MUSCATINE — Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said addressing broader climate change issues and giving local leaders more resources are two ways the federal government can assist communities such as Muscatine through natural weather events.
The junior senator from New Jersey made a stop Saturday evening in Muscatine for about three hours as part of a 4-day tour through the state. Booker met with local officials to talk flooding then covered a range of topics with the public at a backyard party.
While on a walking tour of downtown Muscatine, the New Jersey senator, and former mayor, took a moment to pick up and throw away a crushed can as local officials described impacts of recent near-record flooding on businesses. Mayor Diana Broderson and Councilman and chair of the county Democrats Kelcey Brackett said the Mississippi River had been in flood stage for the longest number of consecutive days on record and that affected business downtown. The group met with small-business owners who said though their buildings didn’t get wet, the flood closing key routes in the area limited the number of consumers visiting downtown.
When the Mississippi River rises more than 20 feet, which is predicted again between May 31 and June 4, parking on the riverfront is limited and the city closes the flood gate at 2nd Street. The gate serves to protect downtown businesses, but "there's no way to prevent a loss of business," Broderson said.
Brackett also mentioned the Muscatine-Louisa Drainage District 13 using nearly all of its budget to cover costs of operating the pumping station for so many days of flooding. The river affects more communities than Muscatine and Broderson told Booker she belongs to a coalition of mayors through the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative that discusses the issues.
“It’s not like (the water is) going to go away,” she said, “it’s just going to go downstream and so we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to keep all the cities protected along the way and certainly saving lives and businesses and economic development is a piece of that.”
Booker said because there has been a greater frequency of 100, 300 and 500-year floods, the federal government needs to act on climate change while also aiding communities with resiliency.
The government needs to be "empowering local leaders with resources and support they need to grow their local economy,” he said, “which will ultimately help all of us.”
Booker touted bipartisan legislation he wrote with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. as an example. The Investing in Opportunity Act aims to boost economic development and job creation in distressed areas by allowing local governments to provide tax advantages to investors in designated “opportunity zones.”
Muscatine already has three of the zones and a forgivable loan program for small businesses. Booker said the legislation is a tool the city has to attract investment.
Meeting with the crowd of Democrats, Booker said his foreign policy plan includes stopping unnecessary interventions, standing with allies and not hurting American farmers through tariffs. He said farmers don't want handouts from the federal government, they want to compete on the open market.
One of those farmers is Garry Reid, 83, of Louisa County. He donated a portion of the market facilitation payment he received last year as part of President Donald Trump's $12 billion support package for farmers and ranchers affected by trade disputes to Booker's campaign. Reid said he lost $.85 per bushel of corn for 5,000 bushels, or about $4,200, and his wife, Carolyn Reid said they want to see a change in leadership.
Booker was also in the state to talk about reproductive rights. Of the abortion bans passed and in progress in other states, Booker said, "it's an unacceptable assault on women's reproductive freedoms." As president, he said he would codify Roe v. Wade through legislation and create an Office of Reproductive Freedom to ensure health care, transportation and education is available to empower women "because when you empower women, they make great choices."
The tour was Booker's fourth trip to the state after announcing his candidacy in February. His grandmother was born in Des Moines and he had relatives who lived in the state's integrated coal-mining town, Buxton. He said the problems the country is facing are bigger than one person and one office, and the Democratic party has to organize and take every election seriously. As president, Booker said he would bring creativity and energy to the office to help the country build community.
"I think we're best in this country when we stand up for each other," he said. "I think we're best when we look at the lines that divide us and realize they're nowhere near as strong as the ties that bind us."