An Indiana Mayor On The Way Forward For Democrats

Feb 16, 2017
Originally published on February 16, 2017 9:22 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Democrats are trying to figure out their new role as the minority party in the era of President Trump. In recent weeks, crowds of constituents and activists have begun interrupting Republican town halls, employing some of the tactics of the tea party.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Do your job. Do your job. Do your job.

GREENE: Do your job, they are shouting. This was a town hall for Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee. The job the crowd wanted him to do was to investigate the president for potential conflicts of interest. Peter Buttigieg agrees that activism is one way forward for the party. Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and an Afghan war veteran. He's also running an unlikely bid to be national chairman of the Democratic Party. He's up against front-runners like Congressman Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

We have been seeing a lot of movement among Democrats in the country recently. There have been a lot of protests as Republican members of Congress have tried to hold town halls, people showing up, being very loud. Is this is a good strategy right now for the party?

PETER BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think the important thing right now is to really lift up our voices and speak to the values that make us Democrats. You know, one of the things that's striking about the town halls is a lot of them are very specifically about issues like whether people are going to have their health care taken away. And the more we can have this discussion focus on how ordinary people are going to be affected by the decisions that are being made in Washington, then the better chance we have of reconnecting with a lot of parts of the country that didn't really feel like they were in touch with the Democratic Party in the last go around.

GREENE: I mean, this is not an insignificant decision. This is a moment where some members of Congress have seen some room for compromise potentially to talk about how Obamacare could be changed into something acceptable by both parties. But here you have people in the party just going yelling and screaming and saying you're taking away our health insurance. They're being labeled radicals by people on the right. Is there a danger that this could be counterproductive?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I don't think wanting to keep your health insurance makes you a radical. And I also think compromise is only possible when the other party is working in good faith. And if there's one thing that Democrats in Congress in Washington learned the hard way about congressional Republicans it's that there's not a lot of people there in good faith.

GREENE: When you say the Republicans in Congress have not acted in good faith, what do you mean?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, for example, the refusal to do anything with the Affordable Care Act other than empty votes to repeal it. And now that they actually have the chance to do that, no indication of what they think that they would replace it with. You have to have a willing partner in order to come to the table and compromise.

GREENE: This is so interesting because what you call not acting in good faith some would say has been a very effective strategy by Republicans and specifically the tea party movement. And there are some right now saying that Democrats would be wise to copy the tea party movement, and that's what we're seeing at some of these town halls. So how do you do that and build enthusiasm in a way that doesn't create a party of no label for you?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think the most important thing is to remind everybody of what we're for. Look, there have been a lot of outrages coming from Washington in the last few weeks, and they rightly inspire a level of anger, but we can't have that be the only thing anybody hears from us. We've got to be talking about what our values actually are and what the policies are that flow from them. When we're talking about things like the deportation rates, we should also be talking about the importance of family, why we believe it's important to keep families intact and allow families to stay together. Every time we're saying no to something, we've got to be saying yes to something else. And I do think that we can have an energy that is at or above the level of what you saw with the tea party.

GREENE: Well, let me just carry this on a bit if I can. If there is a vote or an action in Congress that would be going down the road to repeal Obamacare, would you and the party be ready to basically shut down Congress or shut down debate to hold that up, which would essentially in some ways be the party of no?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, I think it's different when we're organizing around something that we're for. And when we see that we have been able to provide so many Americans with the ability to purchase health care and then we see somebody ready to take that away, then yeah, we need to resist that by any means necessary because that's how we show people that we're standing up for them, for their well-being, for their health, for their economic safety. And we've got to be willing to do whatever it takes in order to take that stand.

GREENE: Are you being realistic about how much time it could take to build success? Because we've had Democratic strategists tell us that 2018, the hope for the Democratic Party to actually gain seats in Congress, almost zilch. I mean, are you looking beyond that to future years?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, of course we've got to compete and win in 2018. But one thing that I've noticed about the other side of the aisle is they are very patient in building their majorities. You know, you had organizations that started by running people for school board in the '80s and are seeing dividends on that now. And we've got to have the same patience. We, as a party, can't treat the next cycle like it's the only one that matters. For example, you know, 2020 is a year that will have huge implications for redistricting. And so we've got to be looking at the statehouses, not treating the presidency like it's the only office that matters.

GREENE: But you acknowledge that 2018 does not look so good for you.

BUTTIGIEG: Well, look, the math is tough, especially when it comes to the Senate, but I also think Americans have woken up, whether it's people on our side of the aisle who stayed home in the last election or people who are up for grabs and a little bit skeptical about where this country is being led. I think there's tons of potential for pickups in 2018, but I'm not naive about what we're up against. And I certainly don't think the ordinary historical rule about midterms for the party in power is something that you can simply assume will carry us to victories.

GREENE: Let me just ask you that - the front-runners for the job you're going for, DNC chair, are a former U.S. labor secretary and a member of Congress who has been serving in Congress for a decade. They've gotten most of the endorsements. Why would you be a better choice, Mayor?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, you know, this is a moment when I think everybody competing to lead the party is largely saying similar things. We're all saying that we've got to engage a new generation. We've all said that we need to get back to the state and local level. And so my contention is if we're saying we want engage a new generation, bring in a leader from a new generation. If we're saying we want to compete and win in red and purple states, find somebody who's been competing and winning in as red a state as it gets, Mike Pence's Indiana. And if we're recognizing that the solutions are not going to come from Washington, D.C., put in somebody who doesn't get up in the morning and go to an office in Washington, D.C., every day.

GREENE: Well, Mayor, thanks so much. It's been really nice talking to you.

BUTTIGIEG: All right same here, thank you.

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