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Kentucky tornado devastation lays bare Rand Paul's hypocrisy on disaster relief

Kentucky deserves a senator who leads by example amid a crisis and doesn't put ideology over recovery.

When I say the people of Kentucky are my family, that sometimes draws a confused look.

I am a young Black man from the hood in a state that is nearly 90 percent white, vastly rural, and that has been criticized in the media for years as being backward and operating against its own self-interests.

While many Kentuckians mourn their loved ones and start to try to put their lives back together, Paul has had to defend his record of trying to block disaster relief.

We are one of the poorest states in the nation, and if I had a dollar for every story written blaming Kentuckians for the choices of our politicians, I would be a rich man. What these writers so often don’t know or realize is that our leaders so often fail to show up for us — even in times of crisis. This is one of the many reasons why I’m running for U.S. Senate against Rand Paul.

What I love most about this commonwealth is our grit, our resilience, our ability to come together during times of tragedy — linking arms and doing what needs to be done, with no question about politics or partisanship as we lean on the humanity that truly unites us all. We’ve seen this in real time over the past several days since historic tornadoes ripped through our state, leveling towns and taking more than 70 of our loved ones.

In times of crisis, our leaders must be present. They must provide compassion and hope, leading with integrity and open arms. Gov. Andy Beshear and President Joe Biden have both exemplified that this week — but Paul, whose own hometown was ravaged by tornadoes, has done the bare minimum.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., walks past a memorial to tornado victims in front of the Graves County Courthouse on Friday in Mayfield, Ky.Brandon Bell / Getty Images

While many Kentuckians mourn their loved ones and start to try to put their lives back together, Paul has had to defend his record of trying to block disaster relief. His votes against providing relief for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017, and even voting against aid for first-responders who answered the call on 9/11 shows that he cares more about ideology than saving peoples’ lives and helping rebuild following devastation.

Indeed, throughout his entire time in office, Paul has consistently voted against disaster relief, even opposing urgently needed aid for Kentucky itself in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, he’s sought tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy and handouts to big corporations — who of course fund his campaign. At last, he sharply pivoted to request aid following the devastation of the recent tornadoes, but it merely exposes his hypocrisy.

This is why I’m challenging Paul and fighting to give my state and the people in it a voice at the federal level that we have long needed. We deserve leadership that cares about our lives, that shows up for us, that leads by example amid a crisis.

As soon as we learned about the developing storm, our campaign made plans to provide support in case the worst happened. When our fears were realized, I made the call to temporarily halt political activities and focus our entire campaign on relief efforts.

We have been coordinating with organizations across Kentucky to provide food, water, clothing, and other essential items, and shifted all of our campaign fundraising to grassroots organizations and partners on the ground to quickly help Kentuckians. We reached out to our volunteer network of over 10,000 Kentuckians to coordinate actions, and updated our website to further that effort.

We have also been engaging our national audience and supporters to help with relief efforts and donations. For the remainder of my campaign, we will continue to lead volunteer actions and provide fundraising support for the people fighting to rebuild.

State Rep. Charles Booker speaking at a rally at Highland Coffee Co. in Louisville, Ky., on June 17, 2020.Jeff Faughender / Courier-Journal via USA Today Network

This is what being a Kentuckian is really about. Pulling together in the face of tragedy no matter what and helping one another get back on our feet. For so long, we have been the only ones out here helping each other — left behind by the likes of Paul — and we deserve better.

My campaign is a testament to the forgotten people, communities like my own that have been ignored and abandoned for too long. Many of us were struggling to survive before this storm. Kentucky needs a new deal after decades of failed leadership from Paul and Sen. Mitch McConnell — a Kentucky New Deal that will boldly transform our state well into the future.

No matter your party, it is essential we have someone in office who will actually work for all of us, not mock, disrespect and disappoint us like Paul continues to do. I am committed to that work, and my team is already doing it. We’re not waiting for our politicians to “save” us when so often they don’t even see us.