We loved having Charles Booker BACK on the show! Charles Booker is running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky against Rand Paul. We talked to him about his campaign, how he’s building bridges from the hood to the holler, and more. You can learn more about him and his campaign by checking out his website.
chuck corra: Charles Booker! There are so many things we could talk about. I love that you referenced lecturing people on a stop ignoring Kentucky. I want to, I definitely want to get to that. First thing though, I’m curious. You’ve launched your campaign. I think it was later last year.
If I remember correctly, forgive me if I forget, but where have you been since then? Like where have you gone around in Kentucky? Who have you talked to? What are the things you’re hearing from Kentucky?
Charles Booker: Since we launched the campaign which we launched in July I was in exploratory a couple of months before that.
I’ve gone to every corner of Kentucky at least a couple of times. Now I did this in my previous run before I really rolled out many of my policies. I wanted to do more listening than talking. A lot of people that run for office don’t pay attention to us at all. Especially communities like mine and that’s where from the hood to the holler really was this rallying cry for me.
Cause I’m really sick and tired of that. And going from Pikeville to Paducah and really just crisscrossing the state to sit down and listen to folks the themes that really jumped out for me, one just dealing with this pandemic, a lot of folks are, have been struggling to see.
How are they going to keep food on the table? How are they going to take care of their families? What’s the future going to look like and uncertain about all these things that are dealing with COVID, everyone’s tired of COVID. And then there’s the reality that Kentucky and as you have seen in the last few months of the year with the storms that hit our infrastructure and the resources that are allocated to a lot of our communities, We’ve just really been left behind and things have been crumbling.
Internet is crap, roads, and bridges, need repair jobs that have left communities and never come back. A lot of these things are what I hear from folks in the thing that I’ve also heard a lot is people are aside at the tired of the division, people are tired of the dysfunction, and all of the hatred that is really been weaponized by people like the dab.
I’m going to be replacing in November. And Kentucky is, are ready for change. It’s not a partisan thing. It is an earnest we’re trying to survive and we’re looking for someone who gives a damn about it. That’s why I’m running this race.
Contrasting with Rand Paul in Kentucky
chuck corra: Yeah. That’s helpful. You mentioned that people are tired of division and I feel like that’s certainly not even exclusive to Kentucky, but I think the entire country to an extent is how do you thread that needle by respecting that and not wanting to be divisive but also contrasting yourself with Rand Paul
Charles Booker: It’s a lot of work because Rand Paul has lots to talk about.
Every day, he’s sowing division, and one of the most important parts of my work, but all of us are as truth-tellers, as people that care about our communities is you got to call out the bullshit. And so it requires me to make it clear that this guy is voting to block your healthcare.
He’s voting against disaster relief. He’s blocking relief in a pandemic, but we have to tell a story this big. And we have to inspire people to believe things can be different. We got to meet them where they are and listen to folks and actually lift up a vision that is more than just beating a terrible politician because we’re used to terrible politics, to be honest with you.
And a lot of folks have resigned to concluding. That’s all we’re gonna do. And I don’t blame folks for that. And so as much as I don’t like grandpa, I’m not doing this because I don’t like him. I’m doing this because I love Kentucky. This is about us. And if we can tell that story and lift up the issues people really care about instead of the wedges that drive us apart, we’ll build the coalition to win this race and much more.
John Isner: See that’s the important part. Right now, there are too many Democrats who are running for office, not because of the policies that they want to put forth, but because of the other person across the aisle who’s running. And I think that people can see through that and see them as phony and that’s part of what is hurting the democratic party right now, which I think leads me to my question.
How do you separate yourself from the national democratic party that has this kind of they’re looked down upon when it comes to rural Kentucky all of these rural areas, how do you separate yourself?
Changing the narrative about Democrats
Charles Booker: It really, again, it goes back to. Understanding our common bonds and realizing that we have so much more in common than we do otherwise and leaning into that.
So I’m not running a campaign that is built to defend Democrats. I’m not running a campaign that is built to turn down Republicans, I’m running a campaign. That’s focused on the issues that we’re dealing with and how we fight for change together. And by empowering and inspiring more folks to do that too.
Volunteers are organizing with us. And these are folks that voted for Trump. They voted for Bernie Sanders. They’ve never voted before. It’s this big coalition of over 13,000 folks across Kentucky to this point that we are training to talk to their family, friends, neighbors, and church members, about what’s pissing you off.
