Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday unveiled his campaign’s plan to boost national service, rolling out a proposal in Iowa that aims to increase service opportunities and tie that service to incentives.
Buttigieg told an audience in a sweltering gym here in Sioux City that his plan to boost the prevalence of service is meant to help the country and to provide a way to knit people together in a time when politics seems to be pulling them apart.
“I don’t think you ought to have to go to war to have that experience,” Buttigieg said, referencing his own service in the US Naval Reserve and the way it helped bond him with people he barely knew. “So today, I am proud to announce a new call to service.”
The South Bend, Indiana, mayor said that the plan, which intends to increase service opportunities to 250,000 a year and to “quadruple the number of service opportunities to 1 million high school graduates” by 2026, is aimed at “repairing the fabric of our nation.”
“I think when we do that,” Buttigieg said, “we will find not only a lot of work gets done but that America was closer together.”
The plan is broken up into three policy pillars: expanding service opportunities, building networks around service and increasing the scale of service opportunities by 2026.
To achieve those goals, Buttigieg says, if elected president he will “immediately increase national service opportunities to 250,000 positions through the existing federal and AmeriCorps grantee organizations” and “create competitive grant funding for communities, cities, and regions to create service ecosystems tailored to regional and local issues.”
These programs will particularly target students in high school or at community colleges, vocational schools or historically black college and universities.
Buttigieg also would create new “corps” for service, including a Climate Corps, Community Health Corps and Intergenerational Service Corps, all of which would be overseen by a new chief service officer within the White House.
All of this aims to “quadruple the number of service opportunities to 1 million high school graduates” by 2026, according to the plan.
Buttigieg’s own service — he took a leave of absence from his job in 2014 to serve in Afghanistan — is central to his story and his rise in the Democratic primary.
Buttigieg, who’s 37, leaned on the fact that he is a young mayor who served in the military to set himself apart from others in the field on Wednesday, too, warning that if Democrats nominate a traditional candidate in 2020, the party could lose again to President Donald Trump.
“He is deservedly unpopular but he could win again,” Buttigieg said. “And I think he wins again if we look like we’re offering more of the same. I think the way he wins again is if we look like we’re the defenders of a system that hasn’t worked. And what that means is, surprisingly, the riskiest thing we could do is try so hard to play it safe that we continue to walk down an establishment path that has Americans believing that we’re not speaking to them.”
Buttigieg, after noting that they need someone unlike Trump to beat Trump, said, “That is where I come in.”
“What could be more different than this President? Laid-back, middle-class millennial mayor from the industrial Midwest. It is not traditional,” he said.
Buttigieg is not the first Democratic candidate to roll out a national service plan. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, who served as a captain in the US Marine Corps in Iraq, unveiled a proposal earlier this year that would pay 100% of in-state college tuition or $24,000 in job training for three years of commitment to a service organization.
“If you invest in America, then America will invest in you,” Moulton said to ABC in May.
Buttigieg has long said he believes the country would be in a better place — socially and politically — if more people spent time working on national service projects.
“I believe that national service is something we need to create more opportunities for here at home and we need to learn from all of the ways for prior generations military service was a leveler and equalizer, something that made it possible for people like a young John F. Kennedy or George H.W. Bush to learn how to relate on more or less equal terms of factory workers in places like Indiana,” Buttigieg told CNN in March. “It’s unfortunate we lost that.”
Buttigieg later told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that he would like to create a county where the social norm was that everybody “spends a year in national service” after they turn 18.
“Whether it’s civilian or military, it’s the first question on your college application if you’re applying for college or it’s the first question when you are being interviewed for a job if you go right into the work force,” he said. “Now, to do that, we’re going to have to create more service opportunities and we’re going to find a way to fund it. But I think it’s worth approaching.”