U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, visited Dubuque and other Iowa cities Wednesday night.

But the Democratic presidential candidate never actually set foot in Monk’s Kaffee Pub, where 18 local residents gathered with their various brews, wearing everything from business suits to Hawkeyes T-shirts.

Rather, Booker addressed the eclectic group — as well as 15 others across the state — via Google Hangouts. The topic of conversation was the senator’s new gun violence prevention plan.

The crowds were greeted first by Sarah Sterner, the Booker campaign’s organizing director in Iowa.

“I’m really excited that the digital space gives us more opportunity to give access to Cory Booker for Iowans,” Sterner told the Telegraph Herald. “Organizing is always about meeting people where they are. What better way than in the living rooms of Iowans all across the state?”

Projected on the wall in Monk’s basement, Booker sat at a table in Washington, D.C., with “Hello Iowa” written on a whiteboard behind him. Attendees with questions had submitted those to his team before the discussion began.

One of those in Dubuque was Ken Miller, a Vietnam War veteran and gun owner who asked how willing Booker was to compromise on his gun control plan.

Booker told the story of his first time shooting a firearm — a .22-caliber rifle, at cans, poorly, with his grandfather, when he was a child.

Booker likened his plan to the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, which banned the sale of new machine guns and chipped away at the market without taking any guns away. Booker’s plan focuses mainly on the development of a gun-licensing program.

After the event, Miller said he saw promise with the digital discussions.

“It’s a decent format,” he said. “It did allow the question I wanted answered to be answered. Had I the opportunity to ask a follow-up question, though — which this format might eventually allow — I would have liked to ask it.”

Tess Seger, Booker’s deputy communications director in Iowa, said Wednesday was the third time the senator had dabbled in digital outreach thus far after an Iowa book discussion and a Facebook Live town hall about water quality in New Hampshire.

Sterner said these sorts of boundaries being pushed rarely stay with one campaign.

“The grassroots innovations we develop here can impact how the Democratic Party organizes for even down-ballot races in the future,” she said.

Neither Facebook Live nor Google Hangouts had been

released during the 2016 presidential election. But Iowa GOP spokesman Aaron Britt said Gov. Kim Reynolds and former U.S. Rep. David Young, of Des Moines, both used Facebook Live to stream their campaign speeches during their 2018 bids for re-election.

And using brand-new technology is nothing new, according to Loras College political science professor Chris Budzisz. He recalled then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama setting up a campaign headquarters in the online virtual world of Second Life during his initial bid for the White House in 2008.

FINKENAUER MUM ON RE-ELECTION RUN

With at least one prospective Republican challenger for her recently acquired seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Dubuque native Abby Finkenauer remains vague on her 2020 plans.

Asked whether she’d made up her mind about seeking re-election — or a run for a different office — in November 2020, the freshman Democratic lawmaker demurred.

Declining to comment on her future plans, Finkenauer said her priority is “standing up for Iowa’s First (Congressional) District.”

“It’s what I’m going to continue to be focused on and will be for the foreseeable future,” Finkenauer told the Telegraph Herald. “This is something I take with great responsibility.”

AREA LAWMAKERS PUSH FOR RURAL BROADBAND

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, reintroduced bipartisan legislation last week that would release small, rural broadband providers from some federal red tape.

The ACCESS Rural America Act (Access to Capital Creates Economic Strength and Supports) increases the number of investors that triggers U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission public reporting requirements for rural telecom companies.

“Access to quality broadband and high-speed internet is essential to competing in today’s economy,” Ernst said in a release. “Unfortunately, many of our rural telecom providers get caught up in Washington’s regulatory web, making it much harder to invest in broadband across Iowa.”

A release from Baldwin said these SEC regulations were not meant for small providers, but can impact them in a costly way nonetheless.

On the other side of the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., was tapped to work on the new House of Representatives Task Force on Rural Broadband by House Majority Whip James Clyburn.

POCAN PRESIDES OVER HOUSE

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., served as speaker pro tempore on Friday, during debate over the Equality Act.

The act would extend existing anti-discrimination protections for other demographics to LGBTQ Americans regarding employment, education, jury service, housing and public accommodations.

The Equality Act passed the House on a 236-173 vote, with eight Republicans joining the unanimous Democratic majority. It now heads to the Senate, where members of the Republican majority have indicated it likely won’t be taken up.

This is the first time Pocan — a proudly gay elected official — has held the gavel.

REYNOLDS OKS BARCODES ON ABSENTEE BALLOTS

Reynolds signed legislation this week that would require counties to track absentee ballots using U.S. Postal Service barcodes.

Previously, county auditors had the option to use the intelligent mail barcode service through the Postal Service for absentee ballots mailed back, but didn’t require it.

This new law would have settled a dispute from the 2018 election that discounted 29 mailed absentee ballots from the race over House District 55, which includes a portion of Clayton County. There, incumbent Republican Rep. Michael Bergan, of Dorchester, beat Democrat Kayla Koether, of Decorah, by just nine votes.

That led to a fight in the Iowa House, where the Republican majority voted to not count the 29, in accordance with then-current state law.

CALENDAR

  • 4:30 p.m. Sunday, May 26, at Smokestack, 62 E. Seventh St. — Booker will make an in-person campaign appearance.
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