Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer spoke extensively about environmental justice and government corruption at a meet and greet event at the Hillsborough Street DoubleTree in Raleigh on Saturday, Jan. 11.
Steyer introduced himself as an entrepreneur as well as the son of a public school teacher and a naval officer. He said that his parents taught him to give back to the country and to fight against injustice, which is part of why he began his Need to Impeach organization after President Donald Trump came into office.
Multiple times throughout the event, Steyer said his biggest priority was climate change. Steyer said the people most affected by environmental issues are often from low-income communities and stressed the need to include people of color in the process.
“The way environmentalism works in the United States — and that’s climate, or pollution, or clean energy or just the environment in general — starts with Latinos; Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans,” Steyer said. “So when you want to know who the actual environmentalists are, who vote on it, who fight for it, that’s actually where everybody agrees. So when I talk about environmental justice, that’s actually the community I’ve worked with on climate.”
Speaking to an audience question about involving more black engineers and scientists in the renewable energy industry, Steyer said he has been dedicated to this issue for a long time. Over a decade ago, he and his wife founded Beneficial State Bank, a socially conscious bank designed to help businesses owned by women and people of color. He also spoke about his commitment to historically black colleges and universities.
“I came out with a plan to put $125 billion into the HBCUs over 10 years, because I think they’re so important,” Steyer said. “They are a historically important lifeline for African American young people.”
Steyer said there is a need to accurately tell the story of race in the United States.
“The African American community has built this country and has also been the moral leadership consistently in this country for generations and centuries,” Steyer said. “Out of narrative comes policy. If we tell the true story, we’ll come up with the just policy.”
Speaking to the issue of affordable housing, Steyer proposed investing $47 billion toward affordable housing among other things, like increasing tax credits offered for low-income housing.
“You go to Des Moines … Charleston, San Francisco, where I’m from, it’s rural and urban,” Steyer said. “It’s in the places where people want to live in the most, like here. It’s the worst. Then you get into all the other attendant things: gentrification, suburbanization and poverty, kicking people out of their traditional neighborhoods. Huge racial part to this.”
Steyer said the government needs to take more responsibility on this front.
“We have 7 million too few affordable housing units in the United States,” Steyer said. “The government is completely falling down on its job. They’ve been assuming somehow that the market is going to take care of this; no.”
Answering a question about student loan debt, Steyer said college has to be affordable. He said he supports a mandatory cap on student loan interest rates at 1%, below federal levels, which sit between 4.5% and 7%. Steyer also spoke in support of California’s two years of free community college and expanding student loan debt cancellation programs for people that work in areas of public service.
“If you take your education and do something that’s community or country service, so you’re in the military, or you’re a teacher, or you’re a nurse, or you’re a social worker, then you get 10 years, and they cancel the debt,” Steyer said.
Government corruption took center stage several times during the event. On top of dealing with corporate influence in politics, Steyer said he believes the Republican party has been outright cheating during elections with voter suppression and gerrymandering.
“I was looking at the numbers in North Carolina,” Steyer said. “There are two and a half million registered Democrats in North Carolina. There are 2 million registered Republicans. They have a 10 to 3 advantage in terms of congressional representation, with many fewer registered voters. I know just what it’s called. Fancy word: gerrymandering. Actual word: cheating.”
Steyer said the government’s laid-back approach of letting the private sector handle things like housing is very misguided.
“There’s this theory that the market is fair, just and efficient, to which I will say: I was in the private sector for thirty years. False, false, false.”