Pete Buttigieg talks infrastructure, border crisis, election season at Texas Tribune Festival

Ali Juell, Senior News Reporter

Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Transportation Secretary and former presidential candidate, opened this year’s Texas Tribune festival on Thursday with a talk about infrastructure grants, the border crisis and the upcoming midterm elections.

Buttigieg’s talk with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith mainly focused on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law last November with bipartisan support. Buttigieg said the grants tied to infrastructure should benefit Americans and Texans, by providing funds for broadband expansion, green energy growth and natural disaster damage restoration. Infrastructure projects can be submitted to the federal government for grants.

“Communities can come to us, states can come to us,” Buttigieg said. “We’ll provide the funding for as many projects as we can when the project’s aligned with our goals of enhancing safety, driving economic growth and helping us control the climate crisis.”

When asked about Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other Republican governors’ recent policy of bussing migrants to regions like New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago after being detained at the border, Buttigieg referred to the practice as “ineffectual” at addressing the border crisis.

“It’s one thing to call attention to a problem,” Buttigieg said. “It’s another to just call attention to a problem because the problem is actually more useful to you than a solution.”

Buttigieg also talked about his experience as a former presidential candidate and getting to hear about how people’s lives are impacted by politics. He said hearing many people’s life experiences on the campaign trail made him realize the “universality” of people trying to find a sense of belonging in America no matter their background.

“People bring you stories of everything from the most heartbreaking stories of healthcare struggles and loss, to the most amazing uplifting accounts of how people built lives against all the odds,” Buttigieg said.

Smith asked Buttigieg what lessons gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke could apply from his campaign in terms of being a Democratic candidate attempting to connect with rural voters that traditionally support Republicans. Buttigieg said O’Rourke should make an effort to reach traditionally non-Democratic voters so they can understand a perspective they may not ordinarily be exposed to.

Buttigieg said social media makes it difficult for people to look past the politics of others and remember that it doesn’t entirely define them. 

“Just talk to people,” Buttigieg said. “A conversation makes it possible to see each other as human beings.”