Buttigieg pushes plan to empower women

  • Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg takes the stage for a discussion during a campaign stop, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm) ap — Mary Schwalm

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/25/2019 10:11:42 PM
Modified: 10/25/2019 10:11:32 PM

NEW LONDON — Not long after enrolling at Colby-Sawyer College in the fall of 2018, Newbury, Vt., resident Hannah Giesing registered to vote in New Hampshire.

At the time, the Oxbow High School graduate expected to cast her ballot in the Granite State’s 2020 Democratic presidential primary for her U.S. senator, Vermont independent Bernie Sanders — at 78, the oldest candidate in the race.

Then a friend showed Giesing a Facebook campaign video for the youngest candidate in the field, 38-year-old South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. What she saw and heard inspired her to rank him alongside Sanders as a favorite, and, on Friday morning, to stand in line with more than 500 people for one of 400 available seats at Buttigieg’s appearance in Colby-Sawyer’s student center.

“I haven’t committed to either one yet,” Giesing, now a sophomore, said before Buttigieg’s town hall-style forum. “It’s still wide open for me between the two of them. I do like that (Buttigieg) is a lot younger than most of the candidates, that he has a good understanding about what concerns people my age.”

“He was in the military, so he’s got an understanding of what’s going on in the world,” she said. “He can really represent our younger generation.”

Buttigieg is counting on voters such as Giesing to gain traction in New Hampshire: While recent polls in advance of the Iowa Caucuses rank him neck-and-neck with front-runners Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Sanders — all in their 70s — he remains in single digits in the Granite State, though ahead of the rest of the pack.

So this week, Buttigieg is focusing his campaign events on a plan he’s calling “Building Power: A Women’s Agenda for the 21st Century.”

Among the policies to which he would commit, if elected, are nominating women for at least half of the posts in his Cabinet and at least half of openings in the federal judiciary, providing government support for family leave and caregiving, requiring equal pay for equal work, renewing the Violence Against Women Act — which the Republican-majority Senate is holding up — and “enshrining” the right to choose abortion.

“These are policies that need to happen, regardless of whether it helps me get votes,” Buttigieg said during an interview with the Valley News after the forum. “As mayor, I can see that employing and empowering women has helped us to be a more effective, responsive workplace, and to do a better job.

“The point is that with policies that empower women in these ways, 100% of voters would be better off.”

Count Colby-Sawyer junior Jenna Bessette, also a native Vermonter, among those those ready for such policies and the change in culture that Buttigieg said must accompany them.

“This is very personal to me,” Bessette told the audience while introducing Buttigieg. “Not long ago I was passed over for a job, and was told in so many words that the position was ‘fit for more of a man’s role.’

“There’s no such thing,” she said.

Before taking questions from the forum moderator, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., Buttigieg told the crowd that he wants to make stories such as Bessette’s “a quaint historical artifact.”

He described such discrimination as part of “a pattern of exclusion” that continues to aggravate the nation’s many divisions — by gender, by race, by national origin, by class, and by sexual orientation.

“All of us in one way or another has been made to feel as ‘less than,’ ” Buttigieg told the crowd, pointing to his experience as a gay man who stayed in the closet during his military service.

He finally decided to come out while running for re-election as mayor of South Bend — the home of the University of Notre Dame — and wound up winning 80% of the vote.

“We are being carved out against one another,” Buttigieg said, adding that he’s uniquely qualified to help the country “pick up the pieces” from what he described as the divisiveness of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Another example of that divisiveness, Buttigieg said during the post-forum interview, is the plethora of efforts across the country to limit and suppress voting by people, often already marginalized, who are likely to vote for Democrats.

He pointed to a law that New Hampshire’s then-Republican majority passed in 2018, and that went into effect on July 1, that subjects college students and other voters to more residency requirements, including getting a New Hampshire driver’s license.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the state’s Democrats are asking a federal court to suspend the law, contending that in addition to imposing unreasonable restrictions on students from out of state who are attending and living on college campuses in the Granite State, it creates confusion for local election officials in charge of enforcing it.​

“I’m hearing about this not only from students, but from all people concerned about democracy,” Buttigieg said. “To put the onus on students in this way is an extraordinary thing to see in New Hampshire.”

Assuming that her ability to vote isn’t challenged, Giesing hopes to have made up her mind between voting for Sanders or Buttigieg by February.

“He sounded pretty good,” she said after the forum. “Looking good.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com.

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