The Potluck

Pete Buttigieg visits the bus and the fair

By: - August 25, 2022 3:27 pm

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured the State Fair with Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Rep. Ilhan Omar. Photo by Baylor Spears/Minnesota Reformer.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg got appreciative shouts at the State Fair’s opening day Thursday, before making an idiosyncratic fair food choice that may foretell a battleground state in the upcoming midterm elections: fried Ohio buckeyes.

Fairgoers circled around Buttigieg and his hosts — Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Rep. Ilhan Omar — grabbing selfies, shaking his hands and giving their thanks. 

One fairgoer — who stopped in front of the group as they walked — shouted his appreciation for the Biden Administration: “You know what’s been happening in America? Biden. You know why my daughter’s getting her money back? Biden and you!” (Biden announced this week he would cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for most borrowers.)

Buttigieg, an unsuccessful 2020 candidate for president, visited the Twin Cities Thursday to highlight recent money coming to Minnesota via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that passed last year. He’s touring six states as part of a “Building a Better America” tour that might also be called Buttigieg’s Political Future tour.

Buttigieg started the morning in south Minneapolis at the Uptown Transit Station — boarding a Metro Transit electric bus for a tour down Lake Street with Mayor Jacob Frey and some other local dignitaries. 

Hennepin County is slated to receive $12 million in federal money for improvements to the Lake Street Corridor, which is still trying to rebuild after damage incurred during riots after George Floyd was murdered by police. Lake Street will go from four to three lanes to reduce crashes. The money will also fund new turn lanes and bus-only lanes, road pavement and pedestrian ramps and signals. 

Buttigieg said transit improvements will help local communities and businesses. 

“[Many business owners] went through so much here, first with the pandemic, then with the civil unrest, and part of how you support small businesses is to make sure that people can circulate their employees, their customers,” Buttigieg said. “The vibrancy of any neighborhood largely depends on the mobility of the people so we can invest in more frequent, more reliable and safe transit.” 

Six Minnesota projects will get nearly $100 million total this year through a program called Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE. The program, which awarded more than $2.2 billion nationwide this year, got a boost from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

“The whole philosophy of the RAISE grant program is that the designs, the ideas don’t all have to come from Washington, but more of the funding should,” Buttigieg said. 

The bus tour ended at the intersection of Bloomington and Lake Street. 

At the fair, the Minnesota lawmakers suggested Buttigieg get some cheese curds before heading out. He took his own counsel and went with the fried buckeyes instead. He headed to Ohio later Thursday for another stop on the tour. “We’re having a multi-state Midwestern moment here.” He also wanted to see about getting some pickles, but it seems he didn’t have time.

Buttigieg stopped by the Minnesota Farmers Union building at the fair and visited with Gary Wertish, the union president. 

Wertish said infrastructure is key for farmers.

“As a farmer on a farm, you have to keep investing, and when your barn roof starts leaking, if you don’t fix it, pretty soon you don’t have a barn,” Wertish said.

“We saw that happen at the I-35W bridge,” he said, referring to the 2007 Interstate 35W bridge collapse. 

Minnesota is expected to receive $4.8 billion for roads and bridges, about $850 million for public transportation, $68 million for electric vehicle charging stations and $298 million for airports over the next five years from the infrastructure law. 

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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a reporting intern with the Minnesota Reformer. A Tennessee-native, she recently graduated from Northwestern University.