“Booker is a unique case among other statewide candidates who have been less [victorious]. There is something that can be learned from him,” says Daniella Gibbs Léger, senior vice president for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., public policy research group. While every state race has its own set of dynamics depending on whether you are in the South, East, or Midwest region, Gibbs Léger says what Booker did that worked was to build a broad base coalition, garnering support and cultivating strong relationships within and outside of the state of New Jersey.
Booker, whose Senate run occurred after the late Frank Lautenberg’s seat became vacant, will serve out his term until 2014. He must run again in the primaries and November election to secure a full six-year term in Congress where Democrats now hold the Senate majority while the GOP controls the House.
“We are in this hyper partisan environment where it is not about policy issues. It is about a zero sum game type of politics where if your side wins my side loses,” says Booker. He cites a USA Today article that took an education issue and associated it with Republicans, 80% of Democrats were against it while 80% of Republicans were for it. When they switched that same education issue, associating it with Democrats, it had the opposite effect. “We have to find a way to work together to be a productive force to help grow this country.”
Booker is progressive on social issues that have divided Congress. He supports women’s rights, same-sex marriage, immigration reform, and gun control. He favors a higher minimum wage, corporate tax reform, and greater college financial assistance. He also wants to spur job creation through infrastructure spending and increased manufacturing in the USA.
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A major concern for 2014 is criminal justice reform. “There has been this emphasis on punishment and not rehabilitation. I am a big believer in if you do something wrong there must be a consequence. But America has become an incarceration nation,” he explains. “We need to make the justice system fairer. So, that a black male marijuana user is not 3.7 times more likely to be arrested than a white male user.” He adds, “the pillars of a lot of my recommendations are around crime prevention, alternative courts for veterans and youth, drug treatment, and education.”
As far as aspirations for the Oval Office, Booker says he won’t run for the presidency. “I may not continue with politics beyond this seat.” His quip is quite similar to that of another freshman U.S. senator eight years ago. That legislator now resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a second term.