U.S. Senate Candidate Charles Booker Discusses Finding Common Ground in Kentucky
By Charles Booker – U.S. Senate Candidate (D-KY)
Divided We Fall: Kentucky’s state motto is “United we stand, divided we fall.” How do you plan to deliver on that promise for the people of Kentucky?
Charles Booker: National figures often dismiss Kentucky as a “deep red” state. It’s not. It is an ignored, exploited, disrespected, disenfranchised, marginalized, and abandoned state. In fact, more Kentuckians do not vote than actually do. What we end up with are politicians that do not represent us, but actively work against us. We are changing that.
For too long we have been kept divided by politicians that would rather us fight over wedge issues than work to solve the problems that affect us all. Access to life-saving medicine is not a partisan issue. Ending poverty is not a partisan issue. Recovering from a natural disaster and building sustainable infrastructure is not a partisan issue. I am fighting for the people of Kentucky, regardless of if they are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, because the people of Kentucky are my family. As my grandad always told me, when your family is being disrespected, you fight for your family.
We are delivering on this promise by forming a new politics centered on our common bonds and powered by statewide, issue-based, relational organizing. We are confronting the wedges and naming structural racism. We are expanding the electorate by inspiring people from the hood to the holler to lift their voices together and mobilize at every level of government. We are indeed fueling a movement.
From the Hood to the Holler
You talk about building “a new coalition of people from the hood to the holler.” Can you describe what that means to you and how you believe you can make it happen?
Charles Booker: I’m from the West End of Louisville and grew up in one of the poorest zip codes in the commonwealth. My mom and I experienced homelessness. At one point, she had to go without eating so she could afford my insulin.
Growing up, I understood that a lot of folks in my neighborhood had the same struggles that I did. But it wasn’t until I served as a director for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife that I realized folks in my community had a lot more in common with folks out in Appalachia and other rural parts of Kentucky than we did with the rest of Louisville. The geography may be different, but we all know struggles like access to housing, devastating poverty, crappy internet, and crumbling infrastructure. These seemingly disconnected communities have compelling stories of faith, strength, love, and perseverance through the hard times. We have all been left behind.
When I say “hood to the holler,” it is about more than any one neighborhood. It’s about uplifting those common bonds and shining a light on the forgotten places so that we can all stand together and transform our future. We have so much more in common than we often realize, but we have been kept divided by politicians that would rather see us fight over wedge issues than unite to solve the problems that will actually help us.
In our campaign, we are making this movement come to life through relational organizing. The most powerful way to move hearts and minds is to start one conversation at a time, neighbor to neighbor. We are breaking down the silos that have kept us from moving forward as a Commonwealth, and we are doing it in a way that will ensure our victory in November.
Bridging Divides in Congress
Based on your experience as a state representative and, if elected, as a U.S. Senator, how can our politicians do better at reaching across the aisle to find common ground and compromise?
Charles Booker: If you talk to someone long enough, you are bound to find something that you have in common. It is that belief that has driven my work throughout my career, especially when I served as a legislator in the State House. When I was in Frankfort, I worked with members of both parties to pass legislation on issues that affect all of us, regardless of party. That’s how I was able to pass legislation with a Republican colleague to make insulin more easily available. That colleague was also a Type 1 diabetic like me.
We can reach those who have different backgrounds and ideologies by having the courage to show up. I often go to the communities’ political consultants write off, and in the end, I find Republicans, Independents, and disenchanted Democrats ready to work with me. When we treat people like we care about them and listen to them, we will find opportunities to build together. Kentuckians deserve leaders that are interested in solving problems that we all share because Kentucky is worth fighting for.
You are a progressive Democrat who advocates for “standing up for Kentucky coal miners” and “supporting family farms.” Can you talk about why Democrats need to focus on these issues?
Charles Booker: Coal miners and small farmers are just like any other Kentuckian. We all want to provide for our families, be respected for our humanity, see our children thrive, have money in our pockets, and stay healthy. But what we also share is that all too often, we are exploited by the hands of a government that does not work for us.
When I talk to farmers in western Kentucky, they are the first to tell you about the impact that climate chaos is having on their crop yields. When I talk to coal miners in eastern Kentucky, they are concerned about how they are going to make ends meet as the only economic engine in their region slowly fades away. They are not concerned with partisan politics; they’re concerned with how they’re going to survive. Further, they know the types of solutions they need. They may not use a label like “progressive”, but they absolutely support Medicare for All. They want financial freedom with policies like universal basic income, and yes, they want clean air and water. The reason most political experts don’t know this is because they never bother to listen to the folks they write off.
They’re also concerned with the influence that large corporate farms or Big Coal is wielding on legislation that directly affects their daily lives. Corporations have fought tooth and nail to make sure they are not held accountable to the people they exploited to make a profit. It’s why strip mining continues to decimate the landscape of Appalachia, so much so that 100-year floods have quickly turned into 1000-year floods. It’s why the number of small farms in Kentucky declines every year.
Leaders need to focus on these issues because people need to know we are fighting for them. That’s why when the coal miners in Harlan County were on strike, I stood with them. It’s why in the State House, I fought for legislation to address the climate chaos that is destroying our farms. We need to show up for people.
Optimism for Tomorrow
What gives you hope for the future of our country?
Charles Booker: What gives me hope is seeing my fellow Kentuckians not give up. Our resolve when storms hit. Our compassion in times of crisis. This isn’t what the pundits often talk about, but this love and unshakable resilience is Kentucky. We have been through so much, even in the past year as we experienced a devastating tornado and a catastrophic flood. We are strong, and we are not letting the doubters or the odds define us. And we fight for each other.
If you enjoyed this article, please make sure to like, comment, and share below. You can also purchase your copy of “From the Hood to the Holler.”
Charles became the first in his family to graduate from law school. He served as a director of Administrative Services for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. In 2018, he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives, becoming the youngest Black state legislator in nearly 90 years. Charles founded Hood to the Holler, a grassroots organization to build on the values that have animated his whole life and break down barriers between Kentuckians and their government. Now, he’s running for U.S. Senate to continue the work of making Kentucky a place where all of us can thrive.