Ep. 60 Tom Steyer Need to Vote Town Hall
NICIE PANETTA: Greetings and welcome to another edition of The MidPod: The Midterms Podcast. I'm Nicie Panetta with Heather Atwood. We are through the primaries and into the final stretch before November 6th's midterm elections. Now the big push is getting out the vote. So on today's show you've probably read about the many billionaires on the political right. The Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, the Mercers, and many more who are investing billions of their own personal wealth in the conservative Republican agenda. There are certainly plenty of billionaires on the left too. But where are they in the fight to preserve our democratic system which is under attack? Certainly many are donating to candidates and political action committees. But there are really just three doing the most visible work. George Soros, who's been around for a long time and funded many great efforts, Michael Bloomberg, more of a centrist but he's also invested in many issue-oriented organizations, like Moms Demand Action for commonsense gun reforms, and then there's Tom Steyer, the San Francisco investor and philanthropist who's stepped into the arena full-time to promote political engagement. To that end, Styer founded Next Gen America. In this 2018 midterm election cycle, Next Gen is spending 30 million dollars to engage and encourage young Americans to register and vote. You can hear more about Next Gen in MidPod episode 20. Styer has also been leading a petition drive to pressure Congress to impeach President Trump. Nearly six million people have signed that petition. On September 5th, in the run up to the New Hampshire primary, I moderated Next Gen's first ever Need to Vote town hall on the campus of Manchester Community College. About 200 active citizens turned out and Steyers started the evening by giving the audience an overview of what he's doing.
TOM STEYER: I started two organizations that are really grassroots organizations to try and push the power back to the American people. One of them is called Next Gen America and a big part of what we're doing there is trying to organize people under the age of 35 to be engaged in politics, to participate in politics, and to show up at the polls. So what exactly does that look like? We're organized in 11 states by congressional districts including New Hampshire, we're an 421 campuses. We do a ton of social media. It's the largest youth voter mobilization effort in American history. And in terms of New Hampshire we're on 17 campuses in this state. We're on every community college. We believe that we can actually dramatically change turnout. And let me give you some historical numbers of how it's worked so far. So for instance last year in Virginia we were responsible for doing all of the Organizing for people under 40 in the state election which was both gubernatorial and state ledge. The turnout for people under 40 went up by a third. The spread between Democrats and Republicans went from 47-42 to 69 to 30. So we know that that was a very upsetting race if you'll remember it. There was a lot of specific racism in it. There was a Nazi Ku Klux Klan rally in Charlottesville. A woman got run over and I asked the people who were organizing for us is this replicable?
STEYER: And they said this is the floor. So this year for instance we're in seven congressional districts in my home state of California. The turnout by youth was up 100 to 200 percent. We are we're very focused on Florida. So if you were reading about Andrew Gillum let me give you some numbers. Democratic turnout in the state of Florida from four years ago was up 70 percent. But in the youth-heavy precincts where we're organized turnout was up 200 to a thousand percent, two to 10x four years ago. So what we're saying is this is the largest age cohort in America. It's the most diverse age cohort in American history and they vote at half the rate of other American citizens. They are passionate, knowledgeable, not one whit lazy. This is a fantastic generation I have four kids between the ages of 24 and 30. They say we don't trust the system. It doesn't respond to our needs. People aren't telling us the truth. So that is something where we feel we can turn around through grassroots organizing. The second thing we're doing is the need to impeach petition drive. We're almost to six million signatures. Now, there's a lot I can say about impeaching a reckless dangerous president. And if you ask me a question I'll be forthright about how strongly I feel about it. But I'll also say this: in the state of New Hampshire there are two congressional districts. We have 16,000 signatories per congressional district. We went back to check in the voter file whether those people actually show up and vote in midterm elections like 2018. It turns out that almost two thirds of them do not. So that means we have 16,000 people per congressional district. About 10,000 of them don't normally vote in a midterm election. But they're involved in politics, went online and signed our petition, do in fact by definition care. And what we've said is this is need to vote. We have 10,000 people per congressional district across the United States of America who are involved emotionally in politics but who don't vote.