What do you care about? And I’ve launched this initiative, this vision called a Kentucky new deal, which is really. I want us to transform our future and complete the promise that was made with the new deal of ending poverty and investing in infrastructure and really helping to support communities across the country.
And how do we do that together? Coal miners are talking about those jobs that are gone and talking about what it means that black lung and do not have healthcare. And it’s like when you do that stuff the partisan divide really falls to the wayside. And we just need to do a lot of that.
It’s a lot of organizing early. So for me, GOTV starts actually started a couple of months ago. So through the rest of this campaign that’s how we’re going to treat it.
John Isner: Awesome. But I think that’s a smart thing to do. What about you?
chuck corra: No, I think it’s a terrible plan. Could never work. No, I’m kidding.
John Isner: I knew it was, I knew he was going to be divisive.
Navigating the pandemic and Rand Paul’s poor handling of it
chuck corra: I do think it’s a good idea. So I’m curious how you’re navigating the issue of the pandemic right now because we’re at this weird sort of limbo area with the pandemic as a country, we’ve figured out in some ways how to manage it.
But we have so many constituent groups like nurses and first responders and factory workers who are still. Facing the brunt of the pandemic. Others like myself, there are more fortunate can work remotely. Don’t really get the impact of it. How are you messaging that to different people? How is your campaign approaching the pandemic from a policy standpoint and how are you contrasting that with Rand Paul, who in my sense is really just trying to politicize certain players in the pandemic.
Charles Booker: That’s, that last point is really important because. What Rand Paul is doing, particularly with Dr. Fowchee. He’s really funny. He has picked someone that whom he can go to battle. Not because he cares about the pandemic or cares about us getting through it, but because he can divert away from the fact that he doesn’t want to do anything, like it, it gives him another soul to put on us.
It’s entertainment. It’s like, all of this is a joke, and the way that we are approaching this pandemic, quite honestly, It’s the way that I’ve approached my politics before the pandemic kid coming from the west end of Louisville, a place that it has generational poverty industries that have left a long time ago.
No places to really get healthy food. We got a lot of dollar stores, and a lot of liquor stores, but not a lot of local businesses have been able to sustain themselves, especially during this pandemic. I’m pushing on the policies that I believe in. Can ultimately end poverty and allow us to be prepared for the next pandemic, the next storm, and make the deep investments in communities that will allow us to do what we need to do to take care of our families and to be safe.
And the pandemic has really just shined a light on what it would mean for everybody to have healthcare, for instance. Cause if you lose your job, you lose your health care. Now you folks are saying wait a minute, what do I do now? I can’t afford my insulin. And when the tornado hit and everything were wiped out in parts of Kentucky the governor declared it a state of emergency and put provisions in place so people could get their prescriptions and it calls into question.
Why don’t we always make sure people can get their prescription, and so the frontline workers, essential workers who have always been essential, it’s allowed us to talk about the importance of unions and raising wages and policies like universal, basic income, where folks can have more financial freedom actually have a savings and be ready when tough times come.
And so the main thing that I’m trying to do here is. Give people the room to be frustrated though this is not about judging or being annoyed with folks that want this thing to go away. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to wear a mask or not wanting to get vaccinated. None of us really want to deal with this.
But it takes a leader to say, all right, how do we actually get through this damn thing so we can get past it and keep our loved ones. And because we’re doing this. So our campaign has actually been doing check-in calls. So we’ve had our volunteers call areas across Kentucky, not just democratic areas to just say how are you doing?
Has your family been sick, and do you need any resources? We love. Type of stuff you don’t really hear from campaigns too often. And because we’re doing that the coalition is growing in a way that, again it’s bigger than beating ramp Powell and truthfully where we’ve taken pages from Mitch McConnell’s playbook because we’re organizing in areas that Republicans take for granted.
It’s a winning playbook, it’s a winning playbook and. Let’s say we use it to not build power from one evil person, but we actually empowered.
chuck corra: Radical idea. Yeah.
John Isner: Cool. Yeah. Pretty cool idea. There, Charles.
chuck corra: Yeah, doing what Mitch McConnell does and winning, but then actually not being a terrible person.
I love it. And I’m glad that you’re doing that because I think that’s smart and Democrats have to be smart in order to beat these people. Your approach to this, to the pandemic, especially like giving people the space to be frustrated, because I think too often, number one, campaigns come off as way too transactional of I’ll say whatever you want to get your vote, or they’re not nuanced enough.
