Rand Paul unable to attend roundtable in Danville due to lung issue

Published 3:04 pm Wednesday, August 21, 2019

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul was unable to make an appearance in Boyle County Wednesday, due to complications from surgery on his lung. But his staff made the trip to speak with a packed room of local and regional leaders at the Holiday Inn Express in Danville.

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Rob Givens, state director for Sen. Rand Paul’s office, stood in for the senator during a roundtable in Danville Wednesday. Paul was unable to attend due to having fluid on his lungs.

“Sen. Paul is ill — you all are aware of the lung operation he had last week. And he ended up canceling all the week’s events. So we were sent in his place to talk to you for a little bit,” explained Rob Givens, the state director for Paul’s office. “He’s got fluid on the lungs. He’s expected to recover, but he’s going to take it down for at least the next couple of weeks.”

“I brought a second suit so if you want to throw things at me now, feel free,” Givens joked. “I’ll be able to change in time to get back to Louisville for the other stuff I have to cover today, which includes the visit by the president.”

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Givens briefly summarized some of the issues that drive Paul’s work in Congress the most, including:

  • protecting against the government violating individuals’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unwarranted intrusions into their personal lives;
  • working on criminal justice reform;
  • working against government spending that isn’t offset by revenue; and
  • making sure decisions to go to war or use military force are made with the consent of the American people, through discussion and approval by Congress.

“To send armed forces into battle without clear approval and authorization from the American people, without a clear sense of what victory and what that will look like and an end state in mind, and without the agreement to take care of them when they come home, as promised, is morally bankrupt,” Givens said. “… If the American people decide we go to war, we go to war. But that decision must be made as a country.”


Newspaper asks about criminal justice reform

Givens and Paul’s Communications Director Kelsey Cooper fielded questions as they could from the audience of about 55 invitees and took down questions they couldn’t answer to bring back to Paul so he could respond later. The event was hosted by the Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce, which invited all local elected officials, some local chamber members and representatives from local and regional organizations.

The Advocate-Messenger asked the first question, focusing on criminal justice reform and the First Step Act, supported by Paul and passed by Congress last year.

“Here in Boyle County, a wide coalition of local leaders are working to reduce jail overcrowding and recidivism, but our problem is not unique,” Advocate-Messenger Editor Ben Kleppinger said. “… Sen. Paul advocated for the First Step Act as a true “first step” toward repairing the country’s criminal justice system. What are the next steps that are needed now and what would potential reforms look like for communities like Boyle County?”

“As a young man, I grew up thinking that criminals need to be in jail, without any question. And I think we all kind of believe that — for violent things,” Givens said. “… We have to take a look at what that’s done to us. The overcrowding situation is real. But what are most of the issues that bring people to prison today? Drugs in some form or fashion.”

Givens said Paul is an advocate for “more common sense in the system” and told an anecdote about a man who was sentenced for making marijuana brownies and to this day remains unable to vote because he is a convicted felon.

“We have to find a way to have a common-sense approach to the way people are sentenced,” he said.

Givens said really addressing the problem of overcrowding in jails and prisons means figuring out how to prevent people from winding up in jail to begin with. That could mean diverting people facing drug charges into treatment, so they never wind up in court with a case against them. It also means thinking about “second- and third-order effects” of any policies introduced, to ensure new problems aren’t created as current problems are solved, he said.

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Kelsey Cooper, communications director for Sen. Rand Paul, answers a question during Wednesday’s event.

Cooper said bail reform is a big goal for Paul. The senator has introduced legislation in the past and is looking to reintroduce it again that would do away with cash bail, the practice of requiring defendants accused of crimes to pay money for release from jail while their cases are pending.

Cooper pointed out Paul worked with Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris on his bail legislation previously.

“He’s teamed up with Democrats — a lot of the presidential candidates, actually, on the Democrats side — on these justice reform bills, and bail reform is one of them — eliminating cash bail,” she said. “Because whether or not you sit in prison should not be based on whether or not you can pay, and the senator feels very strongly about that.”

Paul is also working to reintroduce other justice reform bills, as well, addressing things such as militarization of the police and civil asset forfeiture, she said.

“These are not bills that he introduced once and said, ‘Hey guess what? Look, I did something.’ He continues to reintroduce these every single year and make them better if possible, and that’s kind of where we got to with the First Step Act.

“But he was very clear — the First Step Act is just the first step. But it shows that we as a country agree this is a problem.”


Local questions and comments

Boyle County Jailer Brian Wofford said he believes the federal government needs to tackle the problem of mental illness as a driver of jail populations. He estimated anywhere from 60 to 75 percent of the inmates in the Boyle County Detention Center have some kind of mental illness.

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Boyle County Jailer Brian Wofford states his concern that more needs to be done to address the mental health needs of inmates.

“The jails are now the mental health hospitals,” but jails are not setup well to treat mental illness he said.

Cooper said Wofford’s thoughts would be taken back to Paul for a response.

Milton Reigelman, a retired Centre College professor, asked where Paul stands on the president nominating for a Supreme Court vacancy during a presidential election year.

