Over 380 voters gathered at the Knoxville Skate Pit to hear from Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, whose campaign message focused on diversity, belonging and the American people.

“This is an opportunity that goes far beyond politics right now,” says Buttigieg. “This is for us to send a message. Not just about who ought to hold a certain office, but in the way that we walk. Politically, yes, but also socially in our communities to send a very clear and unmistakable message: that America has room for people of every race, of every religion, of every creed, and America has no room for hate.”

As a former naval intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan, Buttigieg says patriotism depends on love, acceptance and the safety of our people.

The South Bend, Indiana mayor went on to advocate for extensive background checks for firearm purchases, renewable energy and incentives for farmers to fight climate change, Medicare for All with the option of private insurance, immigration reform, women’s reproductive rights, racial equality and mental healthcare.

“Everything that we value leads us in a certain direction and has the power to unite us,” says Buttigieg. “That’s how I feel about freedom … when I say freedom, I mean our freedom to live a life of our choosing.”

Buttigieg was questioned about his vision for diplomacy in Arab nations and the Middle East, healthcare, veteran care, the deficit and how he plans to pay for his policies.

“The world needs an America right now that models Democratic values,” says Buttigieg. “We can’t go anywhere in the Middle East or anywhere else and talk about democracy if our own president sees a news article that is unfavorable and declares the press to be the enemy of the people. We’ve got to make sure we’re living it right here at home, that’s step one. Step two is to make sure that we’re leading based on our values.”

Buttigieg says he plans to cap billing for hospitals and insurance companies to curb “surprise billing” for both in and out of network policies. He would also put a monthly cap on prescription drug costs and out of pocket expenses.

“When we see companies jacking up drug prices on things people need in order to live--Insulin, EpiPens--when we see it happening not because they have to, but because they can, there has to be control over that … it’s time for our policies to reflect the needs of everyday Americans.”

A local VFW questioned Buttigieg about the veteran suicide rate and how he plans to help them. Buttigieg says efficient mental health services, VA improvements, an increase in outreach programs and support from the community can help save veterans from suicide.

“We need to have a broader set of opportunities to create the kind of community you have right at the VFW, to support organizations like yours and other resources that connect people with the community,” says Buttigieg.

Buttigieg went on to emphasize the importance of candidates to explain how they plan to pay for campaign promises. He says the policies he’s proposing are big when it comes to funding, but a tax increase for large corporations and the wealthy would pay for necessary economic change.

“We’ve got to make sure that wealthy individuals are paying their fair share,” says Buttigieg. “They’ll be fine, but we need them to pay more in taxes to fund these needs that, by the way, have a lot to do with how they became wealthy.”

When asked what message Buttigieg has for the Knoxville Middle School Gay Straight Alliance, he says the most important thing to know is how much they are needed. Buttigieg would be the first openly gay president if elected. 

“We need you to be your whole self, and if you’re still figuring that out, that’s okay,” says Buttigieg. “And if it’s confusing, it’s supposed to be confusing, but people love you and care about you.”

Buttigieg is one of seven Democratic candidates still in the presidential race who have made a campaign stop in Knoxville.

Emily Hawk can be reached at ehawk@pellachronicle.com or by calling the Pella newsroom at 641-628-3882.

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