The pandemic has affected so many people in terrible ways, but it’s such different ways. So I think that’s a really smart approach. And one thing that you mentioned with the unions is something that I really wanted to ask you and hit on because I feel like we are very much in the middle of a massive labor rights movement in our country that I feel like.
I feel like the national Democrats have largely not capitalized on it or supported it enough with the exception of people like Sherrod Brown. What are you hearing from people who are organizing unions or who are members of unions or just in the working class?
Supporting unions and the working class
Charles Booker: Yeah, man. I think there are a couple of realities here. One, you’re seeing this growing demand from the people to be heard and to be accounted for. And so you’re seeing more folks like you had mentioned with Starbucks and Amazon, these folks that are saying hi, you’re not going to keep screwing us.
We’re going to lift our voices together. And so there’s this demand for it. But organized labor has really been undermined tremendously over the years. We’ve had some hard fights in the state legislature during my time there trying to protect organized labor and strengthen it.
And the things like the ProAct that a lot of folks have been pushing that I certainly support and giving our unions and folks who want to join unions, a fighting chance what I’m trying to do in this campaign. And helping to strengthen organized labor is really talking about the power of community by lifting up the stories that, that people have just in general, from different walks of life, I’m including organized labor.
So through the campaign, as I mentioned, these 13,000 plus volunteers we’re training people to be issued-based organizers and to be relational organizers. And this is a powerful tool that our partners in organized labor are utilizing and digging into more of because if you’re trying to tell a story, it can’t always just be all right.
You need to support yourself. People need to know the why and the how and the history and what’s going on right now. And we take for granted the fact that most people don’t realize how they’re being. And so some of the organizers do you know that if you had representation that was protecting you here, you’d be able to save more money, you’d get better benefits and your health coverage your projects, construction projects would last longer schools would be safer, all these different types of things that if we’re just trying to folks look on these days a week, talk about these issues.
Tell your loved ones about this, and let them know what’s going on. That type of work is going to be really key and we’re actually organizing within our campaign. So I’m gonna have some news soon.
So I’ll make sure that you all are some of the first to know y’all gotta help us blast this out. This is a campaign that really is for the people. There’s no point in doing this otherwise, and organized labor is at the heart of that man. So we got the fight to make it really count for everyone.
A lot of communities that haven’t really had the chance to organize a B account of foreign labor, we were pushing for that announced. So we’re getting a lot of support from unions because one, the work I’ve done over the years, but to what we’re doing in this campaign. And it’s just another reason why we’re going to win this race
John Isner: I always say to every politician has a day one, which that not the first day that they go into the office, but a day one issue that they want to focus on as soon as they step in the door. So let’s say Senator Charles Booker becomes a reality. What’s your day one?
Policy Priorities in the Senate
Charles Booker: My day one has to be the same day one I had when I won the state house and its voting rights protected. The access to the ballot box and making sure more people can be heard. Kentucky has historically been one of the more disenfranchised states in the country. It has been disproportionately hard to be heard here.
And right now in our country with all of the attacks on democracy, we’re still trying to figure out democracy. As a country and we haven’t gotten it right. And we’re hanging on by a thread now, and protecting those rights, getting big, dark money out of politics so that regular folks can be heard to me, it’s the foundation.
Cause then after that, every other issue that we’re dealing with, we need to make sure people can be heard and engage in them. And sure enough democracy to me is day one. That’s what we gotta be fighting. If we got to get rid of the filibuster. So be it we need to expand the Supreme court because Mitch McConnell’s packed it up.
So be it, we gotta get this job done to protect our future.
John Isner: Yeah. I like, I think right now, politicians, especially on the democratic side, which I know it seems like we should on Democrats a lot, but to be fair, we are Democrats and we’ve run a campaign on it. So we understand a little bit about it, but.
It seems like Democrats are afraid to talk about some of those issues. For instance, a lot of high-profile Democrats refuse to talk about the reality of the Supreme court and what could happen in terms of adding a justice or whatever could take place. So I do think it’s important that you actually do talk about those issues and I commend you for that because that’s not happening everywhere.
So now the tougher question. Is, and this is probably what our listeners are wondering. Cause last time when we talked to you, you were running against Mitch McConnell at the time. Obviously, that didn’t work out what makes this campaign different than that one? What makes this one successful?