“Three years ago, our senior senator, Sen. McConnell, believed that during the year before a presidential election, the senate should disregard the current president’s nominee if there’s a vacant Supreme Court seat. He argued the Senate should respect the American people, American voters by waiting for them to elect the incoming president so that he or she could put forth the nominee,” Reigelman said. “Sen. Paul is a principled and brave guy. Would he support that principle that was articulated three years ago?”

“Next question,” Givens joked, before answering — “You know, I wouldn’t feel comfortable answering for the senator on that. I will certainly make sure we get you an answer from him on that.”


Opioids and addiction

Mike Cox, president of Isaiah House, asked what could be done to expand federal funding for rehabilitation. Currently, most funding that’s available is focused exclusively on opioid addiction, he said.

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Mike Cox, president of Isaiah House, asks about funding for long-term treatment centers.

“I wonder if there’s discussions about the fact that we don’t just have an opioid epidemic, we really have an alcohol and other substance epidemic,” Cox said. “Most of the funding seems to be always attached to opioids and we know the pendulum is now swinging back … a decline in opioids and increase in methamphetamine, for example.”

Cooper said Paul has sponsored legislation to expand access to addiction treatment and is supportive of rehabilitation programs such as Isaiah House, which he has visited previously. She said if Cox has suggestions for how funding could be improved, he can share them with Paul, who may be able to insert them into legislation he works on as a member of the Senate Health Committee.

Givens said what Cox talked about is “a huge problem that needs to be discussed;” and legislators need to “slow things down” and have substantial discussions about the root causes of addiction and substance abuse.

“We’ve got to spend some time talking about these things so we don’t create a bigger problem,” he said.

Kathy Miles, coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy, continued on the same topic, bringing up new reporting that has revealed the U.S. Department of Justice knew for more than two years that Purdue Pharma was helping create the opioid epidemic and did nothing about it.

Miles said many people in Boyle County are doing a lot to address the opioid epidemic, but the unchecked power of the pharmaceutical industry is “an elephant in the living room here that we can’t address locally.”

“Our law enforcement can have their boots on the ground, doing what they need to do, but until this — big picture, looks at the pharmaceutical industry and the power that they have, and the lives that we’ve lost locally because of pouring in pain killers to this part of the country, we are scared that we will go through this again,” Miles said. “That lack of trust … is something we’ve got to address. And we need the senator to help do that. Because we can do some things locally, but we don’t have the power to look into what’s happening with the pharmaceutical industry.”

Miles received a loud round of applause for her comments.


Pipeline safety

Julie Pease, a member of the local group Citizens Opposed to the Pipeline Conversion, raised the issue of pipeline safety, following the recent explosion in of the Texas Eastern Pipeline in neighboring Lincoln County.

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Julie Pease expresses community concerns and anxiety over pipeline safety to members of Sen. Rand Paul’s staff.

Pease said federal staffing and oversight of pipeline companies is “way down,” even as many aging pipelines in the ground become more and more at risk of leaking or exploding. Many pipelines run underneath homes and schools, making it more likely that problems could be fatal — as in the case of the Aug. 1 explosion in Lincoln, which killed one woman.

“We don’t feel particularly safe in our communities because of what’s moving through them,” Pease said. “That is a very important concern of this community and I’m guessing the entire country at this point.”

Pease said she would like Paul to support alternative energy plans that move the country away from fossil fuels. “That would make a lot of his constituents feel a lot better,” she said.

Cooper said in 2011, Paul actually put a hold on a pipeline safety bill until he could propose an amendment because he realized as it was originally written, a lot of the oldest pipelines in the country would be exempted from new, stricter regulations.

Cooper said as far as supporting alternative energy, Paul believes the government shouldn’t be subsidizing any type of energy and the free market should be allowed to function.

“You and the senator may not agree on which types of energies are better or the cost-benefit analysis that each and every one of us does when looking at the environment,” Cooper said. “… but what the senator’s view has always been is that it’s not the job of government to pick the winners and losers and decide which energy sectors do well. So if coal is what works in Kentucky, coal is what works in Kentucky —”

“But it’s not working here,” Pease interjected. “… So that’s why we need to look at alternatives to coal and alternatives to fossil fuels.”

“And he’s not opposed to any of that,” Cooper responded. “He’s just not supportive of the government saying, ‘You are a hydropower firm and we’re going to give you grants …'”

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jeff Jewel thanks the audience of about 55 for attending at the conclusion of the event.

“But do we not subsidize the … fossil fuel industry?” Pease asked. “So they are picking winners and losers to a certain extent.”

“What I’m saying is the senator doesn’t support that,” Cooper said. “He would like to have an open market, a free market when it comes to energy.”

Pease asked if Paul had attempted to end government subsidies to fossil fuel companies; Givens said Paul is always looking for ways to end many kinds of government spending, and he would look into it and see if they could provide Pease with more specifics.

“Some day, perhaps we’ll get to a point where we’ve got the technology where we’re able to wean ourselves completely from it, but we’ve got to get there,” Givens said. “Whether we force it directly or not is going to be another conversation.”