Vowing to fight climate change and racial inequality if elected, Tom Steyer made his case for why he should be president as he addressed Grand Strand voters days before South Carolina’s Democratic Primary.
“This might be the most important election — any time, any place — since people were walking on the earth on two legs,” the billionaire activist said at a rally Wednesday in Myrtle Beach. “If we show up, we win.”
Attendees packed Nacho Hippo at The Market Common, some munching on tacos or gulping down drinks, cheering periodically as they listened to the longtime California businessman and self-proclaimed “progressive Democrat” explain how he hopes to end the “corporate stranglehold on our government.”
Some members of the crowd sported stickers or pins with phrases like “Trump is a fraud and a failure.”
Steyer founded the investment firm Farralon Capital, later stepping down from the hedge fund.
In the past decade, he said, he’s worked to form coalitions of people to take on unchecked corporate power in the country.
Steyer touted the success of NextGen America, an organization he created that mobilizes young people he said has increased voter turnout and helped turn red districts blue in his home state.
“This government has been bought by corporations. This government serves corporations,” he said. “And I have tried to stand up with American citizens to take them down.”
He also blasted President Donald Trump.
“If we’re growing and all the money’s going to rich people, that is not a success,” he said of the economy. “Having low unemployment with a $7.25 minimum wage that you cannot live on is not a success.
“He’s a crook. He’s corrupt. He’s a criminal,” Steyer added, “but he’s going to lose because he’s incompetent. He stinks at his job.”
Steyer blamed Trump for the United States' growing deficit, which is predicted to surpass $1 trillion, and called the U.S.-China trade war a “straight up, stupid ass failure.”
He also chastised Trump for the president’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, warning it could affect international trade, travel and the global economy as a whole.
He fears Trump will seek to balance the budget by cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security after the election.
“That is deeply immoral,” Steyer said.
Steyer spoke on a litany of topics, including healthcare and education, and said he supports a higher minimum wage and changing the country’s tax code.
“I’m running for a simple reason,” he said,“I was worried that there wouldn't be anybody who'd really stand up for economic justice, racial justice and environmental justice.”
Steyer is in favor of the federal government contributing $125 billion over 10 years to historically black colleges and universities.
“It’s a perfect example for us to invest in our future and invest in justice across our society,” he said.
He has proposed a wealth tax as well as a 10% tax cut for those who make less than $250,000 a year. He also champions unions.
“We need someone who can take on Mr. Trump and take on the economy,” he said. “I’m just dying to do it.”
With tackling climate change being his No. 1 priority, Steyer said if elected he will declare a state of emergency.
He praised his climate plan, which he said would create over 4.5 million jobs per year.
“This is really going to be a kickstart for this economy, and we’re going to pay people well,” he said.
Responding to a question from an audience member, Steyer said the United States should treat white nationalists as domestic terrorists.
He said out of all the Democratic presidential hopefuls, he is only one pushing for term limits in Congress — he’s suggested a 12-year limit.
“We need new and different people running this government,” Steyer said.
And, he said, he’s the only candidate who outright supports reparations for slavery.
He hopes to establish a commission on race to “retell the story of the last 400-plus years of the African-American experience in America.”
“I believe that out of true narrative comes just policy,” Steyer said.
Burgess resident Cheryl Bell said Steyer secured her and her husband Marvin’s votes.
“Tom Steyer didn’t start being who he was to run for president,” the New York City transplant said. “He always was who he was, and then he jumped in because he's like, okay, we need help, and maybe I can do it.”
Bell said she supports Steyer’s commitment to take action regarding climate change. She referenced her two godsons, including the youngest, a 10-year-old.
“He’s going to inherit what we leave him,” she said, “so that concerns me quite a bit.”
Bell added she appreciates how Steyer during his career has “leveled the playing field with regard to people of color and opportunities.”
She also respects his support for reparations for slavery.
“I admire his willingness to bring it up and make it part of his agenda,” Bell said.
But some attendees are still unsure whom they will vote for come Saturday. Gini Downey, who came to Steyer’s meet-and-greet with her husband Brendan, 9-year-old daughter, Zoe, and son Oliver, 6, has been keeping up with the race through media reports and the internet.
While she doesn’t yet know how she’ll cast her ballot, Downey said she likes Steyer’s plans for term limits, his stance on climate change and his desire to remove corruption and corporate money influence.
“Medical cannabis is a big thing for me, and I like that he’s been spending his money on good things before this,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist from Vermont who hosted his own rally in Myrtle Beach Wednesday, currently holds the lead in the race to be the Democratic nominee, followed by former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. Those running also include Steyer, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and U.S. Rep Tulsi Gabbard, who serves Hawaii’s second congressional district.