Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg unveiled new details of his Douglass Plan, a comprehensive program to combat racial injustice in the United States, on Thursday morning.
Buttigieg, who is polling at 6 percent (behind four other Democratic candidates) and recently announced a $24.8 million fundraising sum over the past three months, has been struggling to gain the support of black voters. His record on racial issues has been under particular scrutiny since a white police officer shot and killed a black man in South Bend last month. In the first round of Democratic debates, Buttigieg acknowledged his lack of success diversifying the South Bend Police Department, but through the Douglass Plan, he expresses his commitment to fighting for racial equality in the U.S. through policing reforms and much more. (He said in a recent speech that his extensive policy plans are not centered simply on courting more black voters.)
In an interview with NPR's Morning Edition on Thursday, Buttigieg stressed the importance of making efforts to address generational harms to the U.S.'s black population—particularly for white candidates and white Americans generally.
"If you're a white candidate, it is twice as important for you to be talking about racial inequity and not just describing the problem—which is fashionable in politics—but actually talking about what we're going to do about it and describing the outcomes we're trying to solve for," Buttigieg told NPR.
Buttigieg named his plan after abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass and claims it is as large in scale as the Marshall Plan, which used roughly $100 billion at today's value to rebuild Europe following World War II.
Buttigieg is the first candidate to present such a large quantity of racial injustice reforms in a comprehensive package, which contains a mix of ideas that echo those of other candidates and more distinctive ideas. Here are key takeaways on some of the major areas of Buttigieg's plan and how they compare to proposals outlined by other Democratic contenders.
Like Democratic frontrunners Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, Buttigieg has made criminal justice reform a cornerstone of his plan. He hopes to reduce the overall American prison population by 50 percent, a goal that he says would be achievable by reforming all aspects of the criminal justice system, not just closing prisons.
Some of his proposals include ideas popular in the Democratic field, such as abolishing all federal private prisons, eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, federally legalizing marijuana, eliminating incarceration for drug possession, and providing additional resources and programs to help incarcerated people reintegrate into society.
One distinctive idea he includes is implementing an independent clemency commission outside of the Department of Justice to commute sentences. He also proposes creating a constitutional amendment to ban the death penalty, pointing to statistics that show it disproportionately subjects African Americans to capital punishment. Nearly all of the 2020 Democratic candidates also support abolishing the death penalty.
In his plan, Buttigieg expresses passion about addressing all the ways systemic racism has affected the health of black communities, pointing to statistics such as the fact that black mothers are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white mothers. Harris has worked to combat this issue as well: She introduced the Maternal CARE Act in 2018 to reduce racial disparities in maternal mortality.
Buttigieg proposes establishing government-funded Health Equity Zones to address racial and demographic health inequities in local communities. He also proposes working with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to solve public-health and infrastructure problems, in areas such as water, housing, and air quality, that disproportionally affect poor communities and people of color. Similarly, Sanders supports enacting a Green New Deal to help protect these communities, who he says are first to bear the effects of climate change.
Buttigieg plans to increase funding for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs). This is a topic that Harris, a graduate of Howard University, also supports and has fought for in the past: She introduced the HBCU Historic Preservation Reauthorization Bill, which passed the Senate in February, and co-sponsored legislation to increase funding for MSIs. Harris is committed to making these institutions debt-free; Sanders aims to increase funding and make them tuition-free, along with all public colleges, universities, and trade schools; Warren, in addition to also supporting free public college, proposes creating a $50 billion fund for HBCUs, and would allow private HBCUs and MSIs to opt in to the federal free-tuition program.
Buttigieg also wants to set new guidelines for teacher diversity in order to increase the number of black teachers, an idea Biden has incorporated in his education plan as well.
Buttigieg supports enacting a modern Voting Rights Act that eliminates all forms of voter suppression. He hopes to increase voter registration and election accessibility, abolish the electoral college, fight discriminatory gerrymandering, and closely examine the conduct of the 2020 Census when it is complete to determine if there was an undercount of black voters. Fellow presidential contender Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) unveiled a plan in April for a new Voting Rights Act seeking similar reforms.
One notable aspect of Buttigieg's plan is a proposal to redefine the District of Columbia as strictly the area with government buildings and create a state called "New Columbia" out of the remaining territory—a state that would have the highest proportion of black voters, at nearly 50 percent, and would get full representation in Congress. Buttigieg's plan does not include extending the right to vote to currently incarcerated people, as Sanders has proposed.