By Senator Rand Paul
I'm excited that I will have the opportunity to work with Rep. Tim Scott in the U.S. Senate. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley made a fine selection in choosing Mr. Scott to replace Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservative champion and my friend.
As he's not only the first black senator from his state but the first from the South since the 19th century, Mr. Scott's arrival will be a milestone for South Carolina and the nation. It also will be a milestone for the U.S. Senate, as Mr. Scott becomes the seventh black to serve in that body - four of whom were Republicans.
Hiram Revels, the first black senator, was a Republican from Mississippi. Interestingly, Democrats in the Senate opposed seating him. For days, the public watched and the Democrats stalled, arguing that the 1857 Dred Scott decision had ruled people of African ancestry were not citizens and therefore were not covered by the 14th Amendment. Republicans from the beginning fought first for emancipation, then citizenship, then voting rights and finally against the Jim Crow laws of the South.
Tim Scott's appointment is a shining example of the 150-year history of the Republican Party championing an equal role for all individuals regardless of race.
From the Civil War to the struggles for equality in the 1950s and '60s, it has been the Republican Party that has led the way on civil rights. Abolishing slavery, passing the 14th and 15th amendments, ending Jim Crow and enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, respectively, were all primarily Republican-led efforts. Then-President Lyndon B. Johnson's important role in passing the Civil Rights Act was crucial, but it also obviously represented a departure from many in his party at that time.
Still, Mr. Scott's choice in becoming a Republican had less to do with race and more to do with his own upbringing. Raised by a single mother, Mr. Scott was like many young men - lost and struggling with his education and in life - until a Chick-fil-A franchise owner took an interest in him. It was this relationship that taught Mr. Scott the importance of individualism and conservative values, or, as he put it, "Coming from a single-parent household and almost flunking out of high school, my hope is I will take that experience and help people bring out the best that they can be."
After barely making it through high school, Mr. Scott would go to college on a football scholarship, work as an insurance salesman and eventually become a U.S. congressman and, now, a senator.
Mr. Scott's story is that of many Americans who struggle early in life and rise to greatness through hard work and determination. Unfortunately, many of the opportunities Mr. Scott was able to take advantage of are less available today.
Education choice is the civil rights issue of our time. Today, not enough children are going to be able to achieve what Tim has. There are now too many obstacles that impede creativity and dampen individual talent. This will not do.
In 2013, I will be announcing a new initiative to give parents and students a real choice in education at an event in Louisville with inner-city children and pastors. My goal is to make sure nothing stands in the way of future Tim Scotts, who can prevail over troubled backgrounds and achieve great things if only given the opportunity to do so.
For now, conservatives who might have worried about the loss of a great leader in Sen. Jim DeMint can rest assured that the principles of limited government and individual freedom will continue to be fought for valiantly by Sen. Tim Scott.