Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) campaigns at the Kent County Republican headquarters in Grand Rapids on Monday, May 4, 2015. Paul delivered a speech to a crowded room of about 300 people. Dale G. Young, The Detroit News
Grand Rapids — GOP presidential hopeful Rand Paul delivered a speech Monday heavy on support for individual rights and social justice designed to separate him from other Republican contenders in an appearance with U.S. Rep. Justin Amash that drew about 300 western Michigan GOP members.
"Justice should be equal regardless of the color of your skin," said Paul, whose speech at the Kent County GOP headquarters was arranged by U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a maverick libertarian Republican from Cascade Township. He described Amash, who officially endorsed his presidential bid, as a "leader of the next generation of liberty lovers in Washington ... and a fellow wacko-bird."
The wacko-bird label referenced the way U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, once tabbed Paul, Amash and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas over a filibuster of then-new Central Intelligence Agency Director John O. Brennan over the nation's drone policy in 2013. Paul said the label evidently is being applied to conservatives like himself and Amash, who are "for the whole Bill of Rights" and not just the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Without making a direct mention of any of the three other Republican presidential hopefuls descending on Michigan early this week, Paul said it's been a "tough" state for his party to carry in presidential elections since 1988.
"To win again, we have to be bigger and better and bolder," he said, touching on rights to privacy, speedy trials and from unreasonable search and seizure by the government.
"I've got news for the government: Verizon is not a person," he said in a popular applause line about national security agencies' gathering of phone call and Internet data to watch for terrorist plots.
"I'll stop it by executive order" as president, Paul said. "The government has no business in your business and no business in your church, and I will fight to keep it out of it."
He railed against long pre-trial detentions of criminal defendants and said government agencies shouldn't be able to seize anyone's property before they've been convicted of something. Both problems represent examples of the country's drift away from the Bill of Rights and affect all Americans but fall most heavily on minorities and poor people who least can defend themselves against it, Paul said.
He called for broad-based tax cuts for all Americans, a reduction in business taxes to discourage major corporations from moving financial assets overseas, a law to give the U.S. House final oversight on federal rule-making that ensues following new legislation such as the Affordable Care Act and, if necessary, a federal balanced budget amendment.
"We have to hold the line," Paul said. "If we can't hold the line, I'm afraid the whole thing is going to unravel."
The message rang true for Jerry Midkiff of Delton, a retired independent insurance agent who calls himself a "born and bred Libertarian."
"Those of us who are students of history understand the Bill of Rights – and we are far, far from that," Midkiff said. "I'm going to stand with Rand."
Paul has made been in Michigan several times in recent years. He spoke at a Detroit Economic Club luncheon in 2013 and helped open the Michigan Republican Party's office in the Motor City. He also addressed in October at a Republican gathering in Rochester.
Debbe Swinger, a 62-year-old homemaker from Comstock Park, also liked the theme of Paul's remarks.
"I especially like the idea of not being a professional politician," Swinger said. "We need new blood."