‘I believe in the freedom to’: presidential hopeful outlines his values in Rock Hill
Pete Buttigieg said he wanted to hear more from Palmetto State voters than talk at them during the 2020 presidential hopeful’s return to South Carolina’s capital city.
In his second visit to Columbia, he heard stories from teary-eyed people who said they struggle to get treatment for autism and mental health issues, and was peppered with questions about marijuana legalization and whether prisoners should be allowed to vote.
On Monday, the Indiana mayor, unique in the field as the only openly gay candidate, wrapped up his latest campaign swing through South Carolina with a meeting with 100 local leaders and activists in North Columbia, where the mayor spoke with representatives of local organizations.
Buttigieg has soared in early presidential polls as a fresh face in the Democratic Party, despite his only experience in elected office coming in South Bend, Ind., a city of a little more than 100,000 people.
“We’ve outlived (being) the flavor of the month,” Buttigieg joked. “It’s been more like two months since we launched.”
Speaking to The State prior to the meeting, Buttigieg said he hoped to learn how to expand his campaign’s message to meet a wider community.
“I want to hear how those issues impact Richland County,” he said. “When I talk about broad themes like freedom, democracy (and) security, sometimes the best way to flesh those out is to see what questions get asked.”
In response to the health care struggles he heard at the Eau Claire Print Building, Buttigieg promised to fight for equitable funding and coverage for all health needs, “whether it’s government-sponsored or whether it’s regulated,” and compared it to the opioid epidemic that swept through a community south of South Bend.
“Even Gov. (Mike) Pence was forced to declare a state of emergency and set up a needle exchange,” he said. “They had something like 600 people in a community with just a few thousand people. It wound up doubling as a Medicaid intake center. That approach is being denigrated when it belongs as part of our public health solution.”
Asked by several activists about whether those serving prison sentences should be able to vote, Buttigieg says he’s focused on restoring voting rights for those formerly incarcerated. He also said he wants to expunge past records of those convicted of marijuana offenses as the country moves toward legalization.
Buttigieg is one of the more unique candidates in the field. At 37, he is the youngest of the 2020 candidates, and would be the first president from the millennial generation. If he replaces Trump, the oldest president on the day of his inauguration would be followed by the youngest.
But the former naval intelligence officer has a quick answer to questions about his age.
“I’ve got more experience in government than the president today, and I have more executive experience than the vice president, and I have more military experience than anyone in the office since George H.W. Bush,” he said.
The candidate sees the challenges of running the federal government as extensions of the challenges of running a city hall, with the political dysfunction of Washington thrown in. Considering those factors, Buttigieg thinks his status as an outsider helps him.
He could make history in another way as well. As an openly gay man in a same-sex marriage, Buttigieg would be America’s first open gay president — something that Buttigieg said has not been a major concern with voters in the first-in-the-South primary.
“I’m inclined to give voters credit for evaluating their candidates on what we have to offer,” he said, continuing, “and if there’s someone who is a single-issue voter, whose single issue is wanting to continue to discriminate in that regard, that’s probably not someone who’s high on the list of persuadable Democratic voters.”
Buttigieg has campaigned on his Christian faith, saying his sexuality has not hampered his relationship with God.
That has sparked opposition from religious conservatives. Pastor Franklin Graham responded to Buttigieg’s comments by saying homosexuality is “something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized.”
On Monday, Buttigieg said the only way his sexuality affects his campaign is that it heightens his awareness of the importance of the issues.
“As someone whose marriage depends on one single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said, “this isn’t theoretical for me.”