PLYMOUTH – Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg told an overflow crowd at Plymouth State University on Saturday that “what we need to move this country forward is a generational alliance.”
Given that the people who asked him questions ranged from a high school student to a 90-year-old woman who cast her first vote for Harry Truman, he might have been preaching to the choir.
The millennial mayor of South Bend, Indiana, opened his remarks by noting that it was the 20th anniversary of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, which happened when Buttigieg, now 37, was a 17-year-old high school student.
“I remember thinking there’s no way a country like ours is going to allow that to happen again,” Buttigieg told the gathering of about a thousand, including dozens who watched on television from a lobby in the Hartman Union Building.
He said he first began to feel hopeful when he saw the student walkouts and demonstrations that followed the February 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – especially since many students had the support of their parents and grandparents.
“We cannot let these young people down,” he said. “I was in high school when it happened once. They’re in high school today. We’re in the exact same place. We cannot allow it to be the case when those students are raising their kids 20 years from now that something like this would happen again.
“All of us have every reason to want to make sure that the future looks different than the past,” he said.
Buttigieg fielded questions on a wide range of issues from a mix of Democrat and undeclared voters who responded to many of his answers with enthusiastic applause.
Eli Buzzell, a graduate student at Plymouth State, asked Buttigieg how he would weaken his own presidency if he won the White House.
It starts, Buttigieg said, with the premise that “the president shouldn’t be above the law, and not treating the attorney general like your own private counsel.”
What really worries him about the imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches, Buttigieg said, is his belief that Congress has essentially walked away from its Constitutional role in foreign policy.
“Congress needs to reassert its war powers,” said Buttigieg, who served a tour in Afghanistan in the Naval Reserves. “If they abdicate that authority, it’s a tremendous disservice to the men and women in uniform, as it is to our national security.”
Buzzell, 25, said Buttigieg “has some good ideas,” and he was satisfied with the candidate’s answer to his question, but is waiting to see what other candidates have to say before he settles on a candidate.
Bob Stewart of Newbury pronounced Buttigieg “a very smart man,” an assessment shared by several others questioned after the event. “I think part of it that’s different from other candidates I’ve is seen he actually doesn’t talk over you.”
Stewart said Buttigieg would be among his top two candidates in the field, along with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “She’s got some gumption,” he said.
Buttigieg – a Harvard-educated Rhodes Scholar – answered a question about how to pay for government programs by saying there is a segment of Americans – both individuals and corporations – who are “not paying their fair share” of taxes.
Republicans and Democrats have for too long said that the only thing that should be done with taxes is to cut them, he said, and it’s time to rethink that.
He also supports expanding the Supreme Court of the United States from nine to 15 members and doing away with the Electoral College.
Ninety-year-old Pat Provencher of New Hampton might have unintentionally upstaged Buttigieg when she offered him some advice in the event he wins the Democratic nomination and squares off against President Donald Trump.
“I’ve never missed an election since I was 21, when I had to go and read a part of the Constitution to become a voter,” Provencher told Buttigieg. “I just would like to tell you that I’m very proud of you for running to be our president. We need a person who is going to stand up and take all the insults, that are going to be thrown to you by the person in the White House – I never mention his name. I have seen a lot of presidents run, and I am absolutely sick by the situation we have, not for myself but for the grandchildren and their grandchildren. I was brought up during World War II, and I saw what could happen. I would think you are a person who can stand up and talk for us, and what we believe in, and what you believe in, which is very important to everybody. And I know that all the insults that are going to be thrown at you, you’re going to be there and be able to take them with a good answer.”
“All I can say,” Buttigieg said after the applause from Provencher’s standing ovation died down, “is I hope I stay on your good side.”