How this campaign is different from his last campaign
Charles Booker: So the biggest difference between this campaign and the last one is we’re not starting from ground zero. We had to really introduce this idea. The notion that a black person from the hood that doesn’t have a lot of money could run a viable campaign was really laughed at like literally laughed at and because of what we did in the last cycle, the organizing that we did and in Appalachia and in areas that, as I said, Democrats were like, don’t even go there, Charles.
There’s a lot of, there are more Confederate flags and there are Democrats. That work really helped to transform our expectations. And so when we launched this race, we had immediate support and essentially have a clear field because a lot of the support has gathered behind us early.
And so it gives us a chance to tell the story from the beginning of what we did in the last. A month or so, where we close the gap in that primary run and folks were surprised by it was just scratching the surface of what we can do if we invest in organizing and listening to folks in areas that we’ve given up on the forgotten places.
And here’s the thing too. First of all, we would’ve blown Mitch McConnell. Let me be clear on that too. But there’s a difference is much as Mr. McConnell ran power, like two sides of the same, just a horrible coin. Rampant is not Mitch McConnell in terms of he doesn’t have infrastructure He does not have the respect and support that Mr.
McConnell has because Mr. McConnell has he’s played the game. Look, he has buildings named after him. He was, he’s been out for since I was born. Literally like when I was born. Rand Paul is really just seen as a joke across the. And so we have a very real path here that we have the time and the support to do.
This is still a grassroots campaign. I’m still not the Democrats, darling if you will. So we’re not building this leaning on like the DSCC or anything like that, but honestly, it’s telling an even more powerful story because nearly half of the support that we’ve received is from Kentucky.
The fact that we have a hundred thousand contributions, every county in Kentucky, every state, and we haven’t done any ads, any national buys and we still are seeing all this growing support because we’re doing the real work. If Rand, Paul is smart, which is a question he should be terrified of.
Because this is the work that all the hate can not.
John Isner: I will say this feels like a totally different campaign. Last time. I felt you were the underdog coming in especially in the Kentucky primary because you’re getting you have, you’re going up against somebody who has name recognition and a lot of money.
Obviously, it feels different. I compare your campaign to the Cincinnati Bengals, right? You will be headed to the super bowl, but not everybody thought that for a couple of years. But this time I think it is. I will say it does feel a lot different. It feels much more I wouldn’t even say it’s not professional, but just like a well-oiled machine.
That’s what it seems like. Like you’ve built this. It’s like the industrial revolution of campaigns.
Charles Booker: Yeah, man, look mine. So both of my parents are ministers. My mom always says that nothing happens by mistake and the work that we were able to do. And then after the last election, I launched the organization called hood to the holler.
I’ve told you all about that and it’s still going on. So I’ve stepped back from it, but they still just had a political training with hundreds of folks from across Kentucky training folks to run for office and to work on campus. It’s we were able to open the door in a way that not only now, is it me running as the top of the ticket, I’m in an unexpected type of way, but we’re inspiring other people to run at the state and local level.
Appealing to rural Kentuckians
chuck corra: I have one last question that I know John wants to rap on the wrestling one. National Democrats have ignored rural voters. How do you change that?
Because we know that at least at the national level Democrats have often ignored rural America. What’s your case that you make for them? And if it’s a vendor, it doesn’t have to be a rural area, but particularly rural Americans who maybe be more predisposed to vote for someone like bran Paul.
Charles Booker: Yeah. First of all, in Kentucky you have a right to be pissed off with Democrats. You have a right to feel like nothing’s going to change. You’ve been ignored and left behind your job, you’ve been called deplorableYou’ve been disrespected, you’ve been demeaned, you’ve been mocked. And I’m here to say, I see you because I feel that too. I’m sick and tired of it too. And I’m not asking for support because of my party registration. I’m asking for support because of the work that I’m here to do. And the work that I’ve put in and the fact that I am sewing in this campaign, that my priority is there.
At the end of the day, I don’t want anyone after rationale insolent. I want people to be safe in their homes, I don’t want folks feeling like the government is over their shoulder blocking them from living a good life by giving all their money to these big corporations. You know, I want you to have clean water and clean and utilities to be low and not break your bank, or you have to go without water or without life cause you can’t afford it. By leading with that type of campaign and focusing on the fact that I love Kentucky. I love folks in the hollers and I love folks in my hood because I see Kentucky is one of the best places on the planet, and I think everybody that steps up to it.
