- Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, focused on criminal-justice reform while campaigning in South Carolina over the weekend. The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate attempted to make inroads with black voters in the politically crucial Southern state.
- Black voters are an important part of the Democratic Party’s voting base and are particularly key to winning Southern states like South Carolina, where they made up the majority of Democratic primary voters in 2016.
- Recent polls have shown Buttigieg struggling with minority voters.
- Buttigieg outlined proposals for the criminal-justice system such as getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, ending the death penalty, changing sentencing guidelines, legalizing marijuana, and dismantling the private prison system.
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Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, focused on criminal-justice reform while campaigning in South Carolina over the weekend, when he attempted to make inroads with black voters in the politically crucial Southern state.
The Midwesterner said he supported getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, ending the death penalty, changing sentencing guidelines, legalizing marijuana, overhauling police practices, and dismantling the private prison system.
Buttigieg, who’s struggled to gain traction among black voters while pursuing the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination, visited South Carolina State University, a historically black public college, and privately met with African American leaders in Charleston. He acknowledged after a town hall of 600 largely white voters in North Charleston, which is 50% black, that he had “a lot of work to do” to win support from African Americans.
“We need to be a campaign that models – in every respect – in our makeup, in our practices, in our support, and in our conduct the increasingly democratic and the increasingly diverse country that this nation is becoming,” Buttigieg said.
A recent CNN poll of 2020 Democratic candidates found that 10% of white respondents selected Buttigieg as their top choice in the field, while just 3% of nonwhite voters supported him. While the CNN poll did not break out black respondents specifically, previous polling has also indicated Buttigieg’s weakness with black Democrats.
Black voters are a crucial part of the Democratic Party’s voting base and are particularly key to performing well in Southern states like South Carolina, where they made up the majority of Democratic primary voters in 2016.
Buttigieg has made some other efforts recently to reach black Democrats, speaking at the National Action Network Convention in New York City in April and lunching with the civil-rights leader Al Sharpton in Harlem, where the two reportedly discussed voting rights, criminal-justice reform, and marijuana legalization.
“I believe an agenda for black Americans needs to include five things that all of us care about: homeownership, entrepreneurship, education, health, and justice,” Buttigieg said during a speech at the April convention, which was also organised by Sharpton.
But Buttigieg hasn’t staked out the most progressive positions on criminal-justice issues in the 2020 field. Last month, he said he didn’t believe felons should retain their right to vote while incarcerated – breaking from Sen. Bernie Sanders on the issue.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 23, 2019
And a few other 2020 Democrats, including Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, are making criminal-justice reform central to their candidate platforms. Booker is widely viewed as a leader on the issue, authoring a bill to legalise marijuana on the federal level and pushing efforts to reverse mass incarceration in state prisons.
A scrutinised record in South Bend
Buttigieg has also been scrutinised over his handling of issues affecting communities of colour while mayor of South Bend, which is 27% black and 13% Hispanic.
Many in the Indiana city’s black community were infuriated when Buttigieg fired the city’s first black police chief in 2011 after discovering the chief was under FBI investigation for taping conversations between police officers. It later came out that the white officers were said to have used racist language in discussing the chief.
Buttigieg has also faced criticism for his approach to the issue of homelessness and for a program he undertook as mayor to repair or demolish abandoned homes – a program that disproportionately affected communities of colour.
As part of the 1,000 Houses in 1,000 Days initiative, code-enforcement officials reportedly charged homeowners in less affluent neighbourhoods thousands of dollars for violations including overgrown lawns and leaving trash outside their homes.
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