Presidential candidate Tom Steyer hosts town hall at local steakhouse

by Jacob Strier | 1/10/20 2:00am

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Steyer spoke to a crowd of around 50 people at Jesse's Steakhouse in Hanover.

by Jacob Strier / The Dartmouth

Despite heavy snow and hazardous road conditions, around 50 Upper Valley residents and Dartmouth students gathered to listen to Tom Steyer speak at Jesse’s Steakhouse in Hanover on Wednesday evening. The billionaire, who entered the political sphere through his early campaign to impeach President Trump, is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination by headlining climate change as his top priority, alongside sweeping action to fix a government he repeatedly calls “broken.” 

Amid the woodsy decoration of the steakhouse, which includes a moose’s head and full-size canoe, Steyer began the event with a short introduction to his platform before moving on to answering a series of questions posed by the audience. 

“The reason I am running for president is very simple: The government is broken ­­­­— it’s been bought by corporations,” Steyer said. “All the things people want — affordable healthcare as a right, quality public school from pre-K to college, a living wage, clean air and clean water — we are not getting them.” 

Steyer called for structural changes in the United States, including widespread political reforms such as term limits, direct democracy and electoral reform. 

“We actually need structural reforms including term limits of 12 years for congresspeople and senators,” he said. “You want an argument on term limits? Six words: Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley.”

Beyond advocating for term limits, Steyer also proposed the further use of direct democracy as a means of generating legislation, proposing a process which surpasses elected lawmakers and puts more legislative power in the hands of ordinary Americans. 

Steyer cited the need for direct democracy by saying that 90 percent of Americans want background checks as a mandatory component of gun purchases, but such legislation has never been discussed in Congress despite widespread support. 

Keeping with the theme of political reforms, Steyer responded to a retired engineer’s question about electoral reform by saying he would be in favor of giving $200 designated only for campaign donations to every member of the American electorate. Steyer argued that this proposal would publicly finance campaigns while removing corporations’ current hand in the process while increasing voter engagement. 

Steyer emphasized his record and dedication to the environment as his key campaign point, and he said he is the only Democratic candidate willing to name it as his number one priority if elected president. 

“I helped to block the Keystone Pipeline and the last fossil fuel plant I hope is ever proposed in California,” he said. “Everything I have done that has to do with energy, climate, the environment, I start with environmental justice. I go to the communities where it is unsafe to breathe because you will get asthma and it is unsafe to drink the tap water because you will be poisoned.” 

Steyer also made several pointed rhetorical attacks on Trump, pointing out Trump’s business background and his management of the American economy. Steyer said Trump will run his campaign on the strong state of the American economy, while claiming that Democrats are “incapable” of controlling America’s financial future. He said that Trump has been a “terrible steward” of the American economy.  

Susan Kaplan, a fellow alum of Steyer’s alma mater Phillips Exeter Academy, said in an interview that Steyer’s support of term limits is appealing to her. Kaplan, a local consultant, said this kind of reform, alongside his strong stance on climate, has sparked to her interest in Steyer’s message. Other audience members included a strong supporter of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Claire Connolly, who said she came to the event to advocate for the protection of reproductive rights. Hanover schoolteacher Alicia Rydjeski said that she attended the event to learn more about Steyer’s views on international relations and immigration policy. 

According to a recent Monmouth University poll, Steyer is polling at four percent support in New Hampshire. Steyer addressed undecided voters during the event — claiming that some 60 to 65 percent of Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire remain undecided — and implored the audience to dedicate their support.

In a interview with The Dartmouth after the event, Steyer expounded on some of his points from the town hall, while also emphasizing new topics like his focus on education and his founding of NextGen America, the progressive advocacy group which Steyer said has registered over a million voters. 

Steyer said that if he were elected he would immediately declare a state of emergency on the climate crisis to quickly appropriate government funds. 

“I will do it from the standpoint of environmental justice, and we as Americans will lead the world to get this done,” he said. “You do what you have to do. That’s where we are.” 

To improve economic and social mobility for young people, Steyer told The Dartmouth he plans to implement large scale educational reform with a focus on equity in educational funding. 

“Are we actually going to emphasize education of kids before they are in second grade so they have a chance of getting to a place like Dartmouth College?” he asked. “There are kids who are in schools which don’t have nurses, mental health support or librarians — and the one meal they receive is school lunch.” 

Steyer said he believes American patriotism is about putting other Americans before yourself. 

“If you want to convince me that you are a patriot, then I want to see you are actually putting the American people first,” he said. “We have a failed government — that’s my whole thesis. You know the quote: ‘The last refuge of a scoundrel is patriotism.’ The question is not, ‘Do you wave the flag?’ but instead, ‘Do you stand up and do what is right for the American people?’”