Their communities should feel like that about the community. The most important thing I’m saying is to give us a chance, give this a chance. If you don’t believe you’re cynical, I don’t blame you take this chance and I promise you we can win this and transform our future.
John Isner: I think that’s a good play. And I think it makes sense to honestly you’re not you’re a guy who has the means to get up and leave and be gone. You could have left, right. But you’re not going to cause you to love Kentucky. To be honest, most people who run for office and lose are always looking for a way out of wherever they just lost.
There’s plenty on both sides and it’s one of those things. So I do think it’s good that you’re coming back. You’re giving it another shot. You have a different opponent this time, and it seems you got your eye focused on the prize. I remember before we wrap up that wrestling story, which I think is going to be great and our listeners are going to love it. I do remember Daniel Kirk was on our show and she was speaking to us about being excited about your campaign, but she was worried at the time that you hadn’t been in her community yet, but it seems like now you’ve got the ball rolling you’re everywhere.
Reaching rural voters on the ground
Charles Booker: Oh, yeah. Yeah. So we’ve actually launched our second wave of tours across Kentucky. And look, a lot of people didn’t know this, but for a few weeks I had COVID and so did my entire household. So even our five-month-old daughter, and so going into the end of the year, we had to pull out.
Trip’s off the calendar so I can get back on my feet and make sure we’re not getting anyone sick. But we’ve actually launched our second wave about the tour. I’ll be traveling. I’ll actually get more. This week and making a couple of stops out east and we’re going back towards Paducah and me, haven’t a couple of stops out there next week.
We’re going to be crisscrossing the state and for anyone that wants to loop in with that or help us, if you want to host an event outcome anywhere go to Charles Booker dot O. And sign up, we’re doing meetups. So we have county meetups and we’re close to getting every county covered, but we still need some help.
So I definitely don’t want anyone feeling like we haven’t seen them or connected with them because we need them. That’s great to hear. I think you’re doing a good job and I think you’ve got, you still have time to, even if if you haven’t place, I know you will be.
Charles Booker in the wrestling ring
John Isner: That’s what it sounded like. And speaking of being places recently, I look, I heard this while we were getting ready to start this interview, and I’ve never been more excited in my entire life. You were recently a manager at Ohio valley wrestling. So you got to, you were right there, ringside.
Charles Booker: That’s right, man. I even got in the ring. It was like a bucket list for me. Yeah. One of my brothers, Matt Jones who was also helping counsel for me in this race and in the last one said that I had a lot of support from the folks over there and asked if I’d be a manager I know a thing or two about getting some.
So I agreed to do it. And I was with my brother name is Isaiah. We were in our tournament and man, it was awesome. Getting to bounce off the ropes I’m reliving my childhood dreams. Thinking about Goldberg and stone cold. No, it, and I wasn’t necessarily the biggest rock fan, but I respect the rock undetected.
Yeah, it was awesome, man. I, it’s not a lot of Senate candidates that are getting in the ring appreciate wrestling. I was excited to ride.
John Isner: That’s awesome. I think you should just base your entire campaign tour on which wrestling stops you can make. And I think you just make a gimmick of it and you just get over with everybody.
But I will say I go to a lot of wrestling shows and it’s really funny because the wrestlers have you talked to them, they tend to lean more Democrat, but if you go talk to the people in the crowd, they tend to lead more Republican and in that, but then. I’m sure that you are able to turn some heads there, especially people who may not even have known you or thought you only by your being a Democrat.
I bet. I bet you changed the minds
Charles Booker: there that night. Man. Look, the crowd was crazy. So I would imagine that there were a few folks in there they’re like, wait a minute. What’s he doing? Look bad is if you’re finding common buyers again, like when you go into that and in that arena, and you’re looking at the ring, it’s not Democrats and Republicans and so we got to find those ways at the end of the day, we’re connected. I’m here to tell that story. And I’m happy to get in the ring for the people of Kentucky.
chuck corra: meet people where they are that’s grassroots organizing at its best. And I’ll just say that I just, I can’t picture Rand Paul getting in the ring challenged to him though, challenged to him.
We’ll see. That I love that. I think that’s great. Charles Booker loved having you on it was great to talk to you again. I’m very excited about your campaign for the election in Kentucky. I hope everybody goes to your website, checks it out, and if they want to volunteer, they can. And we appreciate you coming on and good luck,
Charles Booker: I appreciate both of y’all thank y’all for what you do for fighting the fight and standing up for places like Appalachia. And I’m gonna keep doing it too, man.