Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky, seems to be making a lot of sense these days. His frequent speaking engagements also lend credibility to the rumors that he will be running for president in 2016.
However, his current message on criminal justice issues is a little surprising. It is actually pleasantly surprising.
Paul is championing the restoration of voting rights to felons and wants to ease sentencing of nonviolent drug offenders.
Sen. Paul is sponsoring a bill that would allow non-violent felons to regain their voting rights after serving time. He also wants to downgrade some non-violent drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors to make it easier for those offenders to get jobs when they get out of jail.
In a recent interview, Paul said, “The biggest impediment to both voting and getting a job is having a criminal record.” He is right.
At a Senate hearing earlier this year on his bill, Paul said some drug offenders “are people who just made youthful mistakes.”
This Goldwater libertarian philosophy may win over other Republican voters and even Democrats who approve of his outreach at a time when the electorate is become increasingly diverse. “People will be paying attention who think the Republican Party needs to grow and evolve and speak to a broader audience, and if you can’t do that you can’t be a leader of a national party,” said Doug Stafford, Mr. Paul’s top political adviser. “Mr. Stafford is also correct. Ronald Reagan proved that the “big tent approach” could be overwhelmingly successful.
Some of Rand Paul’s potential rivals in 2016, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have also talked about easing sentences on drug offenders and emphasizing treatment programs. But on the issues of allowing felons to vote again, Paul has little company among potential 2016 candidates. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have both defended the state’s rules stripping felons of their right to vote without a pardon from the governor.
I believe that Rand Paul is dead on correct regarding both of these issues. I also believe that they are truly conservative approaches.
The voting rights issue is logical. This is a constitutional republic. The only way for this country to properly operate is to have a population with a robust history of voting for the men and women who represent them in Washington, the states, and locally.
My only concern regarding the voting rights issue is the lack of understanding that some people have about the meaning and importance of the Constitution. Perhaps a stronger Constitutional educational approach at younger ages would help to address this problem.
Felony convictions currently prevent people from voting. In Georgia, felonies range from murder to possessing more than an ounce of marijuana. I can understand the view that people convicted of some serious violent felonies should not be able to vote. However, it makes no sense to prevent a person who was convicted of possessing a small amount of cocaine from ever voting again in their lifetime.
The primary purpose of our criminal justice system is to punish people when they commit a crime. When a person has completed a prison or probation sentence, they have “paid their debt to society.” Why should they be prevented from exercising the most basic and fundamental right that we have as Americans for the rest of their lives?
The sentencing issue is also logical and has already been championed by many of the states, including Georgia. As I have mentioned in previous columns, Gov. Deal ourageously lead the effort in Georgia to increase the number of drug courts, decrease the sentencing ranges for low level drug offenders, and advocated for drug treatment instead of incarceration for drug addicts.
Drug traffickers are still appropriately punished severely.
Other states have noticed the success in Georgia and have followed our example.
I don’t agree with all of Rand Paul’s political positions. But, his western libertarian philosophy resonates with me and millions of other people in America.
Keep an eye on Sen. Paul over the next few months. I expect to see his momentum roll ahead into 2016.