Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg taught himself Norweigan and can understand Spanish, Maltese, Arabic and French. He was a Rhodes scholar, served as an intelligence officer in the United States Navy Reserve and is now the first openly gay Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election.
If Buttigieg is successful in capturing the White House next year, he would be making a big move in going from the city hall in South Bend to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. The emphasis should be on if.
The policies he’s running on and the things he wants to change aren’t radical for the Democratic party. He wants to eliminate private prisons, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, believes the electoral college should be eliminated and supports universal background checks.
Most of these are supported by the majority of candidates but Buttigieg has one proposal for affecting the democracy of the U.S. that isn’t being pushed by anyone else.
Buttigieg wants to increase the number of Supreme Court justices from nine to 15. Five justices would be associated with Democrats, five with Republicans with the remaining five being apolitical and chosen by the first 10. The plan has been a part of his campaign since his early days as a candidate, and he sees it as a solution to the “political death matches” that take place now when vacancies need to be filled.
In an interview with NBC News, Buttigieg said: “We’ve got to get out of where we are now, where any time there is an opening, there is an apocalyptic, ideological firefight. It harms the court, it harms the country and it leads to outcomes like we have right now.”
It’s head-turning to see a presidential candidate take on the issues surrounding the Supreme Court, but it might have constitutionality issues because the grounds and guidelines of the court are outlined in the Constitution.
Nevertheless, Buttigieg’s biggest potential problems with securing the nomination doesn’t stem from the possible issues with his plans for the Supreme Court. They stem from race relations and whether America can vote the first gay president into office.
Let’s discuss race relations first.
When Buttigieg became mayor of South Bend in early 2012, the city had its first black police chief, Darryl Boykins. The mayor’s office learned soon after his swearing in that South Bend police officers had filed a complaint with U.S regional attorneys that Boykins had illegally recorded their phone calls. On some of those recordings, senior officers had used racist language and some of it was directed at Boykins, according to the New York Times.
Buttigieg fired Boykins and maintains in his memoir, “Shortest Way Home,” that he was pressured to do so by federal prosecutors and if he did not, he would be charged with violating the federal Wiretap Act.
It has been called into question whether prosecutors would direct such an action, and Boykins filed a racial discrimination lawsuit over his firing. He won $50,000 in 2013.
The mayor has not released the audio recordings of the phone calls and said he can’t do so because the case is still ongoing, while also claiming that he has not listened to them because of legal restrictions.
This has not sat well with the black community of South Bend who see Buttigieg as too eager to settle lawsuits so the issue can go away.
In terms of the national stage the mayor is now on, these issues could prevent minority support.
Race relations in terms of police departments around the country have been a standout narrative of the United States for the past five years. It feels like every month there is a new story about racial bias in police departments or a shooting of a black individual by a white officer.
If a candidate for the presidency seems unable to deal with those issues in his city, how can he deal them when they make national news and he is leading the nation?
Furthermore, can our country elect the first gay president next year? Buttigieg is a millennial and veteran of the war in Afghanistan, but his sexual orientation appears to be the most defining part of his profile.
“I’m definitely the only left-handed Maltese-American-Episcopalian-gay-millennial-war veteran in the race, but I think profile is just what gets you that first look,” Buttiegieg said.
It has certainly gotten him attention and made his campaign more appealing for some but can it bridge a gap?
Younger voters would seem more likely to have less issues with his sexual orientation and they may be intrigued to learn that Buttigieg met his husband, Chasten, on the dating app Hinge.
But what about the older voters? Generation X and the Boomers? Can they give him their votes?
It certainly is time to see a different face in the White House that isn’t one of a straight white man.