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Importantville: Buttigieg’s $1T Infrastructure Plan

Why one of Indiana’s biggest African-American endorsements may stay on the sidelines until May.

Welcome to the first 2020 edition of IMPORTANTVILLE.

On Thursday, Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-MD), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, backed Pete Buttigieg’s presidential bid, becoming the campaign’s first national co-chair.

“Pete’s message is not defined by exclusion but welcomes everyone into the fight to tackle our nation’s greatest challenges,” Brown said in a statement.

The endorsement—his biggest yet—was a get for Buttigieg, who continues to fight the narrative that he is struggling with voters of color, despite making inroads in polls.

It prompted me to check in with Cordelia Lewis-Burks, vice-chair of the Indiana Democratic Party, a Democratic National Committee member who could vote on the second round of balloting at a contested convention inside Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee this summer. Lewis-Burks is perhaps the most powerful African American woman in Indianapolis politics. A self-described moderate Democrat who says she has been pursued by the Biden campaign for an endorsement, Lewis-Burks was the first Indiana super delegate to back Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008.

The nation last heard from Lewis-Burks in November, when she appeared as a critical voice in The New York Times piece about Buttigieg’s black supporters, which the Times said could “fit into a single S.U.V.”

Did Lewis-Burks think Buttigieg was making progress with black voters?

First things first, she told me. The Times took her quotes out of context, she said. They got the sequence of events surrounding her attempt to get Mayor Pete as a speaker for the Greater Indianapolis NAACP’s 50th Freedom Fund Banquet last October.

“The NAACP had the largest turnout that they’ve ever had for a dinner, which speaks well of Mayor Pete—and I’ll still call him Mayor Pete,” she told me. “And he gave a phenomenal address. And the reason why I got Mayor Pete to speak is because I was sick and tired of the media saying he had no African American support. And if we had media at the event, at least folks would know that ee wanted to hear from him.”

Would Lewis-Burks consider an endorsement of Buttigieg?

“George [Hornedo, Buttigieg’s deputy political director] keeps me informed of all of his positions, and has sent me an email—they sent me an email personally—about an endorsement. I will tell you, I will not endorse early. Our primary is not until May, and he has not had a chance to campaign here.”

Lewis-Burks said she wanted to see how Buttigieg performed in next month’s Iowa caucuses before endorsing. “I know how difficult it is,” says Lewis-Burks, who campaigned there for candidates like Obama. “Iowa may bring him through. They brought Barack Obama through.”

Lewis-Burks said the media narrative surrounding Buttigieg’s support from black voters is unfair to the mayor.

“Why is it always Pete and not Cory Booker or Kamala Harris? They didn’t have all of the African American support either.”


The Pete Beat

Buttigieg rolled out a $1 trillion infrastructure plan this morning that his campaign says would create 6 million jobs.

The plan would do everything from investing $160 billion in public transportation to repairing K-12 school infrastructure, according to the campaign.

“The current administration has been incapable of keeping its promise to pass major infrastructure legislation, and as a result, critical projects around the country are stalled and communities are paying the price,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “Cities and towns have been leading the way on new infrastructure partnerships and approaches, but too often the federal government does not help as it should—failing to fund and prioritize infrastructure and relying on outdated standards. Under my administration, local governments will finally have a partner in Washington. As a former mayor, I know that priority-based budgets made locally are better than budget-based priorities set in Washington.”

The campaign says Buttigieg will pay for the plan by reforming the capital gains tax and repealing the Trump tax cuts. Buttigieg would collect revenue by raising the estate tax and lowering the exemption, along with cracking down on estate tax loopholes. His campaign says the measures would raise an estimated $400 billion over 10 years.


IOWA OR BUST?

There’s no bigger story in Indiana politics in January than Buttigieg’s insurgency in Iowa, where he is in contention to win the state’s caucuses. Buttigieg has built a first-in-class Iowa ground game.

  • At five events in December, he drew crowds of more than 1,000 at rallies in places such as Davenport, Mount Vernon, and Coralville. At a November campaign event in Council Bluffs, he drew more than 2,000 people.
  • Buttigieg has 35 field offices here and more than 100 staffers on the ground—more than any other campaign.
  • “Iowa is critical,” Buttigieg told me. “We’re investing, of course, in several early states, but one of the reasons I’m proud to have the most extensive operation in the state is because we’re going to need it. Look, Iowa is the place to settle the question of who can win an election.”

In other Buttigieg news:

  • The Des Moines Register unveils its latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll at 6 p.m. today.
  • Buttigieg failed to secure delegates in Illinois’ most diverse district.

FOR YOUR RADAR

  • Jan. 14: Next Democratic presidential debate
  • Jan. 14: Indiana’s State of the State address
  • Jan. 26: Buttigieg sits down with Fox News for his second town hall with the network.
  • Feb. 3: Iowa caucuses.
  • Feb. 8: Last day to file for candidacy in the primary.
  • May. 5: Indiana’s primary

FOCUS ON THE FIFTH

Fifth District Democratic congressional candidate Dee Thornton may be ineligible to run because she voted Republican in the 2019 primary.

Thornton asked Joe Weingarten, the Hamilton County Democratic Chair, to verify her as a Democrat Thursday, a process necessary under state law. Weingarten gave her a waiver.

“Like many Hoosiers who vote in Indiana’s primary elections, [Thornton] was forced to choose between voting for a representative for major office or voting just for the party with which she aligns—even when there is no candidate for which to vote or race to be won,” her campaign manager told The Indianapolis Recorder.

That decision is rankling some Democrats who say Weingarten denied other candidates the ability to appear on the ballot after they pulled a Republican ballot. Last spring, he wrote in an email obtained by IMPORTANTVILLE: “If a Democrat takes a Republican ballot they are no longer a Democrat in legal terms…If they want to run for office in the future they can’t or be a delegate to the next convention.”


AROUND IMPORTANTVILLE

  • Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel’s attorney general campaign reported $604.321.31 in campaign funds in its end-of-year report. He raised $124,100 in the 21 days before the reporting period ended.
  • Gov. Eric Holcomb appeared to signal openness to teacher pay raises. It’s something he’ll say he’ll address in his State of the State next week.

Adam Wren writes about business, politics, and crime for Indianapolis Monthly—often in the same story. Follow him on Twitter @adamwren or visit his website at adamwren.me.
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