ARNOLDS PARK, Iowa — Presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana appealed to voters in Arnolds Park at a town hall Thursday afternoon, inviting the approximately 100-member audience to picture Day One of a Buttigieg presidency.
“It will be the first day the sun comes up and Donald Trump is no longer the President of the United States," Buttigieg said. "This campaign is about that day."
For that day to come in 2021, Buttigieg first needs to win the Democratic Party's nomination.
As gratifying as ousting Trump would feel, he added, there will still be immediate problems to solve, like the climate crisis, gun violence and an economy that doesn't serve everyone.
“We’re going to need a president ready to unify us and undertake big actions at the same time — to be energetic and original and vigorous and bold in order to solve those problems,” he said.
Buttigieg explained that he values democracy, which means he wants to end gerrymandering and stop the buying of elections. He said he also values freedom, which he defined as "being able to live the life of our choosing."
The Midwest mayor took a handful of audience questions, which covered a wide range of topics.
One audience member wanted to know whether Buttigieg would end the federal income tax exemption for credit unions, claiming that they no longer serve the same purpose as they did when they were created.
He advocated for quintupling credit for compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires banking institutions to enable affordable housing, economic development and/or community services for the underprivileged in their communities. He said that federally chartered organizations should be required to fulfill the community services for which they were designed.
“The other thing that really fires me up about who’s paying more taxes," Buttigieg added, "is you and I also paid more taxes last year than Amazon did — on billions of dollars of profit. Chevron — matter of fact, they paid negative taxes. I don’t even know how that works, but I know that that’s wrong, because they make billions and billions of dollars of profit.”
At the same time that billion-dollar companies pay zero taxes, there are still communities in America that don't have access to clean water, Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg's health care plan, "Medicare for All Who Want It," proposes expanding and improving Medicare but not making it universal or mandatory. One voter wanted to know whether this may just encourage employers to stop offering health care benefits.
“What we’ve got to do is make sure we set a floor, not a ceiling," Buttigieg responded. "So the floor is that there’s going to be this plan that is good, that is strong, that is available to everybody. And then if an company wants to set themselves apart, either because a union (is) negotiating for it, or because they want that to be their competitive edge, then they will continue to go beyond that.
"The truth is," he added, "that my plan will be so good that most people will want it anyway, and people will actually walk away from those private plans. But I’m not willing to assume that’s true. I want to let people decide that for themselves."
The mayor told voters that he and his teacher husband have six-figure student debt between them, so he is personally acquainted with the growing nationwide burden.
To help alleviate student debt, Buttigieg proposed improving the loan forgiveness for public service program by both simplifying the application process and expanding the professions that qualify. His plan also includes expanding Pell Grants and making public college free for all Americans in the bottom 80% of income.
In addition, college shouldn't be required to thrive in the U.S. economy, he said. He envisions a world where all Americans can find success, with or without college.
The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the China trade deal are not enough to support farmers, Buttigieg said.
“We’ve got to have an actual strategy," he offered. "And the closest thing we’ve seen to a strategy out of this president is poking other countries in the eye and seeing what will happen. Usually they poke back, and then it comes down on our farmers.”
His proposed strategy places farmers over corporations and prioritizes conservation, including the research, education and funding needed to enable farmers to participate.
On immigration, a questioner asked what Buttigieg will do to help recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals feel more secure about their place in the United States.
“We’re talking about people who are as American as we are, they just don’t have the paperwork to show it," Buttigieg said.
DACA recipients — adults who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents and are allowed to remain in the country and obtain work permits, with deferred deportation renewable every two years — live with constant fear, Buttigieg said.
Ultimately, the only way to alleviate this anxiety is by creating a path to citizenship — "and DREAMers should be at the front of the line," he added.
The DREAM Act, if passed, would grant permanent residency to some immigrants, possibly including DACA recipients.
Buttigieg was questioned about the fact that almost universally, he polls poorly among black Americans.
“African-American voters who know me best support me,” Buttigieg countered. He said that his struggle is in competing against the name recognition of the other candidates.
He expressed confidence that when presented with his vision for dismantling systemic racism, black voters will support him.
"All of us stand to lose if this presidency loses," Buttigieg said. "This is our opportunity to build the most inclusive coalition that we have seen in modern times.”
Following questions, Buttigieg encouraged the crowd to participate in the democratic process.
“Running for office is an expression of hope,” he said. He invited people to, rather than become discouraged and give up on politics, get involved and vote.