Presidential candidate Tom Steyer visits Fairfield

Union photo by Andy Hallman

Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, left, poses for a photo with resident Jay Mattsson during his campaign stop Saturday, Nov. 2, on a farm near Fairfield.
Union photo by Andy Hallman Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, left, poses for a photo with resident Jay Mattsson during his campaign stop Saturday, Nov. 2, on a farm near Fairfield.

FAIRFIELD — Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer made a campaign stop at a farm just outside Fairfield Saturday, Nov. 2.

Susie Drish and Barbara Hood own a pony farm about 7.5 miles southeast of Fairfield. They hosted Steyer in one of their barns. Drish said it was the first presidential candidate they’ve hosted at their farm.

Steyer was introduced by Fairfield veterinarian and former Iowa Rep. Phil Miller, who is seeking a return to the House of Representatives in District 82. Miller told the crowd gathered around hay bales and space heaters a bit about Steyer’s background, like the fact that his father Roy was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II.

Steyer is the founder and former co-senior managing partner of Farallon Capital headquartered in San Francisco, where Steyer lives. Steyer sold his stake in Farallon Capital in 2012, and since then has focused on political activism, particularly on the environment. In 2013, he created NextGen America, a liberal advocacy group designed to mobilize young voters on issues such as climate change, health care, reproductive rights, immigration and equality.

During his remarks, Steyer spoke about how appropriate it was that he was surrounded by hay bales, since as a boy he worked as a ranch hand bailing hay for what amounted to 50 cents an hour.

Steyer said he is running for president for a simple reason, and that’s because “Government works perfectly for corporations, and horribly for everyone else.” He also chastised his fellow Democrats in the field for focusing on who has the better “Green New Deal” when they’re not addressing the root problem.

“We’re not getting a ‘Green New Deal’ until we break the stranglehold of the oil and gas companies on our government,” he said. “I’m running to restore what we thought we had, which is a government by, of and for the people.”

Steyer spoke about his desire to limit lifetime Congressional service to 12 years, meaning two terms for Senators and six terms for Representatives of the House.

“If we had done that, we wouldn’t have Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham or Chuck Grassley,” he said, referring to three Republican Senators.

Steyer mentioned that he wants mandatory background checks on all gun purchases. He said the idea is popular even among members of the National Rifle Association. He remarked that several pieces of gun control legislation are being blocked because of the influence of gun manufacturers.

The United States is experiencing low unemployment at a moment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that unemployment was 3.7 percent in August, and that Iowa’s unemployment rate was even lower at 2.5 percent. However, Steyer said the unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story.

“We might have low unemployment, but you can’t live on these jobs,” he said. “We need to talk about wages, not just jobs.”

Steyer talked about how he started the “Need to Impeach” movement, referring to a desire to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump. Steyer founded “Need to Impeach” in October 2017, and stepped down in June 2019 to focus on his presidential campaign. On its website, the group lists a series of offenses it believes justify impeachment, such as Trump attempting to stop the Mueller investigation, Trump’s promotion of his properties as an avenue to secure his favor with foreign officials, and Trump’s effort to withhold aid from Ukraine if its prime minister did not investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

A member of the audience asked Steyer how he was going to accomplish any of his goals if the Democrats did not control both the House and Senate. Steyer said some of his agenda could be accomplished through executive actions. For instance, he plans to declare a “state of emergency” to deal with climate change.

The Union asked Steyer if he worried about the precedent he would be setting by bypassing Congress to address climate change.

“For [young] people, this is an emergency,” he said. “I don’t feel one piece of guilt. We’re talking about something that can go completely haywire if we don’t get it under control.”

Countries that signed the Paris climate agreement (which the U.S. joined in 2015 and later dropped out of in 2017 under direction from President Donald Trump) set a goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2100. Steyer said the earth has already warmed by 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880.

“We’re on a much shorter time frame than people understand,” he said. “If we don’t act on climate change, we won’t leave our kids a better world than what we found. If we can’t do that, we should be ashamed of ourselves.”

Audience member Jay Mattsson asked Steyer for his thoughts on improving equity in education. Mattsson suggested that the way school districts are funded is unfair because much of the money comes from local property taxes. But some areas of the country are much richer than others, meaning there is a lot of money for their schools, but little money for other schools.

Mattsson suggested a national property tax on houses and condos worth more than $1 million, and giving the proceeds to the bottom 50 percent poorest schools in the country.

Steyer agreed with Mattsson’s assessment that paying for schools based on residency was unfair, and he said that the degree of social mobility is going down.

“The number of rags to riches stories is so low now it’s terrible,” Steyer said.

Audience member Vina Miller asked Steyer if he would select a woman to be his vice president. Steyer didn’t commit to that exactly, though he said that “any organization I have will be more than 50 percent female.”