Buttigieg brings presidential campaign to Birmingham, pitching increased immigration and higher minimum wage
BIRMINGHAM — Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, the Democrat mayor of South Bend, Indiana, met with community leaders in Birmingham on Wednesday morning during a discussion which was moderated by Richard Rice, an attorney in Birmingham with ties to Mayor Randall Woodfin.
The Democratic presidential candidate emphasized his support for raising the minimum wage to $15, increasing immigration to rural areas and the need to close the opportunity gap between white and black Americans.
In speaking to a gallery of Democrat-leaning community leaders from the Birmingham area, Buttigieg touted his experience “being a Democratic mayor in a Republican state.”
The policy proposal Buttigieg revisited most frequently during the time members of the press were allowed in the meeting was his support of raising the federal minimum wage to $15.
“We just plain have to raise it,” he said, “I believe in the fight for $15.”
Buttigieg cited the raising of the minimum wage as disproportionately benefitting non-white Americans. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
The visit to Birmingham concluded a southern swing for the Buttigieg campaign that included stops in North Carolina and South Carolina. The trip through the South comes after Buttigieg’s dearth of support among black voters was garnering increasing amounts of attention from the national press.
According to Pew Research, black Alabamians make up 54% of the state’s Democratic voters.
The Republican National Committee’s regional spokesperson, Kevin Knoth, addressed Buttigieg’s lack of support in the black community, saying in a statement to Yellowhammer, “As his disconnect with the black community continues to grow, Buttigieg lands in Alabama today where President Trump has guided the state to its lowest unemployment rate of all-time.”
The lack of black support for Buttigieg comes after new polls of the first two states to vote show him leading in Iowa and near the lead in New Hampshire, both states with largely white electorates. The first state to vote that has a significant percentage of black voters is South Carolina. A recent poll had Buttigieg in fourth with 6% of the vote there, but still at 0% with black voters in the Palmetto State.
The 37-year-old mayor received a question in Birmingham about how he would bridge plans intended for rural Americans and black Americans, which in the Alabama Black Belt are often the same people.
“If we want population growth in rural America, let’s welcome new Americans,” he said, touting his support of a visa program that would increase immigration.
Buttigieg also touted a proposed $80 billion rural broadband investment that he promises will bring high-quality internet to every American’s home, as well as citing the need for investments in rural healthcare providers.
The South Bend mayor expressed disapproval of the types of labor laws in place in Alabama.
“We need to change the direction on union membership,” he stated. “I’ve proposed we set a goal of doubling union membership in the united states by pushing back on right-to-work laws, or as I call them, right to work for less laws.”
Continuing his remarks about rural America, Buttigieg also took aim at President Donald Trump, saying, “This president has revealed he’s not that interested in supporting farmers when you look at the policies.”
State Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham), who was in attendance, said he enjoyed “the validation of a presidential campaign” in Alabama, but said he had not made up his mind about who he was supporting.
“I’m going to learn more but I was very impressed,” he told Yellowhammer.
Caroline Kennedy, a representative for House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville), attended the event and texted Yellowhammer News her thoughts after it concluded.
“I am inspired by Mayor Pete’s acute understanding of underlying issues causing wealth and access gaps in our country and especially in Alabama,” she said, adding that she was speaking for herself and not Daniels.
Richard Rice, the Birmingham lawyer who moderated the event, was invited to the event by the Buttigieg campaign, but he left with a positive impression of the mayor.
“I’m still deciding,” he told reporters afterward when asked who had his vote, “but I’m leaning toward supporting him after this meeting.”
Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson was seated next to Buttigieg at the head of the table. She told Yellowhammer after the meeting that her mind was not made up about who to support.
“His answers to the questions I asked were interesting,” she said.
The Alabama Democratic presidential primary will be held on March 3.
Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.