During the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary, America got to meet someone who quickly became an unlikely favorite in households all across the country – Mayor Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana… or, as many of us came to know him, “Mayor Pete.” Mayor Pete was an unlikely favorite of many because of his relatively little-known name and the fact that his biggest gig had been as Mayor of a medium-sized city in a state typically thought of as being a part of “flyover country.” This was quickly undone as he surged into the top-tier of Democratic candidates for the Presidency and gained attention on the national stage.
In December of 2019, Mayor Pete led the famed Iowa Caucuses – narrowly closing out Senator Bernie Sanders with 14 delegates to Bernie’s 12. Shortly after, he placed second in the New Hampshire primaries – and it looked, for a time, as though he might be “the guy.” Even for a grizzled and jaded veteran Republican campaign operative like myself, it was hard not to like Mayor Pete and his overall tone and demeanor. Amiable, well-spoken, calm and collected, a military veteran, and someone you could easily envision sitting down for a beer with, Mayor Pete spoke differently. His words on the debate stage rose above political discord and were often reminders of the greatness of the United States and full of hope for a bright future – if we only chose to do the right thing. His was a different tone that seemed to leave the grotesque bickering behind and refocus those listening on the beauty of what America is and what America could be. While listening to him speak, you could almost picture a world where Twitter didn’t even exist – almost.
Mayor Pete’s successes on the campaign trail were relatively short-lived – after placing fourth in the South Carolina primary and then-former VP Joe Biden’s immediate rise to victory in subsequent states, he decided to drop out. But, he certainly didn’t go away. After working hard for the Biden-Harris ticket throughout the campaign for the General Election, President Joe Biden nominated Mayor Pete to serve as the 19th Secretary of Transportation for the United States. He was confirmed by a vote of the U.S. Senate on February 2, 2021 – and was sworn in on the following day, February 3, 2021.
I, for one, am incredibly excited that Mayor Pete is serving in this role. Let me tell you why. As someone who cares very deeply about the environment – and who believes that one of the best ways to protect and preserve it is through clean transportation (after all, the transportation industry is the single-largest contributor to harmful greenhouse gas emissions) centered in market-based solutions, Mayor Pete is exactly the person we need at the helm of the Department of Transportation. As the transportation industry grows and changes with huge and innovative ideas centered on cleaner fuel types and more advanced methods of getting around, there is a struggle we face.
Over the next three to five years, we know that every major auto manufacturer in the United States will have an electric-vehicle offering, and we expect a $100 billion investment in the EV industry over the next ten years. The struggle we face is that of shedding our old ways – the embrace of fossil fuels and other dirty fuel types – and beginning to embrace the new. This doesn’t mean immediately shutting down the use of fossil fuels altogether – doing so would be irresponsible and catastrophic to our economy.
We must begin to work towards a cleaner transportation future for the United States – a heavy lift that will take a great deal of convincing in many circles that are resistant to change (and beholden to lobbyist dollars from the oil industry). At one point in our history, I’m certain there were folks who were saying “why would we stop using these horses we know and love and start using those weird, newfangled ‘cars’? This is just a trend that will pass,” – ignorant of the new means of efficiency and ease added to daily life. We must not be those people. Instead, we need to look to the future and all that is has to offer.
We are sitting at the precipice of major innovation, exciting growth, massive economic development, and incredible workforce investment opportunities – but, we must be willing to chase these opportunities by enacting strategic public policies around them. To do this, we need someone who speaks with a voice of hope, leads with a steady hand, rises above political naysaying, and who believes that America’s best years are ahead of it – someone who understands that opportunities in the transportation sector are ripe for the picking and that a cleaner future for us and those who come after us is integral to setting a worldwide example. In my opinion, we’ve got that in America’s (new) Mayor… Mayor Pete.