(CNN) — When I was elected to the Kentucky State Senate in 1967, I became the first woman and the first person of color to serve in the body. Five decades later, I find it almost unfathomable that a politician from my own state is attempting to launch his presidential campaign on a record that includes questioning landmark voting rights and civil rights legislation.
But that is what Rand Paul, who Tuesday declared he’s running for president of the United States, is doing. His campaign team told reporters last week that his campaign announcement message would be about “expanding the Republican Party” — a message of inclusion. But those of us listening today who he is hoping to include, heard nothing more than hype. I’m not buying it.
Since coming to the U.S. Senate, Paul has tried to sell himself as a different type of Republican. He’s tried to brand himself as the GOP’s minority outreach candidate. The problem for Paul, and the GOP at large, is that they don’t back up their words with their policies.
Can Paul escape his father’s shadow?
Yes, it’s about time that Republicans started seriously considering the fact that black voters are an important piece of the electoral puzzle. But they can’t actually appeal to the community unless they have a real commitment to the issues facing minority communities. A quick survey of Sen. Paul’s positions makes clear that he does not.
Paul kicked off his announcement speech in Louisville by declaring “I have a message that is loud and clear: We have come to take our country back.” I have no doubt that under Paul’s leadership, he would indeed take our country back — in the wrong direction — way back to a time when we were debating the Civil Rights Act — which Paul has done since landing on the national stage; when there was no Department of Education — a department he thinks “should be done away with;” when women didn’t have choices — choices Paul seeks to limit in Washington; when DREAMers weren’t protected from deportation — protections Paul currently opposes.
In his inept speaking engagements at historically black colleges and universities, he has come across as condescending and lacking basic cultural competency. But Paul has also questioned the Civil Rights Act, and even claimed that private business owners have a right to discriminate. When asked about the need for a more robust Voting Rights Act following the Supreme Court’s dismantling of the law, Paul dismissively remarked, “We have an African-American President.”
When President Obama stood with John Lewis and other veterans of the civil rights movement in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge last month to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, he inspired us all by saying: “With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity. … With effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge — and that is the right to vote.”
America is better — and we solve more problems — with more democracy, not less. Unfortunately Rand Paul has demonstrated that he disagree with that basic principle. Paul tried once again from that stage in Louisville to fashion himself as the one member of his party courageous enough to try to broaden Republican appeal to constituencies they ignore year after year. But his record makes it very clear that his views are outdated, outside of the mainstream, and disqualifying for a man who wants to lead our country.
The American people deserve a leader who won’t disrespect their intelligence, who won’t pander to them when it’s convenient, and who won’t work to dismantle the progress we have made over the last five decades. What I heard today, didn’t change the facts about Rand Paul’s record. The American people deserve better than Rand Paul.