The Martha’s Vineyard welcome for Democratic presidential candidate and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg was a warm one Saturday afternoon.
Buttigieg spoke to a sold out crowd at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center in a wide-ranging Q and A that covered Buttigieg’s time running for president, freedom, education, and his favorite date with his husband Chasten Buttigieg, who joined him on stage.
Little known before his presidential bid, Buttigieg was born in South Bend. He went on to earn degrees from Harvard and Oxford before joining the Navy. In 2011, Buttigieg was elected as mayor of South Bend at age 29, becoming the second youngest mayor in the city’s history.
“We are living in a moment right now that is one of these moments that is in between chapters in American history. We are lucky and unlucky enough to be responsible for the decisions that are going to shape how the next half century is going to go,” Buttigieg said to a captivated crowd. “What’s before us is the opportunity to set the course not just for what the next three or four years will look like, but what the next 30 or 40 years will look like.”
Chasten came out on stage with a fish bowl filled with questions that audience members wrote down.
One of the questions asked the candidate how he will reach African American voters.
“It’s not just political strategy, in order to deserve to win in this race you have to be speaking to racial inequality in a time like this because I think racial inequality will wreck the American project in our lifetimes if we don’t do more about it,” he said.
Education was another focal point of the talk.
“We’ve got to make college more affordable,” he said referring to an expansion of Pell grants and allowing low and middle income students to graduate debt free. “But almost nobody is talking about how to make it affordable to not go to college in this country. You shouldn’t have to go to college to do well.”
Addressing climate change has been a major issue with all Democratic candidates. Buttigieg said investing $24 billion a year in the research and development of renewable energy, energy storage, and carbon storage was a start.
While most of the topics were about major policies and agendas, Buttigieg also took time to joke with Chasten about ideal vacations and dating. When asked what his favorite date with Chasten was, Buttigieg said it was a long walk up through New York City.
One of his last questions asked for a succinct democratic vision of America.
“Freedom, security, and democracy,” Buttigieg said. “To me, that’s our message.”
Before his speech, Buttigieg met with a group of the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) drivers who went on strike last week to learn about their reasons for striking and what he could do to help.
“If we want to make it possible to live well in the United States we’ve got to be supporting organizing. There are things we can do specifically in a policy perspective, especially when you’re doing this with public money, that says wait a minute if you’re not supporting workers, we’re not supporting you,” Buttgieg said. “It’s not right, it’s not fair.”
Richard Townes, Roland Goulart, Jason Chalifoux, Katherine Kavanaugh, and several other drivers and supporters detailed the history of the drivers attempt to join a union and receive better pay, better healthcare, and better treatment.
“I’m going to be sharing your story and I’m going to be keeping in touch and I’m going to be looking for good news from here on Martha’s Vineyard,” Buttigieg said. “Hang in there, and we’re on your side.”
Speaking to The Times after his speech, Buttigieg talked about his reasons for coming to the Vineyard, the seasonal workforce, H-2B visas, affordable housing, and what he learned from the VTA drivers.
Buttigieg has been running the gamut on his campaign. Friday he was in Provincetown and Saturday morning he was in Nantucket before coming over to the Vineyard. Sunday, he’s headed south to New Orleans.
“We’ve been hearing for months people were saying ‘you’ve got to come out to Martha’s Vineyard,’” Buttigieg said. “We wanted to make sure we had a chance to engage people here…I wish we could come back with a little more time on our hands, but what we’re finding is a lot of people both here and in this community and people from all over the country who share our vision and are excited to support it.”
Over the past few years, President Donald Trump’s administration lowered the cap on H-2B visas, which power much of the seasonal workforce on the Island. In March, the cap was increased, but has still left employers shorthanded.
“It starts with understanding, philosophically, that American growth requires immigration it doesn’t work without immigration,” Buttigieg said. “When the President says we’re full, that just doesn’t make sense to me.”
One of the issues Buttigieg is focused on is affordable housing — an issue well known on Martha’s Vineyard.
“What we have to do is to not just invest in the houses, but invest in the people,” Buttigieg said. “Which starts at increasing the minimum wage. For many communities it’s an income problem.”
He brought up the VTA drivers and how many of them grew up on the Vineyard and would like to stay here and for some raise families.
“It’s part of what we were talking about with the transit workers just now is that their wages are nowhere near what the cost of living would call for in terms of the living wage and so that’s where we need to be investing and supporting people to be able to live in neighborhoods that they helped build.”