WATERLOO | Waterloo City Councilman-elect Jerome Amos is tired of all the statistics that highlight all the negatives in the community — particularly the jarring figure of 24.0 percent unemployment among African-Americans.
So, when Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul made a Saturday morning visit to Hairport in Waterloo, Amos had one particular concern he hoped to get addressed.
"That's what I'm talking about providing is opportunities for those individuals that don't normally have any. We have to start doing that. We have to start giving our young people hope," Amos told Paul in a packed barber shop.
Paul responded to Amos' concerns by pitching a federal solution — one he has introduced as Kentucky's United States senator — similar to enterprise zones that he calls economic freedom zones, where the tax rate would be reduced to 5 percent in economically depressed areas.
He said the way things had been done where people "send your money to Washington and beg to get some of it back" hasn't worked.
"What I've been trying to do in my campaign is go around and say, 'I do care,' and I do have different ideas that we haven’t tried in the past, and guess what, some of the old ideas haven't worked, so why don't we try some new ones?" Paul said to Amos.
He said the role of the government in addressing poverty is often for government to get out of the way of people's aspirations.
"There's also, I think, a discussion that the country needs to have about what is the best way to alleviate poverty and high unemployment, particularly in minority areas, and I don't think we’ve really had this discussion at all in our country," Paul said in a separate interview. "For 50-60 years, we've had a war on poverty, and I think poverty is winning."
Throughout the stop, Paul earned nods and words of agreement from the about two dozen people at the barber shop for his "different ideas," on everything from reducing student debt to addressing criminal justice reform to the role of faith in government.
Paul earned praise for discussing the racial disparity in the criminal justice system and trying to address it legislatively. Paul has introduced or cosponsored 21 bills just this year on crime and law enforcement, and another six on civil rights, liberty and minority issues, according to www.congress.gov.
"There's probably not one of us in here, myself included, who were perfect when they were growing up, and people make mistakes, and I do believe in second chances," Paul said. "Our religion teaches that, but the government ought to do that."
Bob Wright of Cedar Falls asked what can be done to address violence in the communities — whether it's black-on-black crime or police shootings or mass shootings committed by white males or committed by people from other countries.
Wright said he's looking for someone to spearhead a national discussion about the United States problem of violence.
While Paul said there is a governmental role in law enforcement and protection, he said there's not an easy answer to beginning to address gun violence.
"We need ministers. We need leaders of the community. We need people that kids can look up to as far as examples. Some of it isn't real easy," Paul said.
Trent Keller, owner of Haiport, said he recently decided to become a Paul supporter. It wasn't become of his planned visit or anything he said at the barber shop. It was, Keller said, the senator's response to the latest mass shooting incident in San Bernardino, California
"It touched my heart, being that I'm a man that loves the Lord, when I hear someone is praying for other people, that touches me to the point where it makes me want to support him, because he's praying for people and getting publicly ridiculed for praying for others, and so that touched me," Keller said. "I get ridiculed sometimes for doing the same thing, so we have something in common."
Paul said it's important for him to make stops like Saturday morning's not only because he can reach new voters but for the opportunity to strike up a dialogue. He had the chance to interact with Amos and also with Waterloo Mayor-elect Quentin Hart at the event.
"In many ways, we have become very, very polarized and Republicans haven't been showing up at a lot of places and venues, and as a consequence, we're not hearing the concerns of people that haven't traditionally been Republican voters," Paul said.