Buttigieg Talks Healthcare, Housing And Healing A Divided Nation

Feb 18, 2020

Democratic presidential hopefuls are making their last appeals to Nevada voters this week, ahead of Saturday’s caucuses. And former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has held multiple events in northern Nevada this week.

Noah Glick caught up with Buttigieg at a campaign event and had this conversation.

KUNR: Mayor Buttigeig, first of all, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Let’s start with healthcare. You’ve supported Medicare for All in the past and some critics have called out your campaign for taking contributions from the healthcare industry. What is it that made you decide to change your plan to your public option that you’ve proposed?

Buttigieg: I’ve been consistent throughout. I believe that the best way to get everybody coverage is to create a public plan that everybody can have access to. And if you believe in Medicare for All, this is the best way to get there. Because if that public plan is the best one, everybody will choose it. But this puts a little bit of humility into the policy, because if it turns out that it’s not the best plan for everybody, then we're not forcing anybody off their old plan.

Now, the healthcare industry immediately attacked my plan, because they don’t want the competition. But I think it’s the best way to make sure that everybody gets good coverage.

You’ve done pretty well so far in Iowa and New Hampshire, but Nevada’s a little different. We’re a little more diverse here. So, the latest Nevada poll that I saw shows that your campaign has support of just 10% of likely caucus goers, so what do you need to do to get more Nevadans to support you this election?

One thing I’ve really been struck by is how many Nevadans are still evaluating their choices. It feels like a very fluid stage, even though we’re just a few days away from Caucus Day. My emphasis first of all is to explain why I’m the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump, because that is the top priority of most caucus goers that I talk to. But it's also to explain how we can be bold in our vision and unify the country at the same time.

I think a vision that says that you’ve either got to be for a revolution or you must be for the status quo is one where most Americans don’t see where we fit. I’m offering a way to get big, bold changes through and do it in a way that can actually start healing a dangerously divided country.

Nevada is about 30% Latino, and up to this point, your campaign has had some challenges getting support from people of color. What is your message to people of color, particularly Latinos here in Nevada?

One of the best things about the last few days on the campaign trail have been the connections we have been making with Latino voters, who have so much at stake, and who need to be addressed not as a monolith, but as a very diverse community, representing everybody from families who have been here for generations to mixed-status families, to TPS holders with a lot of concerns, not only about immigration reform, but about economic empowerment, health care. It’s one of the reasons why we’re engaging with organized labor organizations here in the state that represents so many Latino members. And what we’re finding is that whenever we get a chance to share our message, it’s received enthusiastically. My job of course as a candidate, is to use every day that remains between now and the caucuses to get that message out.

As President, what would you do to help the Latino community or other communities of color throughout this country?

We’ve put forward some of the most comprehensive visions offered in the presidential election on how best to build up the economic empowerment. For example, using federal dollars to invest, both co-investing and purchasing from, Latino-owned, black-owned, women-owned, and other minority-owned businesses. It’s about making sure we’re paying attention to how there’s a disproportionate effect on, for example, Latino workers if we finally act on a higher minimum wage, delivering things like paid family leave and extending labor protections to professions from direct care to domestic work to farm workers that have really been systematically excluded from a lot of the labor protections in this country and are disproportionately likely to be workers of color.

From that to education to health equity to criminal justice reform to reforming our voting system itself so that it no longer disproportionately shuts out voices of color. We’ve got a lot of work to do as a country and I have a comprehensive vision for how to do it.

I was at your Sparks rally, and you mentioned the issue of privately-run I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Detention Centers. Can you just tell me what you would do as President in terms of not only the private detention centers, but privately-run prisons throughout the country as well?

I believe there should be no such thing as a for-profit facility for incarceration, least of all for the detention of children. I think any time there’s a profit motive in having more people locked up, it is contributing to the fact that we are such an over-incarcerated society. This is not making America safer. If incarceration made a country safe, we’d be the safest country in the world. Clearly, it’s not working and we need to act to de-carcerate this country. That is part of what must happen in criminal legal system reform, and ending private prisons is just part of it.

