three out of four people in prison are black or Hispanic."
Paul proposed lessening penalties for first time offenders, namely teens and young adults, as well as allowing convicted criminals who have served their time for drug-related offenses to eventually regain their right to vote and contribute in a meaningful way to society.
"I'm not saying encourage it. But let's be the party that's open to having a more just solution for these kids."
In addressing income inequality and tax policy, Paul said the Republican Party would "have to be the party of the middle class and for the middle class." In order to do so, he proposed so-called Economic Freedom Zones, a proposal that would drastically lower tax rates in impoverished areas, leaving that money in the local economy with the hope that it will be used to spur economic growth.
Paul said the perfect example of where one of these zones could work would be Detroit, the largest municipal government in the United States to ever file bankruptcy.
"What it does is it allows people to bail themselves out. Instead of taking money from Little Rock, or Hot Springs, or from Arkansas, or from Houston or Louisville and sending it to Detroit, we just simply let Detroit keep more of their own money. If you do this — and I'm not talking about halfway, I'm not talking about government grants ... I'm talking about dramatically lowering taxes almost to zero in places that are blighted — if you do it in Detroit, it's $1.3 billion over ten years."
The figure, he said, was in addition to any local property, income and sales taxes the municipality may take in.
He said such policies were good for the economy and would go further in alleviating poverty than government assistance programs, such as SNAP (food stamps).
"But we need to step up and be for something. Let's be for alleviating poverty and long-term unemployment."
The evening also featured Paul railing against what he labeled excess government spending, highlighting such perceived wasteful spending as a program designing menus for individuals who could one day live on Mars, a treadmill for shrimp and excess spending on certain programs pertaining to the Department of Homeland Security.
One comment, while a punch line in Arkansas, could surely ruffle feathers should he run for President and campaign in North Dakota.
"We sent $8 million for security to Fargo, North Dakota, and I say, 'You know what? If the terrorists get to Fargo, we might as well just give up.'"
Paul said he was highlighting wasteful spending on all levels, saying that instead of spending money on $500 toilet seats in the military, that money should go to pay service members a living wage.
The speech was already drawing Republican condemnation even before Paul took the stage, with the Democratic Party of Arkansas holding a press conference early Friday criticizing what it said were Paul and Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton's extreme voting record, pointing to Cotton's recent vote against the farm bill. Cotton, a Republican from Dardanelle representing Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District, is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
"Farming is the largest industry in Arkansas. It's directly responsible for one in six jobs in Arkansas," said DPA Executive Director Candace Martin. "How Congressman Cotton can justify voting against the hundreds of farmers and their families, I guess I'll just never understand that."
Cotton responded to the criticism of his farm bill vote following Paul's speech, saying that it included what he called too much wasteful spending.
"Look, I listened to Arkansas farmers. About two-thirds of them are cattleman, poultry producers, swine producers, they opposed this legislation in large part because it poses unfair regulations and trade barriers on them. It's going to hurt a lot of crop producers, as well, when Canada and Mexico retaliate against us. But generally, as I learned growing up on a farm in Yell County, farmers know you can't keep spending more money than you take in. This legislation spends nearly a trillion dollars and Arkansas farmers only get one-half of one percent benefit from that, in part because it's 80% food stamps."
Cotton said training programs and other programs should be requirements for anyone receiving nutritional assistance through programs like SNAP.
Republican Party of Arkansas Spokesperson Holly Wilson said Friday's event was not expected to bank the party any additional funds, but instead would break even. The event was previously scheduled for December, but was re-scheduled due to inclement weather.
The weekend's events continue Saturday (Feb. 1) when the RPA will hold its Winter state committee meeting at the Arlington Hotel, beginning at 10 a.m.