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State lawmaker runs for U.S. Senate; highlights injustices Kentuckians face

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Posted at 3:56 PM, May 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 18:35:51-04

You may have heard of Representative Charles Booker if you've paid attention to the last two legislative sessions in Kentucky. On the House floor, he made his voice heard. At times, he fought back when he felt he was not being listened to.

"My life matters too, Speaker," said Booker during a debate on the House floor on March 14, 2019.

As the Speaker told Booker his three minutes were up, Booker repeated himself.

"My life matters too, Speaker."

The Speaker told Booker he was out of line, and Booker's microphone was turned off. However, Booker didn't stop.

"My life matters too," he yelled over the dead microphone.

In a Facebook post, Booker said this moment was an inflection point for him.

"This moment helped me understand my responsibility to stand," said the post. "Even though I was yelled at to sit down, I knew I never would again."

Booker was elected to the Kentucky State House of Representatives in 2018, becoming the youngest African-American state lawmaker in 90 years. He's 35 now and uses his age to connect to young people in Kentucky. On social media, he participates in Tik-Tok challenges, where he dances with his family.

As a state representative, Booker shared personal family stories that reveal the injustice his family has faced because they are African-American.

"I remember my granddad talking to me about when he had to vote, he had to count how many beans were in the jar," said Booker during a discussion on the voter ID bill on March 3, 2020. "He actually had to do that."

"I stood up probably for the first time in the state's history; gave a monologue of what it would be like to be shot as a black man. Talked about Senate Bill 150. Talked about lynchings," said Booker during a March 14, 2019 discussion on the House floor. "Told you how my family was lynched. How some want to compare that to abortion. What a roller-coaster I've been on this session. I've laid all my stories out for you."

Now, after two years in Kentucky's Capitol, Booker is running for U.S. Senate. Specifically, he wants to win the seat currently held by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In a one-on-one interview with LEX 18 News, Booker said Kentucky and the rest of the country need change to happen immediately.

"We need to stand right now," said Booker. "I think about my four cousins that were murdered in the past four years. They can't afford to wait. They don't have the opportunity to wait until tomorrow. I've had to ration my insulin to survive. I'm a type I diabetic. There are folks who aren't as fortunate as me to be here. They can't wait till tomorrow."

Booker believes he can help the average Kentuckian because he's lived the struggle many people face.

"I represent the struggle," said Booker. "I've lived the struggle that a lot of politicians talk about or pander about or completely ignore from the mountains to all the way to the perches."

Booker grew up poor in the West End of Louisville. In one of his campaign videos, he talks about not having enough food to eat as a child.

"I live in 40203, the poorest zip code in the state," Booker narrates in the video. "Growing up, I remember, so often, my mom would go without eating dinner just to save food for me. But I still went to school hungry and tired sometimes. I lived that."

Booker is running for U.S. Senate on progressive ideas, like Universal Basic Income, a Green New Deal, and Medicare-for-all. However, he shies away from being labeled a progressive.

"No one should have to choose between keeping the lights on or paying for their high cost of [a] prescription. Those things are not progressive. They are fighting for families. So people can call it what they want, but this is the moment we can't afford to play political games," said Booker. "And you know what - the coronavirus is making it clear that so many of us were hanging on by a thread and the bottom has fallen out. If we don't prioritize people, we will lose. We will die. That's why this is being shown that my fight is not radical. It's actually good public policy to stand for the people of Kentucky."

Booker has Type I Diabetes. He believes inequality in the healthcare system makes it impossible for some Kentuckians to get the medical attention they need.

On Diabetes Day at the Kentucky State Capitol, Booker talked about not being able to afford insulin while he was growing up.

"There were times where I would run out [of insulin], and I'd tell [mom] I didn't have anymore, and I'd watch her break down because she knew she couldn't afford it," said Booker.

Booker supports Medicare-for-all as a solution to the country's healthcare issue.

"The healthcare system we have now is not sustainable. It is incredibly expensive. It is continuing to grow as a percentage of our budget, and a lot of people are still dying because they're not getting care," said Booker. "So, honoring the reality that healthcare is a right, everyone should have access to it is something, I believe, more and more people are starting to see."

Critics of Medicare-for-all believe the concept may be difficult to achieve. However, Booker thinks it can get done.

"I had some work in the legislature that gives me so much hope around expanding access to prescriptions. I'm a type I diabetic. One of my colleagues - a strong Republican, supports Donald Trump - [is] also a type I diabetic," said Booker. "We put the politics aside and talked about the issues, and we were able to pass House Bill 64 last session together; to make sure more people get access to insulin in emergency situations. We just need to do that again. We need to build relationships again and speak to the truth, and we will win Medicare-for-all."

Another issue Booker talks about is student loan debt. Part of his platform is student loan forgiveness and free public college.

"My wife and I are still paying off our student loans," said Booker. "I doubt I'll ever pay them off. At this point, I call it criminal because it is one of the highest forms of debt that we see in our country, and it blocks so many people out. That is also why so many young people are excited about my campaign. I'm the youngest person running, and in a lot of rooms, I'm talking about experiences that [young people] are dealing with right now."

Booker uses his stories to connect with people. He believes that connection will inspire people to demand change and vote for him.

He recently earned the endorsement of several of his Democrat colleagues in the Statehouse, including the House Democratic Leader.

However, he faces a tough primary in June. He is one of the top three Democrats in the race, but he knows he is up against a challenger with a lot of money. Amy McGrath, one of the other Democrats in the race, has raised millions of dollars. She has more than Booker and Mike Broihier, another primary contender, combined. But Booker believes his vision is more important than the money.

"It doesn't matter how much money you have if you don't have a vision, if you can't inspire people, if you're not connected to the struggle and challenges that Kentuckians are facing and demanding change on," said Booker.

"You're not going to beat Mitch McConnell by throwing a whole lot money at him," said Booker. "You have to talk about the issues. You've got to inspire folks."