There’s a lot of topics on the ballot this year, a lot of issues that are of importance to folks. As President, what would be your No. 1 issue or the first things you’d try to get done? What’s a First 100 Days look like in a Buttigieg Administration?

There’s going to be a lot to do in those first 100 days. I’m very focused on the shape of our democracy itself. Things like an end to Citizens United, making it easier to vote and to register to vote, passing a 21st Century Voting Rights Act so that the type of voter suppression that we see, especially racial voter suppression, comes to an end. It’s not always considered a sexy issue, these process issues, but democracy is the question, the issue of how we deal with every other issue.

We also need immediate attention to climate, starting with rejoining the Paris Climate Accords, but that’s just the beginning. And we need to get to work right away on the racial and economic inequality that is really making this country unable to live up to its own dream.

I want to ask you about affordable housing. You just released an affordable housing plan, so in your view, what are some of the bigger challenges to getting more affordable housing, and what’s your plan to tackle that?

Well, we need federal leadership and I’m proposing moves that would expand access for 7 million Americans. That’s everything from building 2 million more units of affordable housing around the country to clearing the backlog to make sure that all families with children can immediately get access to housing choice vouchers and other federal support.

We also need to break the incarceration-to-homelessness pipeline that is contributing to a crisis of homelessness in cities large and small across the country. There’s a lot of work to do on housing, but it can be addressed with leadership from the Oval Office and from the federal government.

I’ve talked to a lot of developers here in northern Nevada who say part of the challenge to affordable housing is that the numbers don’t work for them, and so that’s why they’re not building affordable housing. So can the federal government do anything to help developers get more affordable housing on the board?

This is what things like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit are for, and it's why we need to expand successful programs. If it’s not adding up, then we need to change that, because what we can’t do is accept the status quo. And housing affordability is a challenge from our biggest cities to many of our smallest communities. It’s a challenge in my own city, even though the price of a house in the city of South Bend, Indiana would be considered about the same as a parking space in a place like Oakland.

It’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution, but what we know is it's not going to get better on its own.

How much is affordable housing is tied to wage? And what is your plan to raise wages in this country?

Well, right now there is not one county in the United States of America where a minimum wage worker, working full-time, can afford a two-bedroom apartment. And so we’ve got to look at the fact that the housing affordability crisis is not just a housing problem; it’s an income problem. It’s why we need to act to increase the minimum wage. And it’s why we need to increase the level of participation in unions in the United States.

Unions have been under attack systematically. And it’s no accident that the decline in union membership has accompanied a decline in access to the Middle Class. It’s why I believe in laws from right to work – which I consider a right to work for less – is actually a restriction on bargaining rights, to all of these other steps that have been taken to make it harder for workers to organize. You know, Nevada has shown the incredible empowerment that can happen when workers are able to step up and lift one another up. We need to make sure we have a labor policy that supports workers across the country.

If you win the election, you would be the first openly-gay President of the United States. What would that mean for the country and what would a Buttigieg administration do for LGBTQ Americans?

The struggle for inequality did not end with marriage. It’s why we need a federal equality act, to make sure there can’t be discrimination over both sexual orientation and gender identity. We’ve got a long way to go as a country, and I’m determined to make sure that my White House is one that sends out the message that everyone has a place, everyone belongs in this country, and this country will keep everyone safe.

LGBTQ Americans have a lot at stake in that, and I’m proud to have the opportunity to help break that barrier.

Just simply put, why are you the candidate to beat Donald Trump? And how do you bring the country together?

Well, one of the reasons we succeeded in the first two states, in those counties that voted for President Obama but then voted for President Trump and are now ready to come back to the Democrats, is that we have a message of belonging. My campaign is not about whose help we reject. It’s about inviting everybody to be part of the solution, at a time when most Americans actually agree on what we want done. We agree on the need for climate action, to do something about gun violence, to raise wages. We agree that it makes no sense for the biggest corporations in America to pay zero in taxes.

We now have to come together and insist, Democrats standing with Independents – and even some Republicans who are just tired of looking their kids in the eye and trying to explain this president’s behavior – that we can do better than this. And I’m ready to build that kind of campaign. We’re already doing it. And this is how we win.