But experience tells me that trying to jump from city hall to the White House is akin to one of our Little Leaguers thinking they can strike out Angels outfielder Mike Trout. They might have the talent, and one day they may achieve enough speed and skill on the mound, but not without first graduating through several successive levels of play, and all the grueling training and many years of practice they entail.
It takes much more than leading a thriving town to be president. As mayor, for example, one of my priorities has been to promote the health of our environment. In 2016, I proposed legislation regulating pesticide use in our parks, greenbelts and open spaces. Across the country, more than 160 cities have adopted similar measures. When a section of the 2018 Farm Bill threatened to preempt local rights to control pesticide use, the city council, under my leadership, gathered support nationwide to successfully pressure Congress to remove it. Even this hard-won victory, though, can't compare with crafting federal regulations on clean water, oil production and air quality through the Environmental Protection Agency (which essentially decides which kinds of energy industries prosper and which perish) — and potentially having to defend them in the courts.
My job requires me to build consensus among demographically and politically diverse colleagues. Yet no matter how contentious our council meetings get, they are smooth sailing compared with dealing with Congress's 535 members. While Irvine is a diverse city, that's nothing compared with the vast array of communities that make up the United States. My experience running Irvine hasn't prepared me to craft policy for Los Angeles or New York, let alone for rural North Dakota or American territories in the Pacific Ocean. As mayor, I've helped solve local road and traffic problems, but what constitutes a major public-works project for us — like turning the former site of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station into a 1,300-acre park and veterans cemetery — is a small undertaking viewed against our country's sprawling, eroding infrastructure, which spans mass transit, airports, dams, oil pipes, electrical grids and rural broadband.
Our city has consistently earned high ratings for fiscal health from Truth in Accounting, a government transparency nonprofit. By law, Irvine must balance its budget every year; what's more, I cannot raise taxes without a vote. That has hardly prepared me for the dizzyingly complex economic levers, from trade policy to entitlement budgeting, controlled by the executive branch. Signing off on the country's $4.4 trillion budget without a line-item veto is not a remotely equivalent task. As president, I would no longer control the power of the purse: Congress would.
To sit behind the Resolute Desk requires more than a mayor's nodding acquaintance with issues foreign and domestic. Judging by FBI statistics, Irvine is one of America's safest cities, thanks to the 232 brave men and women on our police force who risk their lives every day. The City Council and I ensure they have what they need to protect our residents. But I don't think that prepares me to serve as commander in chief, controlling state-of-the-art weapons systems and leading the 1.4 million people serving in the armed forces on bases throughout the country and the world (and, God forbid, deciding whether to send them into harm's way). It's true that Buttigieg has some experience beyond the mayoralty, working as a naval intelligence officer. Those are respectable credentials. But do they bestow the experience and judgment he'd need? Though I've been roused in the middle of the night to respond to blackouts, serious accidents and the occasional homicide, those situations are more contained than the crises that wake a president at 3 a.m.
Through Irvine's affiliation with Sister Cities International, our nation's leading citizen diplomacy network, I have worked with my counterparts in communities in Japan, Taiwan, Mexico and Korea. These relationships generate tourism and business investment, as well as trade, educational and cultural exchanges. But it would be naive to think that the program has qualified me to deal with rival governments and their leaders, like North Korea's Kim Jong Un, China's Xi Jinping or Russia's Vladimir Putin. Nor has it equipped me to tackle the complexities of immigration and border policy.
Irvine and South Bend are not exactly the same, even if the largest employer in each is the local university. Irvine is a midsize city with more than 280,000 residents and a general-fund budget of $215 million; South Bend has 100,000 residents and a general-fund budget of around $65 million. Here, a city manager runs the government's day-to-day operations under the direction of my office and the city council, which adopts legislation and sets our budget and policies. In South Bend, the mayor is the town's elected chief executive and has more direct administrative authority.
But towns like mine and Buttigieg's are more like each other than they are like the United States. The mayoralty is a demanding job, but it's not the presidency. (Maybe that's why so many mayors who've sought the Oval Office have failed: Sam Yorty, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Martin O'Malley, Bill de Blasio and our own former mayor Larry Agran , to name a few.) Whether a former mayor of South Bend has the skills and experience to win, and then succeed in, the presidency is questionable. Though I consider myself to be a quick study and a fast learner, it takes a huge ego to think that mayoral experience alone would empower anyone to hit the West Wing running. Going from local politics to the Situation Room, from leading a town of a few hundred thousand to a country of 330 million, the chance of a rookie mistake is high — and the stakes couldn't be higher.