Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, was in town Saturday for a fundraiser, but despite the enthusiastic crowd responses he received inside the Fountain Square Ballroom, a couple angry Hoosiers protested outside.
Booker was invited to attend a fundraiser for his legislative friend, Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana. Organized by the Monroe County Democratic Party, the event was packed with people, including Mayor John Hamilton and former Bloomington Mayor John Fernandez.
Outside the entrance to the Fountain Square Mall, Bloomington residentJenny Robinson stood with a few others with two posters hung around her front and back.
“Union (Public Schools) or Secession (Vouchers)? Which side are you on, Joe Donnelly?” one of her signs read.
“Public Schools = the common good. Vouchers = I-got-mine education” said the other.
Robinson was protesting Booker’s apparent support of school vouchers and charter schools. She passed out salmon-colored signs with Indiana Coalition for Public Education Monroe County’s logo on the top right corner.
“Senator Donnelly, where do you stand on school privatization?” the paper asked. “Bringing Cory Booker to Indiana is a slap in the face to your constituents who care about public schools.”
The paper listed examples of Booker’s advocacy for school privatization. He was a featured speaker at Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children summits in 2012 and 2016, it says. It also mentions how, as mayor of Newark, New Jersey, he used a $100 million gift from Mark Zuckerburg to expand charters in Newark and says he joined DeVos on a board that advocated using taxpayer money for charter and private schools, among other things.
“Did you know that Senator Booker is a very heavy proponent of school privatization?” said another protester, public school teacher Dakota Hudelson, approaching a passerby.
In an interview with the Indiana Daily Student, Booker said explicitly he’s against school privatization.
But ICPE Monroe County’s salmon-colored papers, littered inside the ballroom during the fundraiser, informed attendees otherwise.
Donnelly spoke first, making quick reference to Democrats’ huge victory just the day earlier in Rebublicans’ failure to raise enough votes to pass replacement for former President Barack Obama's health care law.
“Seven years ago was when the ACA was put in, and I voted for that,” Donnelly said proudly. “And we’ve had great health care.”
Earlier on Friday, Donnelly said, he and Booker were counting on having to defeat the bill in the Senate. But around 3:30 Friday afternoon, Republicans “packed their bags, they went home and 400,000 Hoosiers were able to keep their health care,” said Donnelly, rousing cheers and whoops from the crowd.
Donnelly said he saw his doctor Friday night, who gave him a bottle of champagne “on behalf of all his patients.”
Citizens’ action, in this case, had an effect on Washington, the Indiana senator insisted. When citizens began to say they wanted town hall meetings to discuss health care, legislators started listening, he said.
He called for the political activism to continue in the form of better voter turnout in the midterm elections. He said he's the primary target in 2018 due to his status as a bluesenator in a red state.
“Nothing on policy, nothing on making people’s lives better,” he said. “Just political gains.”
After Donnelly, Booker took the mic and began cracking jokes and telling anecdotes about his father.
He flip-flopped back and forth between commanding sentences of inspiration that had attendees silent with rapt attention and short quips that had laughter rippling through the crowd.
His friend Joe Donnelly is in many ways the exact opposite of President Trump, Booker said.
“Donald Trump is a billionaire. Joe Donnelly is kind of poor,” he said, prompting laughter throughout the room. “Donald Trump is a showhorse. Joe Donnelly is a workhorse.”
Much of Booker’s speech focused on never growing complacent. His father imprinted this idea upon him, he said.
When he voted in 2008 — the year Obama was elected the first time — the lines were hours long, he said. The next year, on a gubernatorial election, though, there were no lines at all.
The Democratic incumbent for governor lost that year by just a hair, and a Republican — Chris Christie — became governor of a blue state, he said.
Booker used the story as a warning of what can happen when Americans stay in a state of what he earlier referred to as “sedentary agitation.”
“They didn’t do this to us,” Booker said. “We did this to ourselves. We had the power all along, but we didn’t use it.”