Elections

Tom Steyer is agonizing over a Senate run: ‘We must take back our government’

Tom Steyer listens during an event at McClatchy High School in Sacramento on Jan. 20, 2016.
Tom Steyer listens during an event at McClatchy High School in Sacramento on Jan. 20, 2016. TNS

Tom Steyer, the liberal billionaire donor, has spent years wrestling with a question: Does his brand of activism have more impact on the outside, or would he be better positioned to push for changes by holding elected office?

Steyer, 60, answered by passing up a Senate run in 2016, allowing Democrat Kamala Harris to go virtually unchallenged. He’s declined to wade into the open race to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown.

Now, Steyer is seriously looking at joining the campaign against U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, having come to the decision that he may not be able to do it alone anymore, according to confidants and a recent message he sent to a political ally, a copy of which was obtained by The Sacramento Bee.

Steyer shares that he’s been working for five years, putting hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money into advocacy, organizing and campaigns. In the email to a California political activist, he said the question for him is whether he’s doing enough through his NextGen organization, “Or can independent, people-driven change only come from within that dysfunctional Federal Political System.”

Steyer laments that he tried to get establishment figures to act by calling them out and shaming them into taking action, and wrote that he tried to embolden recalcitrant Congressional Democrats to call for impeachment of President Donald Trump.

“But that just may not be enough. Perhaps the only way to change the establishment is not from the outside, but by going into the arena and taking them on directly, with independence from corporate interests, a willingness to do whatever it takes without regard for subsequent elections, and allegiance to the people we serve,” he wrote, in an apparent swipe at politicians who accept campaign money from businesses.

Steyer and close associates have said recently that he is looking at where he can take back the government and stop Trump, including “a full consideration” of the Senate race. That would involve him running against his friend, Los Angeles Democratic Sen. Kevin de León, an ally who is trying to capture a progressive wave against an incumbent he believes has been overly accommodating to Trump.

In the more than 800-word email, Steyer builds out the most robust rationale to date for a Senate run, one free of outside influence, which he blames for his party’s unwillingness to more forcefully confront Trump. “Have they forgotten their moral duty not to allow America to behave in such a way as to imperil every soul on this planet?” he wrote.

Steyer also offers a glimpse at his biography in passages that could be ripped from a political speech.

He wrote about his parents, who grew up in the Great Depression, survived World War II and taught him about standing up against injustice. His father served in the Navy and prosecuted war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials. His mother ran public school volunteer programs in New York City, where she looked out for at-risk kids.

The former hedge fund manager goes on to say that he gained an understanding of how “deeply unfair we have allowed the rules of economic engagement to become and how the system therefore affects people” when he worked “at the heart of our economic system.”

Steyer concludes saying that whether he runs for Senate, or opts out again, his mission won’t change: “We must take back our government that was created "of, by and for The People” and I feel strongly called to do everything in my power to restore the people’s power.”

Tom Steyer, the San Francisco billionaire and environmentalist, came to Fresno to promise his support for a proposed Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to help communities with contaminated water in the San Joaquin Valley.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

Related stories from McClatchy DC

  Comments