Presidential hopeful Cory Booker spent more than an hour chatting with more than 100 voters at the Bucksport Senior Center in Conway on Tuesday morning about gun control, lowering prescription drug costs, and how he thinks America needs to come together as a country.
Doris Potter-Hickman of the Horry County Democrats said she was happy that Booker, a New Jersey senator, came to Bucksport.
“Some areas of our county they skip. I’m so happy he is able to show is for all of the people and listen to the concerns of everyone,” Potter-Hickman said.
Many in attendance said that they came because they were still making their decision on their favorite candidate.
“I want to see all of the candidates so I can make an informed decision,” said Barbara Novak with the North Strand Democrats.
Brenda Blackstock,with SC Thrive, an organization that helps people get access to social services, came all the way from Columbia.
“I came down here because I had a dream,” Blackstock said with a laugh, as she said she actually had a dream a few days ago that she was helping to give Booker tips on how to win the election, so she thought she should come down and see him speak.
Karen Olson of Murrells Inlet hoped that Booker could provide “a balm” after the horrific shootings that happened over the weekend.
“I think he is an amazing person,” Olson said.
Diane and Jerry Langley said that they did not know a lot about Booker, but said that some of the things he had said were interesting.
“I want to see face-to-face where he’s going,” Langley said.
Deborah Alston, manager of Bucksport Senior Center, presented Booker with a quilt handmade by the residents.
“Now I’m ready for the New Jersey winters,” Booker joked, as a few in the crowd said “No, Washington!”
Booker opened on the subject of love.
“Life is about purpose not position,” he said. “You can’t love your country unless you love your fellow Americans.”
He said every generation has seen bigotry and hate, and has never “been free of these weeds”.
“It’s about how can we pull them up,” he said.
He said at a recent rally, a man approached him and told Booker he should “punch Donald Trump in the face.”
Booker told the man that would be a felony.
“Don’t let hateful people pull you to hate,” he said. “You can’t beat hatred with hatred. We need to double down on the best of who we are.”
He said removing Donald Trump from office doesn’t fix the problems in the nation.
“Beating Donald Trump is the floor, not the ceiling,” Booker said.
A Conway woman asked Booker how he would fix skyrocketing prescription drug costs.
He said one part of his plan included telling drug companies if they raise their price on their drug higher in the U.S. than in other countries, there will be consequences.
“We will take away their patent and let generic drugs undercut them,” Booker said.
As for the opioid crisis, he said he would stop the easy availability of the drugs, preventing them from coming into the country, and invest significantly in programs that help addicts break the cycle.
Booker said he lives across from a drug treatment center, and has spoken to people who have been arrested for opioids dozens of times before ever getting treatment, and he plans to change that.
A Bucksport resident asked what he would do about Medicaid and Medicare issues.
“Medicaid right now is broken. If you are a senior, you don’t qualify until you go through all your savings. It strips the dignity from our elders,” Booker said.
He said he would lift the income cap and savings cap, as well as give support to those who choose to age at home.
He plans to expand the earned income credit and “change the definition of work” to include being the long-term caregiver for the elderly, sick, or a special needs child.
“You will qualify for money from our government as well,” Booker said. “That is hard work.”
Booker went on to say that universal healthcare should be a right.
“No one should bankrupt their family for healthcare,” he said.
He said the first way to do that is to “stop ripping apart the Affordable Care Act”.
He also wants to expand unions, and create a public option for people to show that universal healthcare can work, he said.
“If we do Medicare right, we will out-compete private insurance,” he said.
Elijah Lawson, an elementary-aged boy in the crowd, spoke up to ask what Booker was going to do to protect kids from school shootings, which garnered uproarious applause.
Booker said he wants to pass common sense gun safety laws, and he is the only candidate who has had people shot in his own neighborhood.
“I live every day with a sense of urgency. This is not a secondary issue for me,” Booker said.
“Gun owners agree … we’ve got to end this nightmare so no child in America should ever have to ask that question,” Booker said.
He told the story of when in 2004, a 19-year-old man was shot on the street in his neighborhood, and he tried to help stop the bleeding. Despite his efforts, the man passed away.
Booker said he was so angry and hurt – and an encounter with a longtime elder and friend gave him strength when she simply told him, “Stay faithful.”
“Hope is active conviction that despair will never have the last word,” Booker said.
One of the last questions he fielded asked about his thoughts on the abortion and the heartbeat bill.
“I support Roe vs. Wade … we should be doing everything we can to reduce unwanted pregnancies,” he said. “If we empower women, we dramatically reduce the [abortion] rates … if we give low-income women free contraception. People who think we are lowering rates by stripping women of rights are wrong.”
Booker stayed and spoke with individuals, taking the time for photos and shaking hands.
Pam Hooper of Conway said she thought he did an excellent job.
Deborah Robertson of Little River said she thought he had some good points, but she still had a big question.
“How is he going to afford his plans?” Robertson said.
Myrtle Beach resident Angel Cuthbert also wanted to know how he would pay for his proposals.
Booker ended his time saying that being united was most important.
“We need to lean on each other. The enemy is when we are not united,” Booker said. “It’s about hope, love, and a deep, abiding civic faith.”