Mayor Pete woos voters in Jefferson

Pete Buttigieg | GCNO photo

With less than a week until the Iowa caucuses, Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg* visited Jefferson Wednesday morning. He spoke with about 120 persons, including middle school students who had walked to the event at History Boy Theatre.

Buttigieg was introduced by Shelly Thornton of Jefferson, who explained she chose him from the wide field of candidates when she realized “he was the only one running who was positive. He wasn’t slamming anybody else. He wasn’t being negative. I value that. We have enough of that. We need some positive,” she said.His campaign started, Buttigieg said, with the idea “that we can make politics more responsive to our lives instead of allowing it to continue to recycle, recirculate the same Washington mindset that got us here.”

He said that at the end of the current presidency, America will be polarized and tired of fighting. “We’re going to need a president focused on healing and bringing the American people back together. At the very same time, we’re also going to be a county facing colossal challenges that are only growing deeper in the months to come….

“The task of the next president will not only be to make sure we heal and unify this country, but also to lead us forward quickly, boldly, to deal with these big problems,” he said, referring to problems in the economy and in gun violence.

He said he sees the purpose of the presidency “is not the glorification of the president. It’s the empowerment and the unification of the American people. That’s why I’m asking for your support.”

Buttigieg is a Navy veteran, having served in the Navy Reserve from 2009 to 2017 as a naval intelligence officer and attaining the rank of lieutenant. He was deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in 2014. He said as president he would ensure that those who are serving in the military “are never sent into a conflict that could be avoided. What it really means to support our troops is not to have a president throw himself a military parade and then say traumatic brain injury is no big deal. It’s seeing to it that we honor our troops during and after their service.”

In rhetoric reminiscent of Barack Obama, Buttigieg said, “This is the moment for us to actually get politics to revolve around our lives, instead of expecting everybody to revolve around the circus that’s going on in Washington.”

He said Iowans “have a chance to reject the sense of helplessness or hopelessness that’s emanating from Capitol Hill, and instead do something that will see to it that once and for all, establishes a country that no president from either party can lie, cheat or steal their way in power. We’re going to make sure politics actually responds to what we need.”
He spoke for 11 minutes and then spent the next 20 minutes answering questions submitted by attendees and then randomly drawn.

To a question about including preventive care in the national discussion about healthcare, he answered that coverage isn’t enough if it’s only covering sickness. He said the first step is to assure there are providers, particularly in rural areas. He said routine care needs to be more affordable.

He said there are policies, like food policy, that affect health long before people seek medical care. “We need to make sure we make good food available,” he said, and he mentioned education early on about nutrition and healthy lifestyles.

“We also have to pay attention to the relationship between mental health and physical health. Each has a huge impact on the other. We talk about mental health like only a handful of people have mental health, but all of us have mental health. All of us have a level of physical health and of mental health that needs attention. We need to talk about it and make it as normal and as comfortable to go get an emotional health check-up the same way you get a physical,” Buttigieg said.

He said he’d add mental health first aide training for teachers and first responders, and he’d work to increase the number of mental health providers.

He said environmental policy, like the recent rollback of clean air standards, also impact health. “It’s a question of health, not just a question of fairness.”

He answered a question from 10-year-old Amelia about global climate change. He said his policy would include more clean energy with more federal funding for research and development; funding for farmers working to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and implementation of a national service program that would allow volunteers, particularly new high school graduates, to spend a year working on projects that would improve energy efficiency or the environment. “It’s not just something politicians are supposed to do. All of us can play a role in doing something about it,” he said.

He said the U.S. has historically been at its best when it’s helping others, “and now is the time we have to do that to make sure we’re dealing with climate change around the world.”

“In a moment when some countries aren’t very happy with us because we’ve become a kind of unreliable friend,” he told the 10-year-old, “this is a moment for us to be back where we ought to be as a trusted, reliable partner. All our friends, all other countries, are going to see us helping other countries and being that kind of leader. That’s going to be good for our reputation.”

To a question about privatization of Medicaid, Buttigieg agreed privatization has been “a disaster.” He said stronger Medicaid and Medicare would be a key focus for him, and that he’d demand more accountability of how patients fare under privatized systems.

He answered a question from a Republican in the audience, who said that farmers have been through a lot in the last two years and he “doesn’t want it to be for nothing.”

He said supporting farmers would include funding farmers’ efforts to use new techniques to combat climate and pollution challenges.

More specifically about trade, Buttigieg said, “We have to make sure that trade agreements we enter into are actually good for American farmers and American consumers. I’m not going to take a meat cleaver approach to trade. Free trade has a lot of problems. We saw that… That doesn’t mean the answer is trade war. We don’t have to choose between free trade and trade war. What we need is a smarter, fairer trade policy.

“I think the improvements that were made to the USMCA were terrific, especially when the Democrats intervened and started negotiating to make sure there’s enforceability. That’s a good step,” he said.

He said trade agreements should be tough on things that affect national security, naming electronics and pharmaceuticals, “even as we’re working to create new avenues of cooperation when it comes to something like agriculture where we see a lot of mutual benefit.”

To a question about gun violence in schools, he said he supports universal background checks, red flag laws with loopholes closed, and a ban on selling military-style weapons.

Buttigieg has advocated for national legalization of cannabis, and he was asked about it. He said he sees it as a “common sense position.” He said the incarceration creates more problems than the offense. “I think most Americans agree that the war on drugs policy did not work,” Buttigieg said. “When you add in the patterns of racial disparity, in terms of how these laws are enforced, it’s become one more engine of racial inequality, too.”

He mentioned  therapeutic possibilities, particularly among veterans. “It’s not something I would be careless about, but I believe the time has come for us to acknowledge reality and that most Americans think so…. This is one of the things most Americans want, even in conservative states.

Part of the question was how he would deal with members of Congress who oppose legalization of cannabis. His plan for working with members of Congress who aren’t cooperative would be “to go over their heads, to go to the people who elected them.”

He said he’d use Air Force One to fly to the home district of a member of Congress who is standing in the way of what his or her own voters want, and have a conversation with constituents. He said there are many bills that pass one house of Congress but not the other, and that’s due to a lack of presidential leadership. “Senators pay more attention to the people who send them, so that’s how I’d get things done.”

He added that would be Plan B. Plan A is to arrive in Washington with so much support that he has a lot of allies on his coattails.

He closed his appearance with more Obama-like rhetoric. “The word ‘hope’ went out of style for a while in our politics, for some very understandable reasons,” he said. “I’m here to make a case for hope…. I like being called a presidential ‘hopeful.’ I think that’s very appropriate, because running for office is, in fact, an act of hope. It’s something you do because you believe it actually matters, in our lives, and in our futures, who gets their hands on the pulleys and levers of government and what kind of values they have in mind when they do. That’s the hope that animates this campaign.”

“What happens on Monday will set the tone for the entire rest of the election. What happens on Monday will reverberate throughout the country. One of the reasons I’ve staked so much of my hope on the state of Iowa is that I’ve seen what Iowa can do,” he said. “I was here in 2008 knocking on doors for Barack Obama, and was here on Caucus Night when the world saw what Iowa thought was possible…. Wouldn’t it be something if on Monday night Iowa sent a message that we’re ready to turn the page with a completely new kind of nominee and a completely different kind of politics to fix things before it’s too late. That’s why I need your support.”

*pronounced as boot-edge-edge

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