In town Saturday morning on his campaign for president, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker made a few stops before giving a speech to a room of more than 200 people.
The Democrat from New Jersey didn’t go to find the richest donors, or the most powerful people — he went straight to predominantly black barbershops.
S.C. state Rep. John King, a Rock Hill Democrat, said Booker understands underserved communities in a way other presidential candidates can’t. Booker said he still lives in a home in a low-income section of Newark, New Jersey, when he isn’t campaigning or in Washington, D.C.
“You can’t lead the people, if you don’t love the people,” Booker said.
King announced Friday that he would endorse Booker in the presidential race, the first S.C. state legislator to do so.
“He can be very understanding to the needs of local communities because of his involvement,” King said. “One thing that drew me to him is where he lives. He lives in the heart of his district. Where he could have lived anywhere, he lives in Newark, in one of the low-income areas, so that he can better understand the needs of people not as fortunate.”
Booker went from Platinum Cuts Barbershop on Saluda Street to Freedom Temple on East Main Street to talk to a crowd of more than 200 people.
Booker wasn’t the first presidential candidate to visit Rock Hill. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke spoke to a crowd at Amelie’s cafe Friday morning, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg scheduled a meet-and-greet at Clinton College Saturday night.
So what did Booker talk about?
Booker said mass incarceration is a problem in America, one that especially affects black and brown people, poor people, and people with mental illnesses.
“What kind of crisis is it, when the land of the free incarcerates more people than any other nation on the planet?” he asked.
Booker has been an outspoken advocate for prison reform in the Senate. He introduced the “Reverse Mass Incarceration Act” in 2017, which would encourage states to reduce crime rates and prison population.
Booker said his campaign was built on the theme of bringing Americans together.
“We are going to be the big tent party,” Booker said. “We have a vision for all of America, that the pain and isolation they’re feeling, we are going to address with our policy, with our hearts and with our actions.”
Booker said many in the U.S. feel left behind and divided.
“I’m running for president because I reject that,” he said. “I’m running for president because I want us to be a nation that puts more indivisible back into this one nation under God.”
Booker had a lot to say about schools.
“When I’m president of the United States, should I be president of the United States, I’m going to be a president that says the teaching profession needs to be elevated again in our society, and it needs to be the most honored profession when it comes to our country,” he said.
Booker said teachers shouldn’t be burdened by student loans. He also said there should be an adequate number of mental health providers in school.
“I believe we create a nation where we don’t just have public schools, but we have cathedrals of learning where public school teachers are paid what they deserved, paid for their contribution,” he said.
Universal health care
Booker said he supports the “Medicare-for-all” concept.
“I don’t care if you’re Democrat or Republican, all Americans believe that this should be a nation where every one can have access to health care — period. Period. We should have universal health care for everybody.”
If elected president, Booker said he has a plan for how to start making universal health care a reality.
“Right away we can stop the sabotage of the Affordable Care Act which is going on right now and reverse a lot of things this administration did,” he said. “Number two, we can make sure that we have a nation where every state has expanded Medicaid. Every single state. … Number three, we can drive down the cost of prescription drugs.”
Booker said gun violence is a personal issue to him. In his Newark neighborhood, he said gun violence is a constant threat.
So he said he would push to close gun purchase loopholes and require universal background checks.
“This is not just a policy for me as a president of the United States,” he said. “This is an urgent mission that I feel every single day.”