NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Quoting scripture and calling on his Catholic faith, Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine on Thursday made the case to African-American Christian leaders to support Hillary Clinton’s White House bid, calling voting a “sacred act” and saying the Democratic presidential nominee would work to stop systemic racism, mass incarceration and educational disparities.
Kaine was in New Orleans addressing the Progressive National Baptist Convention, a group of African-American Baptist churches born out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The overwhelmingly friendly audience gave him a standing ovation at the end and often shouted out “amen” to his many Biblical references.
The Virginia senator spoke extensively about his religious upbringing, including the year he spent in Honduras, which he said deepened his Catholic faith. He says when he came back from the Central American country – at that time a dictatorship – he had a new attitude about the importance of voting. Kaine says he meets people every day who worry their vote doesn’t matter but he stressed how important it is and chastised the Republican party for what he called a “U-Turn” in recent years on expanding voting access.
“Voting is a sacred act whether you are religious or not,” Kaine said. Speaking about what people went through to get the right to vote in areas such as Selma, Alabama – a key civil rights battlefield – Kaine said: “We cannot let anybody take that away.”
His comments come as many in the African-American community are worried over the effects of a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court that invalidated a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The act required mostly Southern states with a history of racial discrimination to get advance federal approval to change election laws. The court decision made it easier for states to impose new restrictions.
Mentioning the Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous saying that the most segregated hour of the week is 11 a.m. Sunday, Kaine said he and his wife had tried to pick a church – their “spiritual home” – that was not segregated. He said the U.S. is moving past outright racial hostility and feelings of “white supremacy” and “racial superiority,” but still has progress to make.
“Just making progress past overt feelings of racial superiority isn’t enough if it’s easy for people to just live their own lives and never be confronted or have to be challenged with other people’s lives, and that’s why it’s so important for those of us in the majority to get out of our comfort zone and learn other realities,” Kaine said.
He added that he and the former secretary of state are challenging other white leaders to do this, and that Clinton has “made it clear that taking on these inequities is one of the most important tasks in being our next president.”
The Virginia senator touted President Barack Obama, saying to loud applause that the president has not gotten the credit he deserves for improving the economy or “anything else.” He also highlighted other issues of importance to the African-American community such as criminal justice reform, the importance of historically black colleges and universities, and educational inequities.
Touting the benefits of community policing over a zero-tolerance philosophy, Kaine called for greater investment in training police how to de-escalate violent situations.
“We need to work to close the gulf between our law enforcement communities and our neighborhoods in an awful lot of our cities,” he said.
The vice presidential candidate called for “common-sense rules” when it comes to guns, calling the National Rifle Association a “shill for gun manufacturers.”
Kaine did not mention Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump by name and rarely alluded to him except to make a dig about his policies lacking details.
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