Last weekend, I spent the better part of 36 hours following Rand Paul around New Hampshire. The three-day stretch was very activities-focused: I asked Paul about the rising cost of college tuition while he bowled in Manchester, talked about his push to give fetuses full rights under the 14th Amendment after he emptied the chamber of .357 Magnum in Dalton, and watched as he gave slightly modified versions of the same stump speech in towns from Contoocook to Ashland.
Over the course of the weekend, we talked about Americans' mounting student debt burdens, bipartisan momentum to reform the criminal justice system, and his departure from libertarian ethos—small government, pro-privacy—on the issue of reproductive health and abortion rights.
We'll share more from those conversations, but here's where we started: criminal justice reform and why the young conservatives who I spoke to—people who otherwise said they wanted nothing to do with the modern Republican party—like him.
In a gross dereliction of my reporterly duties, I failed to note Paul's final bowling score. I can tell you that he did manage to throw at least one strike, though.
Q: So, if we can start with sentencing reform. I know this has been a big issue for you. We just saw some action in the Senate after a long time of waiting for this bipartisan bill to come forward. Can you talk to me a little about that?
A: I think there’s a great need for criminal justice reform in our country, and I think we need to get away from the idea that incarceration is the answer for nonviolent drug crimes. I think we can save an extraordinary amount of money not putting people in jail, and I think some of that money can be spent on rehabilitation. But, really, I don’t think the answer is incarceration. And so I’ve been working with a lot of people across the aisle trying to figure out how we can reform our criminal justice system.
Q: Back [inside at the house party] you said that there is some opportunity for people from both parties who may not agree on every issue work together. I think criminal justice reform is certainly one of them.
A: Yeah, very much. I mean, Cory Booker and I worked together on this trying to expunge records, give kids a second chance who make a mistake, and even worked with Harry Reid on trying to restore voting rights. Patrick Leahy and I are trying to get rid of mandatory minimums.
Q: Is there anything kind of moving forward where you see more opportunity like that?
A: There is a bill that they’re talking about coming forward—a bipartisan bill. We’re looking at that. We’re also looking and hoping that there will be an allowance for amendments on the floor so we can even make it better.
Q: In terms of your experience on the trail so far, there’s a lot of momentum among young people for your campaign. What do you think it is about your campaign and kind of message you’re running on that’s working?
A: Kids, as they leave home, are looking for independence. They’re looking to be free. They want their independence and I think also most of their communications are on their cellphone. They don’t understand why the government should be collecting their phone records. They don’t understand why the government should put their friends in jail for marijuana. And they also don’t understand why the government would send them to foreign wars that don’t seem to have a purpose or make sense.