Pete Buttigieg offers intelligence, calm demeanor

Posted Monday, 17 February 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

In advance of the Nevada 
caucuses, the Las Vegas Sun editorial board invited the top Democratic candidates for interviews about how their policies would shape America and Nevada. This is the second in a series of stories based on our conversations. Pete Buttigieg enters the Nevada caucus on a remarkable trajectory, from being a little-known Midwestern mayor to one of the leaders in the Democratic presidential field in less than a year. Throughout the campaign, the former two-term mayor of South Bend, Ind., has demonstrated the poise, eloquence and civility that many Americans badly miss in a president. In person, Buttigieg displays those qualities as well — he’s the same calm, collected and cerebral candidate you see on the debate stage. Policywise, Buttigieg has placed himself among the moderates in the race. But his plans also reflect the 38-year-old Rhodes scholar’s intelligence and fresh thinking. Among his initiatives: Health care Buttigieg’s plan tries to strike a balance between the party’s center and left by maintaining private insurance but not necessarily indefinitely — unlike plans that either call for an immediate end to the private option or would discontinue it at a set point in the future. His approach is to expand the Affordable Care Act and then let Americans decide whether to stay on their private plan or switch over to a public option. “I think we need to put a little more humility into our policy, that says, ‘Look, if we’re right and this really is the plan that is the best for everybody, then everybody moves over to it and it is Medicare for All,’ ” he said. “But if for some people it’s not the right answer and isn’t as good as what they’ve got, then why should we dictate a number of years before they have to switch? Let them keep the plan that works for them.” Immigration Like other candidates, Buttigieg supports a path to citizenship for 11 million long-term undocumented immigrants. But instead of offering a specific set of steps, he says he would work with lawmakers to create the roadway. “I purposely left room for the policy to be negotiated legislatively, because there are a lot of different ways to approach this,” he said. Although the details would be determined later, Buttigieg said he envisioned a “sequencing system” that takes into account such factors as length of residence, family status and employment history. “I would want to set it up in a way that shows regard for those who have established and contributed the most,” he said. “I’m thinking about a guy in South Bend: a popular, beloved restaurant owner with not so much as a parking ticket against his name for 20 years. And because of something that happened when there was a family vacation to Niagara Falls and something strange happened at the Canadian border, the guy got a deportation order. He’s going into ICE every year to try to get it fixed. And under this administration, when he went into ICE — doing the right thing, like he’s supposed to — he doesn’t come out. Winds up deported. His kids, who are American citizens, are living without their father now. And then the whole family ended up moving to Juarez because it was the only way to stay together, even though his kids I think had never been there or certainly didn’t view that as their home. “So I think it’s people like him who we need to prioritize.” His position on overhauling Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection reflects his efforts to appeal to moderate voters — he’s against the overhauls. Elsewhere on immigration, his ideas include: • Offering national service opportunities for people to obtain citizenship. That would include AmeriCorps positions along with the creation of a climate corps that would take on such projects as weatherizing senior housing. “If you look at acceptance rates for the military, for the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, they’re typically below 20%,” he said. “What they’ll tell you is there are way more people who want to serve and are willing to serve than get to serve. So the way I’d structure it would again have a lot of layers.” Buttigieg proposes establishling a community renewal visa that would allow local officials to identify their specific workforce needs and craft visa requests to meet those needs. The visa is designed to leave residents feeling less concerned that newcomers were taking jobs that otherwise would be theirs. “Especially in my part of the industrial Midwest, a lot of local officials spend a lot of time thinking about how we stimulate job growth and how we create more economic opportunity, and have begun to realize that that’s half the battle, because you actually need a dedicated population growth strategy,” he said. “There’s a real chicken-and-egg quality here. Sometimes if you build it they will come, but often you need to think just how to literally get the people. So when I talk about the job-based, work-based visa requirements or allocations, that’s really viewed through the lens of what we need from an economic perspective. There are also a lot of communities that just plain need people, not just to fill jobs but to revive their communities.” Climate change Buttigieg’s climate plan calls for a federal investment of $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion, including $200 billion in clean energy research and development. He offers several creative ideas as part of his plan, including: • Issuing climate action bonds that are similar to war bonds. The climate bonds would allow Americans to invest in addressing global warming. • Creation of $5 billion of Resilient America Grants that would allow communities to address climate projects and respond to catastrophes, including relocating infrastructure or even entire communities. “This is not totally newfangled,” he said. “During my first campaign in Indiana, I showed up at the town of English and followed GPS to the courthouse. And when I got there, it was clear that not only the courthouse but the