The question teed things up perfectly for Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer.
At the conclusion of a lengthy question-and-answer session at Backpocket Taproom and Beercade in Dubuque on Saturday morning, one of the 40-plus attendees raised a tongue-in-cheek query about Republican President Donald Trump.
“How do you know when Trump is lying?” the man asked.
“His lips are moving,” Steyer replied without missing a beat.
Steyer, a billionaire philanthropist and community organizer, spent nearly an hour addressing and fielding questions from the audience. He touted his extensive background organizing successful, grass-roots voter turnout efforts and legal victories over multiple corporate interests.
And he took frequent aim at Trump, the eventual Democratic nominee’s presumptive opponent in the November 2020 election.
“What Trump is going to say is, ‘Yes I’m a criminal. Yes I hate most Americans. You don’t ever want to see me again. But you can’t get rid of me because I’m good for the economy,’” Steyer said. “That’s his campaign. ... And as steward of the American economy, he’s doing the exact same thing he did to Atlantic City casinos. Which is promising a lot, borrowing a lot, getting nothing substantial done and walking away for someone else to clean up his mess. That’s exactly who he is economically.”
But before he can take on Trump, Steyer must defeat a host a fellow Democrats, many of whom have years — or decades — of experience as elected officials. But Steyer said his background gives him an edge.
The son of a first-generation college student who prosecuted war criminals at the conclusion of World War II, Steyer grew up with a simple mandate.
“What (Steyer’s dad) said to us growing up was, ‘If you see something wrong in your society, at the heart of your society like there was in Germany in the ’30s, then you should fight it every single day, and you should fight it as early as you see it,’” Steyer said. “And honestly, that’s exactly why I started (campaigning for impeachment) in October 2017. There’s something really wrong at the heart of American society.”
The Yale and Stanford graduate became a successful hedge fund manager, and eventually turned his eye to politics. In 2013, he launched NextGen America, a nonprofit that engages with young voters on progressive policy platforms, including climate change and the economy.
If Democrats are going to be successful in 2020, they must learn to engage Trump on the issue of the economy, Steyer said. The president almost certainly will weaponize the country’s seemingly booming economy in the lead-up to the election, according to Steyer.
But the economy’s “success” is a “perfect example of how numbers can tell a false story,” Steyer said.
“Who cares if the country’s growing if it’s not shared with the people of the country?” he said.
Kim Mangers, of Dubuque, shared with Steyer her challenges related to health care costs.
“My money that I would get from (her late husband’s) Social Security goes right into health insurance,” Mangers said. “I still have nothing. I have a hard time finding a job at my age. And who’s going to carry me with health insurance?”
Steyer empathized, and shared details for his plan to create a publicly funded alternative to private insurers to help drive costs down. He also promised to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, hopefully addressing an enormous disparity in pharmaceutical pricing from country to country.
“Having health care that’s unaffordable is not health care,” Steyer said. “Having to choose between medication and rent is not health care. And health care in the 21st century in America is a right. It’s not something people should have to dream of or hope for or fight for. It’s a right that absolutely everybody deserves.”
Kris Ericksson-Eipperle, of Dubuque, discussed the importance of green energy, and the difficulty of getting that message to citizens when corporations and utility companies operate disinformation campaigns.
“A year ago, our airwaves were just peppered with ads that were completely false information against green energy,” she said. “I mean, it was one commercial after another. Your telephones, the internet. It was a very aggressive campaign of false information.”
Steyer agreed, noting Iowa’s national leadership in the realm of wind energy. He said addressing climate concerns is his No. 1 priority.
“Iowa’s going to go to 100% clean energy when the rest of the country is sitting here going, ‘It’s impossible. We can never do it.’ We can definitely do it,” Steyer said. “One of the things that’s true here is, we have the technology and the capability to get clean. ... The issue is companies that think they can make more money polluting than being clean.”