This Week in South Carolina Interviews Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Mayor Pete Buttigieg recently sat down with Gavin Jackson, host of "This Week in South Carolina," after a two-day swing through South Carolina.

The following is an edited transcript of that conversation. 

Gavin Jackson: You get this question a lot, and I know you're working on this, but how are you working to make outreach to black voters in South Carolina? Obviously, they make up a huge part of our Democratic primary--what are you specifically doing to help get them your message to those people?

Pete Buttigieg: Well, first, take no one for granted and don't make any assumptions that anyone will be for you or against you until you engage them. Secondly, recognizing that the black vote is not a monolith. There are a lot of different concerns that different black folks across the state and across the country have. But one thing that we know is that the backbone of the Democratic Party, especially in the South, has long been the black vote and in particular African-American women who have led politically and in communities in so many ways that we need to be reaching out to. And the truth is, there's got to be a listening process here. It's got to be two ways and we're recognizing that in making sure that we've had smaller conversations here in South Carolina, where we're doing a lot of listening as well as speaking, making sure we engage the really key issues from economic empowerment to reforming our systems to making it easier to vote. And of course, we're also engaging elected leaders. It's why I'm so proud to roll out the endorsement of Mayor Roberts of Anderson today, the first black mayor of his community and an example of somebody who understands the kind of leadership that's at stake on the ground as a mayor but we need to bring more of it in the White House. So whether we're talking about elected leaders, community leaders, or just getting out there and listening to voters, we're going to be using every day that we have to get that engagement done and earn that support.

Gavin Jackson: Are you doing too little too late, though. I mean, you've been focusing a lot on Iowa, obviously, and we're seeing results for you there. But I'm wondering, when we look at what's going to happen in Iowa, how that might affect South Carolina. Do you feel like you have enough of that foundation with the community, with the state, to help capitalize on anything that comes out of Iowa?

Pete Buttigieg: I think we do. There's certainly not a moment to lose, especially when you're competing with candidates, some of whom have had years or even decades in Washington to establish who they are. But also, I'm talking to a lot of voters in South Carolina who are deeply pragmatic. And one of the things they want to see is proof that you can do well. Of course, the first chance to do that is in Iowa. So I recognize that a lot of savvy South Carolina voters are going to be looking at what happens in those first contests as they're deciding on that question that's so important, I think, to Democratic voters who can win, who can be elected and who can defeat Donald Trump and take us to the future.

Gavin Jackson: You were talking with Charlemagne tha God other day and I want to get your thoughts, he was pretty direct with some of the questions. It was interesting because, as you know, that's the way it should be sometimes and one of his questions was, how do we know you're for real? How do we know that you're not just like selling us a bill of goods, essentially, because we always hear these white politicians come around to the black community and say 'x, y and z' and never show back up. What  do you say to them and that your priorities will be number one?

Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, I think Charlemagne is speaking to a sense among black voters that they have been taken for granted, that politicians come along, say all the right things before election day, and then we don't see the results. And so part of what I'm inviting him and others to do is look at our story in South Bend, not because it's been perfect, but because we've demonstrated before, during and after elections what it takes to get things done. I shared the story of one of our most respected ministers in the city who said when I was showing up at the church as a candidate back in 2011, hey, everybody knows how to come to my church before an election. Let's see what you do next. And now we have been able to partner with him and his congregation on things like developing affordable housing in the area around the church. We're inviting elected leaders and for example, Councilwoman Sharon McBride, who'll be serving as one of my campaign co-chairs, showing why I have the support of most of the black elected leaders from South Bend who know me best, who know what we've done, know what we've been up against and can share our city's story. I think it will be just as important to talk about that track record of results as it will be to talk about the plans we have for the future. You know, the plan I've put forward, we call it the Frederick Douglass plan for tearing down systemic racism in the country with the powers of the presidency. It's a great plan that's been very well received. But I get that voters want to know what's in your heart and whether you mean business before they're really going to be impressed by anything that's in your plans.

Gavin Jackson: Are they are discovering that in South Carolina?

Pete Buttigieg: I think so that's certainly the virtue of the smaller events that we're doing. It's one thing to do an event with a thousand people and kind of a classic campaign rally. It's another to have 30 people in a room talking about health equity, as we did in Charleston, to have a small group discussion about African-American business development, as we did in the area of Round O, and to have the more intimate conversations that really allow us to make sure people understand not just what I'm proposing to do, but who I am.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, because even admitted to Charlemagne, I know you were worried about having such, you know, monolithic white crowds and some of these big events. I'm guessing you're trying to change that strategy. Get a little bit more one on one time with these communities of color where they where they meet essentially.

Pete Buttigieg: It's not enough to just announce an event and see who comes to you. You got to come to people, find them where they are engaged, the issues that are of importance to them and show versus tell your commitment to earning that respect, that trust and ultimately that.