entire town was abandoned. I was trying to figure out what happened — ‘I definitely had an appointment there. And it turned out that that was the old English. The new English was built up the hill after these devastating floods. Easy enough because it was a small community. “But we will need to figure out, especially from a future planning perspective, how to account for the differences between where people can live well and communities whose growth outlook is going to shift because of climate change.” Gun violence As the only military veteran running for president, Buttigieg has a unique perspective on the gun issue. “Having trained on some of these weapons, I think there’s no explainable reason why anything remotely resembling what I trained on ought to be sold for profit anywhere near an American school, or hotel, or neighborhood,” he said. In his gun policy, Buttigieg joins other Democratic candidates in supporting an assault weapons ban, universal background checks and federal red flag law, but he goes a step further in calling for establishing a nationwide gun licensing system. In his interview with the Sun, Buttigieg also posed a unique idea of adding requirements into federal weapons contracts to force the gun manufacturing industry to adopt biometric technology that would block weapons from being fired by anyone other than the owner or others designated by the owner. “There are some opportunities around the purchasing power of the U.S. government as one of the biggest buyers of weaponry in the world,” he said. “If you look at the NRA’s behavior, they’re not speaking for gun owners so much as gun companies. That means there’s an opportunity to exert a different kind of pressure. With the companies that are stonewalling on (biometric technology), if they learn it could affect their ability to do business with the American people, it might just break down some of the resistance toward measures that have no bearing on the Second Amendment but have the potential to save a lot of lives.” Asked how he would overcome opposition to gun legislation, Buttigieg said he would go to voters in areas served by conservative lawmakers and point out “the daylight between them and their own elected senators and members of Congress” on gun safety issues. He cited polling showing that the majority of Americans — including Republicans — support universal background checks, assault weapons bans and similar legislation. “To me, that means a very good use of presidential time is to go directly to the home district or the state of a member who is not only defying the White House but defying their own voters,” he said. “If that sounds naïve, consider the political trajectory of the Affordable Care Act. I was on the ballot in 2010, statewide in Indiana, and I got clobbered. It was a tough year to be a Democrat, and the toughest issue for us was the ACA — it was toxic for us. By 2018, it was the winning issue for Democrats.” Other policies Buttigieg has long-running problems with black voters, stemming from criticisms he faced from the African American community in South Bend when he was mayor. To address the matter, Buttigieg unveiled what he called his Douglass Plan, which called for such actions as reducing mass incarceration by 50%, ending racial health care bias and investing $50 billion in historically black colleges and universities, minority-serving institutions and tribal colleges. The plan plays a key role in Buttigieg’s economic and education policies, which aim at boosting the working and middle classes overall but places particular focus on racial income inequality. Part of Buttigieg’s goal in investing in HBCUs and similar institutions is to produce more educators, an initiative he couples with increased spending for teacher salaries in low-income schools.  “(The investment in HBCUs and other institutions) isn’t just to build them up, it’s also to do it in a way that will support more people in professions where the underrepresentation of people of color leads to worse outcomes,” he said. “We know statiscally that if you lack a teacher of color — especially for young men and boys of color, if they lack a male teacher like them — you’re much less likely to see success, and by the same token if you have even one, there’s a lot of evidence that you’re more likely to succeed.” System reforms Buttigieg would attempt to abolish the Electoral College. He also proposed a plan — which some critics have dismissed as unconstitutional — to boost the number of seats on the U.S. Supreme Court to 15, with progressives picking five members, conservatives picking five and the court itself selecting the other five. He said he would also consider regularly rotating justices. “One of the issues with these lifetime seats is they’re becoming almost more than lifetime seats,” he said. “Justices and judges used to just retire like everybody else, and now feel the need to time their departure from the bench. That’s no way to run the highest court in the land.” In conclusion With Buttigieg as president, the nation would be led by another beginner — albeit one who at least has municipal government experience and is exponentially smarter than the current occupant of the White House. There would be another cycle of on-the-job training, and potentially the missteps that come with it. But Buttigieg’s character and values — he’s contemplative, eloquent, respectful, disciplined and well-read — place him 180 degrees opposite of Trump. And with a strong and properly empowered team around him, he could be a strong president. His policies generally are down the middle of the fairway among the Democrats, in most cases a logical extension of the Obama presidency. How his presidency would affect black Americans is uncertain, however: Despite his Douglass Plan, a disturbing story emerged this year in which his minority staffers complained that their input was being disregarded. The key question is whether Americans are ready to follow Trump with another president who will have to learn as he goes — even a very bright one.

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