You probably don’t know the first thing about events held by Tom Steyer, the billionaire presidential hopeful who is not Michael Bloomberg. It’s not your fault, or the result of lack of effort on the candidate’s part; Steyer has spent millions of dollars in his obscure attempt to secure the Democratic nomination, and frequently appears in commercials on your television screen that he paid for out of pocket.
Despite his oft-mocked self-funded lunge for the White House and last-place finish in Iowa (out of the candidates who actually competed, at least), Steyer does stand out from the pack on the strength of his climate-first agenda. And though you won’t see any coverage of his events outside of his social media feed, the guy actually draws crowds, like at his meet-and-greet at Share Brewing Company in Manchester on Wednesday night ahead of next week’s first-in-the-nation primary.
“How many people think we should have a living wage [in the United States]?” Steyer asked his crowd at the brewery. Attendees were given two drink tickets apiece for free beer; reporters got none, though we managed to snag a few.
With the confidence of someone who won big in Iowa, in New Hampshire the candidate rolled up the sleeves on his blue dress shirt and broke into his stump speech, hitting every note from how his ancestors fought the Nazis to his own quarrels with Big Tobacco, irresponsible utility companies, and even the Keystone XL pipeline. His biggest regret, the hopeful said, is having invested in fossil fuels at one point in his career.
“Should a corporation poison your family for money?” Steyer asked the crowd. “Climate is the number one priority … not because we want it to be, but because it has to be.”
The candidate continued, “Black and brown communities get poisoned the most—Flint, Michigan is an example.”
Since he was on the topic of energy policy, we asked Steyer about the compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts, which the South Shore activist group Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station explain is being built by Spectra Energy “to bring fracked natural gas through New England and into Canada,” and “will create air, noise, and odor problems that will affect residents in Weymouth, Quincy, Braintree, and the South Shore,” despite there being “no public vote and limited public input in this process.”
“How do you feel about FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] ignoring state and local residents,” we asked. To which Steyer responded that he is against natural gas pipelines “at all costs,” and said that as president, he would “empower local communities” in fights like the one Mass residents have waged against the Weymouth compressor.
It’s an answer that New England residents who live in the way of a pipeline would likely welcome, even if they take offense to the misguided tote bags the campaign is handing out acknowledging (or mocking, depending on your take) the New England accent: “New Hampsha for Tom Stey-Ah.”
This article was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Manchester Divided coverage of political activity around New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Follow our coverage @BINJreports on Twitter and at binjonline.org/manchesterdivided, and if you want to see more citizens agenda-driven reporting you can contribute at givetobinj.org.