Sen. Cory Booker advocates for racial equality in Iowa City

Senator and Democratic presidential-nomination candidate, Cory Booker, talked about criminal-justice reform and gun control as paths to close racial disparities in the U.S. on a Political Party Live podcast in Iowa City.


Julia Shanahan

Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, appears on a Political Party Live podcast in Iowa City on Saturday, June 8, at the Graduate hotel.

Julia Shanahan, Politics Reporter

2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Cory Booker told podcast Political Party Live on Saturday that growing up in an inner-city neighborhood in New Jersey drove him to advocate for criminal-justice reform and gun control.

“On my block, stuff was going wrong before (President) Donald Trump was elected,” Booker said.

He called on Iowa being one of the worst states in the U.S. for racial disparities in the prison system, and said that by legalizing marijuana and expunging the records of those already incarcerated for marijuana charges, he could lower the amount of black Americans in prisons.

As of 2016, Iowa has the fourth-most black inmates per capita.

Booker highlighted the high volume of mass shootings across the U.S. and said his “bold plan” to take on the gun lobby will be at the forefront of his agenda if he is elected.

Booker’s plan, proposed in May, is one of the most progressive plans to control firearms out of the other 22 Democratic candidates. His plan would implement a gun-licensing program, which would require an applicant to sit down for an interview, provide fingerprints, and take a gun-safety course.  

“I will be the president that gets it done,” Booker said.

Booker also said that he would work to strengthen public schools by raising teachers’ salaries, and said Iowa’s state Legislature has attacked teachers’ health benefits and their right to organize.

“I come out to Iowa unlike New Jersey… your Legislature is attacking teachers in ways that is unconscionable,” Booker said.

In 2017, teachers and other public educators rallied in Des Moines against a legislation that overhauled the state’s collective bargaining laws. Now in 2019, a lot of rights that educators had under the previous collective bargaining laws, like being able to negotiate parts of a contract, no longer exist.

Booker addressed the fact that he is polling in the single digits in some Iowa polls, and said this far out in an election, there is still a lot of time to gain traction and name recognition. He also said that his campaign strategy is to not “fight fire with fire” by attacking Trump.

“I am in this to heal, to bring together, to unite, and bring this country to the high ground,” Booker said, and later added that the U.S. House of Representatives should begin impeachment proceedings.

This strategy is different from candidates like Sanders, Warren, Biden, and others, who have publicly condemned Trump on multiple fronts.

Saturday’s podcast, inside the Iowa City Graduate Hotel, attracted about 100 attendees and was the sixth episode in the series. Political Party Live is an Iowa-based podcast following 2020 Democratic presidential candidates through eastern Iowa.

Jennifer Vedet, Iowa City resident with a Ph.D in American Studies, said she thinks Booker is one of the more interesting candidates, and that she likes his position on single-payer health care options.

“I like [Booker’s] experience and his positions on health care and criminal-justice reform,” Vedet said. “I have healthcare and I enjoy having health care.”

Vedet said that health care policy is a top issue for her going into the February caucuses.

Booker toured Iowa in February, where he touted inclusiveness at a crowded house party in Iowa City. Booker will be in Cedar Rapids on Sunday for the sold-out Hall of Fame Celebration, hosted by Iowa’s Democratic Party.