Rand Paul favors faith-based approach over federal funding to fight drugs

08/23/2010 08:37 PM

(UPDATED WITH VIDEO REPORT) DIXON — In a rare press conference, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul on Monday sought to quell criticism about statements he made about the severity of the illegal and prescription drug abuse and clarify his position on how best to address the issue.

“We all understand it’s a problem,” Paul told reporters before touring a faith-based drug treatment facility for men in western Kentucky. “I wanted to come here today to learn.”

Paul, whose campaign has seldom notified the media about campaign events this summer, took questions from reporters for about 15 minutes about the drug issue, which has come to dominate the U.S. Senate race of late. Earlier in the day, his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway, attended a round-table meeting with law enforcement officials to highlight the drug problem on the other side of the state in Wolfe County on Monday.

Hopkins County Attorney Todd P’Pool invited Paul to tour the Wingshadow Lodge of Western Kentucky Teen Challenge – which is between Dixon and Sebree — after reading press coverage of the drug issue in the U.S. Senate race.

Paul was quoted in an Associated Press article earlier this month saying that drug abuse was not “a pressing issue.” But he has said those remarks were taken out of context and he was specifically referring to reforms in the judicial system regarding drug offenses – not the epidemic of illegal or prescription drug abuse.

“When we saw that the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky was going to begin talking about the drug issue, I extended an invitation to my friend Rand Paul and I said Dr. Paul will you come to western Kentucky … and see what we do here, and see what a local community can do with no cost to the taxpayers,” said P’Pool, the first Republican official elected in that county.

The issue appears to have sapped some of Paul’s momentum. A cn|2 Poll last week showed the race between Paul and Conway tied after Paul led by 9 points earlier in the month. Conway gained the most support in western and eastern Kentucky between those to surveys. Both areas have been hit hard by the epidemic of drug abuse.

Paul said he liked the approach of the Wingshadow Lodge, which opened in western Kentucky in 2007 and opened its current facility across from a golf course last year. The students, of which there are 14 men now, work on the golf course as part of their routine during treatment. The effort is funded through charitable contributions and churches of many faiths.

“I like the fact that faith is involved, that religion – Christianity — is involved, and I’m not embarrassed to say so,” Paul told reporters. “ You have to have innovative local solutions to problems.”

That has remained the crux of his position on the drug issue. He said local resources – taxes and donations – should be used to provide treatment for people in their communities. But he questioned why federal dollars are necessary.

Operation UNITE — a federally-funded program in Eastern Kentucky – has become a flashpoint in this debate. The program has been largely paid for through money tagged during the congressional budget process by Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset. Operation UNITE coordinates law enforcement agencies for drug busts and undercover stings and helps provide treatment for addicts.

Paul has said he doesn’t favor using federal money that way. And he didn’t back away from that view on Monday.

“Right now we send money to Washington that comes back to us after it circulates through the Washington bureaucracy. Maybe if we weren’t sending so much to Washington, we’d have more in Kentucky,” Paul said.

Paul also said he takes issue with a program that’s created specifically for one congressional district. However, P’Pool later jumped in to clarify that he sometimes uses Operation UNITE as a resource in Hopkins County.

Still, Paul stopped short of calling for the end of federal funding for Operation UNITE. Instead, he said what he’s opposed to is using earmarks to obtain the funding for it. And said that he would welcome an open debate in congressional budget hearings over the merits of using federal tax dollars to fund the program.

“I’m opposed to earmarks,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I won’t fight for things for Kentucky. I’ve told people I’m going to fight for things for Kentucky within the context of a balanced budget and within the context of the committee process. “

Conway, meanwhile, said Paul “just doesn’t get it” when it comes to the scope and severity of the drug problem and the resources fighting it requires, as Roger Alford of the Associated Press reported. And Conway and law enforcement officials spent much of the meeting highlighting the chain of crime and strain of state resources the drug epidemic causes, WYMT in Hazard reported.

Paul said Conway is using the issue for political purposes and “pandering” for votes.

“I’d say he’s out of touch,” Paul said.

- Ryan Alessi

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