Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said addressing climate change and reforming the criminal justice system would be two of his focuses as president during a campaign stop in Salt Lake City.

At a town hall on Monday evening, Buttigieg said he is “ready to take on” President Donald Trump and “build a political movement that will speak to all Americans.”

Buttigieg said he, like other Democratic candidates, has the goal of ensuring the United States is carbon neutral by 2050.

“We’ve got to invite everybody to be part of the solution,” he said, including farmers and industrial workers.

When asked about his policy on marijuana, Buttigieg said he thought it should be legal at the federal level, adding that he didn’t think drug possession warranted incarceration.

The presidential candidate praised Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who he disagrees with “on all kinds of things,” for following his conscience and breaking party lines in voting to convict Trump of abuse of power in his impeachment trial.

Buttigieg is the first openly gay candidate to run for president. Jade Velazquez, one of Utah’s organizers for the Buttigieg campaign, spoke about being gay himself and how he felt excluded when he was growing up.

“As a young gay kid, I was an outsider,” Velazquez said, adding that Buttigieg would make people of all sexualities feel welcome in the U.S.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall spoke at Monday’s town hall and announced her endorsement for Buttigieg.

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, currently leads Democrats in total delegates awarded. With 22 delegates so far, Buttigieg is slightly ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, who has 21 delegates, and far ahead of other Democratic candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, all of whom have less than 10 delegates.

A candidate needs 1,991 delegates to secure a spot on the Democratic National Convention ballot.

On March 3, otherwise known as Super Tuesday, voters in Utah and more than a dozen other states will choose a candidate to support in the presidential primary elections.

Thousands of Utahns showed up to Monday night’s town hall to show support for Buttigieg. One of them was Terry Palmer, of Midvale, who said she supports Buttigieg both for his style and the policies for which he advocates.

“I’ve been supporting Pete for quite awhile,” said Palmer. “I like his platform, I like his style, I like the idea of bringing people together and the way he talks about that.”

Palmer said Buttigieg’s ideas on health care are what earned her support for the Democratic presidential candidate. He has proposed expanding Medicare to automatically enroll all qualifying individuals and to expand premium subsidies for low-income families.

“I do like his health care policy,” said Palmer, who is a survivor of melanoma, a form of skin cancer. “I am somebody with a pre-existing condition. So I’m looking for somebody who can ensure that I would still have coverage.”

In addition to liking his domestic policies, Palmer said she felt Buttigieg would do a better job than Trump of representing the United States in the international community.

“I think we need somebody in office who is not abrasive and can talk to other countries without embarrassing himself, or us,” the Midvale resident said.

Another supporter, Ogden resident Mary Khalaf, said she supported Buttigieg because “he’s kind of in the middle of the road” as a political candidate.

“He’s not extreme,” Khalaf said.

Khalaf, who is Muslim, added that she liked how Buttigieg is “inclusive of all people,” adding that she “think(s) Trump has made it pretty clear he doesn’t like us (Muslims).”

“As a Muslim-American, it’s important that we have a leader who sees us all as people,” she said. “And I think Pete sees the value of our community.”

Ahead of Monday’s town hall, Buttigieg received endorsements from a number of prominent Utahns, including Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson.

“Mayors approach challenges differently than senators do because we are forced to be more practical than ideological,” Jenny Wilson said in a press release. “We have to work quickly, responsively, and across party lines to deliver results for our constituents, and can’t afford to get bogged down in philosophical squabbles.”

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who spoke at Monday’s town hall, also offered his endorsement and said Buttigieg’s criminal justice policy would benefit Utah and the country as a whole.

“As Mayor of South Bend, he never shied away from tough conversations, and as president, he’ll prioritize restorative justice to work to reduce incarceration across the United States,” Gill said in a press release.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at and 801-344-2599.

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