‘I love this town’: Pete Buttigieg connects with crowd at Rock Hill campaign event

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks to more than 1,700 people in downtown Rock Hill Saturday.
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks to more than 1,700 people in downtown Rock Hill Saturday. tkimball@heraldonline.com

Nancy Thompson stood in the crowd of nearly 1,700 people Saturday to see Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speak in Rock Hill. She held a homemade sign over her head with the word “Trumpkin” written in orange letters.

Thompson, who lives in Asheville, was visiting her sister in Rock Hill. On the sign, she had drawn a jack-o’-lantern with President Donald Trump’s hairstyle and written “Orange on the outside, hollow on the inside and should be tossed out in early November.”

Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, had just started his speech.

“I want to ask you to visualize a day that is in our not too distant future,” he said. “And that is the first day when Donald Trump is not the president of the United States.”

The crowd, packed into the Old Town Amphitheater, cheered.

Then Buttigieg saw Thompson’s sign and paused.

“That’s good,” he said. Thompson smiled, and the crowd laughed.

He continued.

“So, of course, one of the most important things we’ve got to do is bring that day about,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg returned to Rock Hill Saturday for his second town hall in the area in recent months. His message was clear: America needs to be united and he’s the one who can unite the country.

‘Pete’s can!’

Buttigieg said climate change is a top priority. He wants to make the economy carbon free by 2050 and said if elected he will start working toward his goal now by expanding renewable energy and increasing funds for federal research on renewable energy, carbon capture and energy storage.

“Scientists have told us that we’ve got about 10 years to avoid the point of no return when it comes to what’s happening with our climate,” Buttigieg said. “The scientific deadline they’re pointing out is 2030, but in a real way, the deadline is 2020 because if we don’t have the right leadership in office by then we’ll never make it.”

Buttigieg said almost all Democratic presidential hopefuls have similar plans to make the country carbon free.

“The real question is, whose plan can actually get it done,” he said.

A man in the crowd held up a blue and yellow “Pete” sign and shouted, “Pete’s can!”

“That’s right,” Buttigieg said. The crowd cheered.

“I love this town,” Buttigieg said. “I’m going to come back here more often.”

He said he wants everyone to get involved in his plan to address climate change.

“America does better when we have a national project,” he said. “And it’s nice that this time around, it’s a national project that doesn’t involve just fighting other human beings. This is one where we’ve got to lead the world in getting the right thing done.”

‘The important thing is not who’s covering you’

Buttigieg said with his plan to provide Medicare for all who want it, he will ensure that cost is not a barrier to access.

“There’s subsidies for low-income people so they can afford it,” he said. “Then, even if you’re moving out of the subsidy range, 8.5 percent of your income is the maximum that we would ever allow it to cost. I believe it’s going to be the best plan”

Buttigieg said he will give people the option to choose their health care coverage.

“I’m going to give you the chance to go to the plan I create,” he said. “But if for some reason, or at least for some amount of time, you’d rather be on a different one that’s fine by me because the important thing is not who’s covering you. The important thing is that you get good coverage one way or the other.”

‘Honor teachers more like soldiers’

Buttigieg, 37, said the country has a shortage of teachers, especially in rural areas, and increasing teacher pay is an urgent issue.

“I don’t have to tell South Carolina what happens when government is not committed to excellent education,” he said.

After a historic teachers march in May and growing protests from South Carolina educators, state leaders have pushed for significant education reform in 2019.

The crowd cheered.

“If we honor teachers a little more like soldiers,” said Buttigieg, a former officer in the Navy Reserve, “and pay them a little more like doctors, we’d do better in this country.”

Buttigieg said he will increase Title I funding, which goes to local educational agencies and schools with high percentages of children from low-income families, and focus the funding on teacher salaries.

“That’s a way of making sure that we also get those dollars and to make sure that we’re recruiting and retaining the strongest teachers in the schools where it’ll make the biggest difference,” he said.

‘American identity itself is a signal of belonging’

Buttigieg ended the town hall how it started: by talking about unity.

Buttigieg, who is gay, said the country faces a crisis of belonging and it’s important that people feel a sense of unity. As part of that, he said he plans to provide grants to local communities that come up with “solutions to knit people back together.”

“I think every one of us, in a different way, questions whether we belong right now,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that American identity itself is a signal of belonging to everybody.”

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Cailyn Derickson is a city government and politics reporter for The Herald, covering York, Chester and Lancaster counties. Cailyn graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has previously worked at The Pilot and The News and Observer.