Senate Candidate @CoryBooker: What We Know And What We Need To Know

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Gillmor Gang: Back in the USSR

Democratic celebrity Newark Mayor Cory Booker just announced his candidacy for Senate, to be decided in a special election on October 16 to replace the late Senator Frank Lautenberg. We named him one of our Most Innovative People in Democracy because there’s a lot to like: he has pioneered constituent responsiveness through Twitter, he’s a startup founder, he rescues people from burning buildings, and he’s one of the most gifted political orators of our time.

His penchant for digital innovation and speaking skills has led to a non-stop comparison to President Barack Obama. Now for Booker, an obvious future presidential candidate, this comparison is both a blessing and a curse. Like then-Senator Barack Obama, we don’t know a lot about his positions (detailed below). Additionally, Obama promised to reform the culture of Washington, but has been as partisan as every other president in recent memory. We’ll need more than soaring rhetoric to be confident he can accomplish this monumental task.

The Positions We Know That Somehow Differ From The Stock Democratic Platform 

  • Immigration: He’s a steadfast supporter of immigration reform, especially high-skilled immigration reform. During a Twitter town hall we held with him last  month, we learned that Mayor Booker supports equal rights for gay immigrants. This puts him at odds with his Democratic Senate colleagues, who voted against a provision to permit equal treatment for foreign gay partners, in order to save the fragile comprehensive immigration reform bill.
  • Gun Reform: He supports a proposal that requires “universal background checks, requires face-to-face ammunition sales and reduces the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines from 15 to 10 bullets,” according to the New Jersey Star.
  • Education: It’s likely that Booker supports greater funding for charters, given that he’s used Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to support innovative schools in Newark.
  • Culture: Booker has promised to raise the bar on constituent interaction. The lack of access and transparency from lawmakers “creates cynicism from people in their engagement,” Booker told me at SXSW. “They don’t feel like their voice matters as much. And, therefore, they’re pulling back from the democratic sphere.”

What We Don’t Know

  • Spying: Does Booker agree with his friend, the president, that the NSA should be allowed to collect data on our emails, social networks, phone records, and Internet browsing. The way Booker answers this question will define him as a candidate. If his answer is, “I haven’t seen the intelligence reports, so I can’t comment, but I love civil liberties!”, we’ll know he’s taken the safe (read: political) route.
  • Patent Reform: No one, including the president, likes patent trolls. But there’s been a more serious discussion to radically reduce the scope of software patents.
  • Corporate Tax Reform: Should Apple and Google’s money get to take a permanent vacation in cushy off-shore tax heavens? Does he support Research and Development Tax Credits (and which kind)?
  • Education: Should programming be a mandatory language requirement? Should universities allow more access to low-cost online courses? Student loan reform?
  • Energy: Nada
  • Foreign Policy: Nada. Intervene in Syria? Consider cyber attacks an act of war? How, exactly should we support Internet freedom around the world?
  • Immigration: Does Booker side with unions on a mandatory 90-day waiting period to hire high-skilled foreign workers?
  • Net Neutrality: Nada
  • Campaign Finance Reform: Nada
  • Drones: Nada

Campaigning and Senate Innovation

There are high hopes that Booker, like his mentor, will break new ground on the campaign trail. The president’s first Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, and current candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia, disclosed his campaign contributions on the software developer social network, GitHub, adding a new level of real-time, trackable information. We await whether Booker will do anything different.

Booker has also promised to “hack the Senate,” but we really have no idea what that means. Does he support more participatory technologies, like Congressman Darrell Issa’s crowdsourcing legislative platform, Project Madison? (Note: We’ve integrated Project Madison into our website. If you’re an expert on Immigration or Tax reform, contribute your ideas here.)

Republican Majority Leader, and fellow Most Innovative Person in Democracy, Eric Cantor, released a Facebook app, Citizen Cosponsor, that allows citizens to show support and track legislation online.

Congress and the Executive branch’s budget is still mostly opaque. There’s no way to track all federal spending online. Last year, the House unanimously passed Darrell Issa’s Data Act, but it failed in the Senate. Would Booker champion the Data Act, or some version of it to make spending transparent?

What about legislative reform? Senator Ron Wyden (CrunchGov Grade: A) supports a new strategy for legislation, wherein states are exempted from complying with new laws if they can find more innovative ways to accomplish the same goals.

I’ll update this post as we learn more; if I’ve left something out, please tweet at me.