Gavin Jackson: But what does Iowa look like for you? I mean, it's still such a big field. What does a win in Iowa look like? Obviously, you come in first that's a win. But, you know, is second or third is as that could be good enough for you, in your opinion, going forward. How do you how do you read Iowa?

Pete Buttigieg: I think it's going to be fluid for the next day's all the way up until caucus day. I'm meeting some caucus goers who say that they're going to decide the day of. Maybe when they walk in. And that's why we've got to keep building on the enthusiasm of our organizers who are going to have a presence on the ground. The truth is that right now, any of the top candidates is in a competitive position. But here's why I would not want to trade places with any of my competitors. We've got a winning message that's powered us past most of the others. We've got a phenomenal ground game that is engaging voters where they are. And I think we're speaking not only to how to win, but how to govern. Remember, this is about who's going to be the president after Donald Trump. I can explain why I believe I'm the right candidate to beat him, why we should have somebody from the middle of the country, from the middle class, somebody who served in uniform and can call the president out on his deceptions. But it's not just about beating him. It's about what we've got to do next. When our nation is going to be divided, it's going to be exhausted from politics and still in need of dealing with issues from education, crying out for more support to the crisis of gun violence, to the problems we see in our climate. That message, I think, is going to carry us all the way through. And a good finish in Iowa is my first opportunity to show versus tell that we know how to get elected.

Gavin Jackson: These billionaires in the race want to your thoughts on having so many, so much  money in the race. Personal money, obviously not dark money. But, you know, when we see Tom Steyer putting money in, Mike Bloomberg pouring money in, how do you feel that affects our democracy and the whole process. Do you think that's fair? I mean, we've seen people drop out because they don't have that kind of money to throw around.

Pete Buttigieg: So according to Forbes magazine, I am officially the least wealthy person running for president. And maybe that's a good thing. It's certainly a disadvantage in that I don't have billions that I can dip into you to pay for my own commercials. But it also means that I don't have to have a focus group to understand what's going on the middle class. I can just go to Target. A year ago, I was driving my Chevy to work like everybody else. And these conversations, I think, are drifting away from reality sometimes in the commentary on TV. I do think that there are a lot of problems in the way our elections are run. But I'll also say this the importance of these early states like South Carolina and the others is that no matter how much money you throw on TV, people get to see you actually looking voters in the eye, responding to tough questions, demonstrating who you are, not just what you say. And there's no substitute for that. It's why I have such respect for this part of the process that you can't buy. You have to show up and earn it.

Gavin Jackson: You talked about election security last night. Do you have any fears about, you know, either unsecure elections or what election their fears might be of looking like going forward, maybe in the primary and also in the general this year?

Pete Buttigieg: There are a lot of concerns, and it's not just around the polling places. The biggest concerns right now, I think, have to do with misinformation and disinformation being spread by foreign actors who want to interfere with our elections. And we shouldn't be naive about the forms of election interference that are happening in broad daylight. When we talk about some of these requirements that are being put on the ability to vote restrictions on polling places and purges  of voters from the rolls, as far as I'm concerned, that's election interference and we got to stand up to it. It's one of the reasons why I am calling for a 21st century voting rights Act to speak to these forms of interference that are disproportionately hitting black and brown communities and are in many cases, I believe, changing the results of elections and not in a good way.

Gavin Jackson: Looking at maybe if you were to become president and there was a vacancy on the Supreme Court what would you be looking for in a Supreme Court justice?

Pete Buttigieg: Well, I'm looking for somebody who shares my understanding of freedom to include reproductive freedom for women. Someone who shares my understanding of democracy to include the bedrock importance of voting rights and somebody who can think for themselves. And there are so many great figures in America right now who deserve opportunities to serve, whether it's on the Supreme Court bench or on the federal bench in general. But we've got to make it a more diverse body to not just racially diverse, but also professionally diverse. Right now, we have way more people with a prosecutor background than those who have served as public defenders, for example, making their way onto the bench. We need to make sure there is balance on the bench. And also consider reforms to the courts themselves to make sure it's less political, less partisan, and not just one more battleground in our politics. Courts need to stand above and apart from the partisan political process that we see so much of in a place like Congress.

Gavin Jackson: You're a millennial. One quick last question my producer wants to know what your AOL screen name was back when we all had instant messenger. Do you know what your screen name was.

Pete Buttigieg: Wow. I'd be hard pressed to--it definitely existed. I'd be hard pressed to dredge that up. But yeah, I was just thinking about how away messages might have been the original tweet because they're a little short, pithy thing and think you're clever and leave it sitting there for everybody to see.

Gavin Jackson: Simpler times. Mayor Pete thank very much.