Is Cory Booker really as progressive as he wants people to believe?

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Having announced his candidacy back in February, Cory Booker is one of the better-known 2020 Democratic candidates. That’s because of his six years in the Senate, where he became the first African-American New Jersey senator, his past as a mayor, and his stint as an actor. (He appeared as himself on Parks and Recreation.) But how […]

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Having announced his candidacy back in February, Cory Booker is one of the better-known 2020 Democratic candidates. That’s because of his six years in the Senate, where he became the first African-American New Jersey senator, his past as a mayor, and his stint as an actor. (He appeared as himself on Parks and Recreation.) But how will that recognition help the Cory Booker 2020 campaign?

Over the years, Booker has transitioned from a moderate government official to one of the country’s leading progressives, often speaking out for marijuana legalization, criminal justice reform, action against climate change, and more.

But his progressive push is not without its critics.

“Anyone who knows my history knows my history of standing up for people who have been hurt by bad actors,” Booker said in a news conference the day he announced he was running.

Yet his support of charter schools and weak stance on healthcare sets him behind the most vocal 2020 Democrats, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

If Booker wins, we know that presidential Big Macs would likely get swapped out for tofu sliders—Booker is the first and only vegan senator. But what else would change? Here’s a look at Booker’s 2020 policies.

Cory Booker 2020 platform and policies

1) Criminal justice

As noted by the New York Times, Booker spent a lot of his energy as senator focusing on criminal justice reform.

The New Jersey senator worked to create bipartisan bills that aimed to reduce prison sentences and revise penalties for nonviolent crimes. Though neither of those became law, a criminal justice reform act he sponsored did. Booker played a large part in the passing of the First Step Act, one of only a handful of successful bipartisan acts that made it past Congress and President Donald Trump.

“This is literally one of the reasons I came to the United States Senate, to get something like this done,” Booker said at the time.

As documented by On The Issues, Booker’s stance on criminal justice reform has been fairly steady throughout his political career. In 2013, Booker said that instead of focusing on incarceration, preventing recidivism should be the focus.

A year later, he said the solution to crime is addressing poverty and education. Earlier this year, Booker commented on how the criminal justice system treats the “rich and guilty” better than the “poor and innocent.”

2) Education 

Despite his progressive agenda, Booker has raised eyebrows in the past for his support for public charter schools. As pointed out by HuffPost, Booker spoke at a rally that was co-sponsored by a charter school system at the same time Los Angeles public school teachers were on strike, partially because of the rise of charter schools.

“We shouldn’t have one-size-fits-all education,” Booker said at a news conference. “Local leaders should be able to decide what works best for them.”

According to Vox, a decade after Booker began betting big on charter schools in Newark, the city’s charter sector is doing well with student performance improving. Meanwhile, traditional schools—which still serve the majority of the city’s youth—face budget deficits.

“Reform opponents and supporters fight bitterly to this day about whether Booker’s overhaul failed or succeeded,” the report said.

Booker insists he’s a champion of all education, though, and insists on better wages for public school teachers and better funding to secure more teachers, counselors and mental health professionals.

“I’m going to run the boldest pro-public school teacher campaign there is, which is how I ran the city of Newark,” he said.

3) Healthcare

Like fellow 2020 candidate Kamala Harris, Booker is a co-sponsor of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-All Act. The act would replace all but supplemental private insurance with a single public federal program.

“I signed up and am a big believer in Medicare for all,” Booker said the day he announced his candidacy. But when asked by a reporter if he’d eliminate “private health care,” Booker responded, “Even countries that have vast access to publicly offered health care still have private health care.”

His stance has apparently evolved. In 2017, he told Vox that single-payer was just “one of those options that must be considered.” Booker took big pharmaceutical contributions in the past, and recently voted against reducing prescription drug prices.

4) Green New Deal

Booker was the second 2020 candidate to endorse the Green New Deal behind Sanders, signing on to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and create clean-energy jobs in December.

“We must take bold action on climate change & create a green economy that benefits all Americans,” Booker tweeted at the time. “Excited to support a #GreenNewDeal.”

cory booker 2020 platform green new deal @CoryBooker/Twitter

During his presidential candidacy announcement, Booker named environmental justice as one of his top three policy issues for his campaign.

As noted by HuffPost, Booker has a strong record regarding environmental issues.

He received a 100% score last year and a 98% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters based on his voting record. When he served as the mayor of Newark, Booker created an environmental commission, Office of Sustainability and would contract a union that specialized in green construction for energy efficient work on city buildings. In addition, Booker fought offshore drilling and pushed a tax credit extension for renewable energy.

5) Marijuana legalization

Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act to legalize marijuana and expunge federal marijuana convictions from criminal records in 2017. The senator’s proposal was to “change their marijuana laws if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income individuals and/or people of color.” But the bill couldn’t get past the Republican-held Senate.

Tying back to his prison reform stance, Booker has spoken publicly for years about the social and racial bias federal marijuana policy could have.

Recently, he challenged then-Attorney-General-nominee William Barr about the subject. “We have a guy who is about to take that office who says he is ignorant of implicit racial bias,” Booker said at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. “Ignorance aligned with power is one of the most dangerous forces in a free society.”

Booker criticized Barr’s answers during the hearing on his role overseeing the war on drugs decades ago when he originally served as attorney general.  

“Mr. Barr was an architect of mass incarceration,” Booker said. “He literally wrote the book. He designed a lot of what we saw.”

In a recent radio interview, Booker maintained that he was working at “changing our drug laws [and] ending prohibition against marijuana.”

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6) Immigration reform

Booker has been a longtime champion of immigration reform.

Over the years he has defended immigrants and asylum seekers. Just this week, he introduced a bill that would reverse the Trump administration’s high level of immigration detention.

The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, which was first introduced during the 2017-2018 Congress, was reintroduced as a direct response to Attorney General Barr’s ruling that prohibited asylum seekers who arrived in the United States from posting bond without papers.

The bill would reverse Barr’s ruling, take control away from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and reverse a two-decade-old system of immigration detention.

7) Gun control

For Booker, the issue of gun control is personal, “because I’m a Black man, and Black males are six percent of the nation’s population, but they make up the majority of homicide victims in this country,” he said during a CNN town hall. “I think I’m the only person in this race that has had shootings on their block.”

In 2017, Booker introduced a bill to ban assault weapons alongside other Democrats. Following the Parkland shooting last year, he urged his fellow senators to pass gun safety legislation.

“Every single day we do not act, dozens and dozens of Americans are killed,” Booker said. “We must do better. We can do better.”

During his town hall appearance, Booker didn’t go into details, but he mentioned that he wanted universal background checks and to close gun law loopholes—including how people on the “no-fly list” can buy firearms.

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Emily Bloch

Emily Bloch

Emily Bloch is a multimedia journalist based out of South Florida. She covers a mix of politics and entertainment for local, regional, and national publications including Teen Vogue and Business Insider.