Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana and 2020 presidential candidate, discusses his qualifications, husband and ‘the freedom to’ in Iowa City

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, speaking at The Airliner, March 4, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Pete Buttigieg started his remarks at The Airliner on Monday by addressing the most obvious question about his run for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.

“I find everywhere I go, people are sometimes — especially here in Iowa — a little too polite to ask the question of why a 37-year-old mayor thinks he has any business being in a discussion about the highest office in the land,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg, the youngest candidate in the race (he’s nine months younger than Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii), is in his second term as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a college town (Notre Dame is just outside the city limits) of approximately 102,000 residents. It’s the only political office he’s held.

(Four other candidates — Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, former governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper and Sen. Bernie Sanders — have also been mayors.)

“I understand we’re accustomed to seeing people who have marinated in Washington for a long time. That we’re accustomed to seeing people maybe with a different background than local government,” Buttigieg said. “But I would argue that if we got Washington to look more like our best-run cities and towns, instead of the other way around, this would be a better country to live in.”

Buttigieg expanded on the role of mayoral experience during an appearance Monday night at the Iowa City Public Library.

“There’s a lot of affinity between executive leadership in government, including being mayor of [a city of] any size, and the demands of something like the presidency,” he said.

The experiences you have as a mayor I think really speak to what I believe is the three-fold function of an executive job. Part one is to pass and implement new policies. Part two is to capably run an administration. Part three, probably the most important, is the hardest to describe: is this intangible role of drawing people together in difficult times, and summoning people to their highest values.

Buttigieg was at the library to discuss his memoir, Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future, as part of the Lit Talks series. Published last month, the book recounts Buttigieg’s life as a Rhodes Scholar and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, as well as his time as mayor. It also tells the story of how Buttigieg not only coped with being an openly gay politician in a state dominated by anti-LGBTQ Republicans, such as Mike Pence, but managed to find love.

Pete Buttigieg visits with Iowa Citians following a campaign event at The Airliner,. March 4, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten Glezman — they were married in a June 2018 ceremony that was livestreamed on YouTube — accompanied him on this campaign swing through Eastern Iowa.

“He’s a teacher, he keeps my feet on the ground,” Buttigieg said, introducing his husband to the overflow crowd in the side room at The Airliner. “And our marriage just might be the most, or only, normal thing in my life.”

Buttigieg told the audience that unlike many Democrats, he can sum up his message in three words: “freedom, democracy and security.”

The mayor said that Republicans had too often been allowed to define “freedom,” and their definition is too narrow — “basically … nothing more than ‘freedom from taxes’ and ‘freedom from regulation.'”

Precious little is said about ‘freedom to.’ You’re not free if you can’t start a small business, because leaving your job would mean losing your health care. And that you’re not free if you can’t make your own reproductive choices, because male bosses and politicians impose their values on you. You’re not free if you can’t organize for fair pay for fair work and good conditions — that’s not freedom. It’s not freedom if some county clerk gets to tell you who you get to marry based on their interpretation of their religion.

Replying to a question after his speech, Buttigieg said he favors Medicare-for-all as a way of providing universal health care for Americans.

For my dime, the way you do it is you take a version of Medicare — you might call ‘Medicare for all who want it’ — you make it available as a sort of public option on the exchange,” he explained. “If people like me are right, that it is going to be not only more accessible, but more efficient than the current corporate patchwork system, then we’re going to see a subscription into that grow. And that will be a very natural pathway to a single-payer environment.

Reinforcing democracy will require addressing issues like the ability of the Electoral College to overturn the will of the majority in a presidential election, the increasingly politicization of the Supreme Court and the gerrymandering of Congressional districts, Buttigieg explained.

Regarding security, the Navy vet who volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, said, “We won’t be secure until we put an end to endless wars.”

Buttigieg said the most serious security challenges facing the country include cybersecurity and election security, and called them “clear and present threats coming from actors who aren’t going to be stopped by a fence.” He added, “If we really want to talk about security in the 21st century, let’s talk about climate.”

As he explained at the library, Buttigieg supports the Green New Deal, because it “correctly identifies climate change as a major national emergency, and it recognizes that the destructive power of climate change is comparable to that of war or a depression.”

The Green New Deal also stresses the economic upside of developing green technology to mitigate the problems of the changing climate.

Recognizing the potential contained within change was a theme Buttigieg repeated at both The Airliner and ICPL. He rejected the idea that Americans — particularly Midwesterners — fear change and just want “someone to come along and turn back the clock.”

“I do not believe that you can have any honest politics that revolves around the word ‘again,’” Buttigieg said. “The truth is we aren’t afraid of change. We just want to make sure that change is going to work for us. And as we undergo profound changes — in our society, in our technology, in our democracy, in our economy — we want to make that those changes develop in a way that is fair, that promises that are made to our part of the country are kept. And that there’s more opportunity in the future than there was in the past.”

“That’s why not only as a mayor, not only as a Midwesterner, but as a Millennial, I believe I have something to offer this conversation.”

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