NEW ORLEANS — Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine continued his charge against Republicans Thursday morning for what he called changing course since President Obama's election and putting "barriers" up to prevent people from voting.
"Up until recently, the Grand Old Party, the party of Lincoln, along with the Democrats were a party that understood the importance of expanding the franchise and wanted more people to participate," Kaine said. "We were going in the same direction, but starting a few years before, but especially since the election of President Obama, one party has decided to do a U-turn on its history and be against voting and against participation and put hurdles and barriers up in everybody's way."
The Virginia senator has made voting rights one of the pillars of his time on the campaign trail thus far, specifically referencing recent decisions on election laws in both North Carolina and Wisconsin when he campaigned there. Kaine told the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week Republicans "don't feel confident they can win elections with full participation by American voters."
"I call on my Republican colleagues to return to your party's historical roots and recognize that the health of a democracy is measured by the extent of people's participation in the democracy," he proclaimed Thursday.
The senator was speaking to a large audience at the Progressive National Baptist Convention here, and while he had a teleprompter, he broke off script throughout the speech for a number of his own riffs, focusing his remarks on civil rights and racial issues, the role of church and religion, criminal justice reform, and gun restrictions.
As Kaine tours across America, still very much introducing himself to audiences unfamiliar with his past, he stresses his civil rights work as an attorney on housing discrimination cases, and his connection with the African American community in Richmond, a majority black city where he also served on the city council and as mayor — parts of his background he feels helped contribute to why Clinton picked him as a running mate.
"We, a long time ago decided and maybe it's because we live in Richmond - a city with a history, a city with some scar tissue - we decided that our work would be reconciliation," Kaine said about he and his wife, former Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton. "That would be our mission in life. That we would work, we would work to heal divisions that threaten to tear communities apart."
Kaine's audience started the morning raising their hands together and belting out gospel tunes, and the senator sang along to himself when he first took the stage. He spoke in front of roughly a thousand people gathered for the convention, which dubbed itself part of "weeklong events that focus on voter engagement and policing tactics."
Kaine reiterated his call to keep track of the number of cases in the country where people are killed by police, and pushed a need for criminal justice reform, noting, "most states still call their prison system the 'Department of Corrections,' but there's not a lot of resources put into corrections. You know, if you were to be honest about our system, sadly most states should call it the 'Department of Human Warehouse' or something. We ought to be about corrections, we ought to be about second chances. That's a faith principle we can believe in."
Never straying too far from his home state, the senator again targeted the NRA — "I know these guys because they are headquartered in Virginia."
"When I run, they run against me every time, and I'm I'm 8-0 in races they've never beaten me," Kaine said. "Now I could lose the next one, but if they were that strong I would have lost one before now." He claimed the association "doesn't even speak for members anymore" and "they are just a shill for gun manufacturers."
New Orleans was Kaine's last stop in a three day tour across Texas and Louisiana — primarily for fundraisers — but he also worked in a few campaign events and was able to accept the invitation to a convention like this one.