STEYER: And our whole goal is to make that change because if you think about how close these congressional races are I will bet you that at least 60 races are won or lost by fewer than two or three thousand votes and we're talking about 10,000 votes per congressional district of people who don't normally show up. So that's what we've been doing. Let me talk about where we are and what we how the context we see this in. First of all I don't think there's any way to miss the fact that Democrats are in the subbasement. Democrats don't control the White House, either House of Congress, the Supreme Court. We control about a third of the state governorships and less than a third of the state legislatures and state senates in the United States of America. From people are talking about how confident Democrats are I have to laugh. We are absolutely in the subbasement. And what can happen on November 6th is a step towards a return to what I would think of as a just and prosperous America. And obviously part of what's going on in our opinion really strongly is that we have a reckless and dangerous president. But the other thing the gross generalization that I would put on top of everything that we see in American politics is what I would describe as a hostile corporate takeover of the democracy. And that is something that the vast majority of Americans believe has happened, that is Democrats or Republicans or independents across the United States of America. People believe that corporate interests have purchased the democracy and that elected officials are not responding to human beings or voters or their constituents. They're responding to corporate money.
STEYER: That is what they believe controls the elections and that is who they pander to and that is the overwhelming fact of what's going on in our system right now. How do I know that? Let me give you just one proof of that. Since 1980 if you take the average wage in the United States that's 40 years, it's gone up. But the buying power of the average wage has not gone up in 40 years. When you take into account health care costs, rent costs, education costs, the basic cost of living in the United States of America, the average person has not gotten a raise for 40 years. And I went and checked I was a professional investor for 30 years. If I put a buck into the stock market in 1980 I'd have 20 bucks today. So during that time working people have not gotten a raise. But investors have made 20 times their money. That's actually what's happened in the United States of America. The corporate takeover has served the corporations extremely well. If you look at the tax bill of this year it is a fantastic gift to corporate interests in the United States of America. It's a dramatic reduction in the money going into the government and the second step of this will be a dramatic pinching of any kind of support for American citizens. So what do we think is right? I want to just talk for one second a thumbnail not just about what we think is wrong, but how to think about this so that we can have a positive outlook so when we get up in the morning we think this is an American century, that we will do exactly what America's always done which is lead the world. So I like to think about this in terms of rights and we have a bill of rights from the 18th century. It deals with the issues of the 18th century. So for instance the third right in the Bill of Rights is the right not to have soldiers quartered in your house during peacetime.
STEYER: In 1792 that probably was pretty important but it's not something that I have ever thought about in my entire life nor do I expect to. So what would we think about in terms of rights today? I think the first thing that Americans should have is a right to a decent living. What we've seen over the last 40 years is an attack on the rights of working people in a thousand different ways straightforwardly in trying to prevent unions from organizing, straightforwardly in Right to Work states, and changing the rules of the employment market in a way so that working people can't earn a living wage. And you can look and see it's been done systematically and every time Republicans take over a state they go after the right of working people. And wages go down. So the first thing that Americans have a right to is the right to a decent living. The second thing we should have a right to is a safe and healthy life. So that means in the 21st century universal healthcare, everybody has a right to healthcare. The only question we should be asking is how do we provide the best health care at the lowest price? And let me assure you we pay about 60 percent more than any other post-industrial country any other advanced economy per person for worse health care. Just look across the world and see every economy pays dramatically less than us for dramatically better care. But the other thing that includes is we have a right to clean air and clean water. Nobody you know people are screaming about regulation. No one has a right to make us sick. No one has that right so they can be richer to make us sick or die. And if you look across the United States about where the water is unsafe, where the air will give you asthma, where basically life expectancies are dramatically lower. They are low-income communities and communities of color. In my home state of California, West Fresno which is a very poor part of town, has a 22 year lower life expectancy than North Fresno. That's two miles away. If you think about Flint, there was something going on there a willingness to make people sick and take away their health. So a safe and healthy life. The Right to Learn.
STEYER: Look we are in a world dominated by information. The United States isn't going to succeed unless Americans are capable of succeeding globally individually. If we take away the right of young people to compete, to learn, to be educated, we will not succeed as a society and they will not succeed individually. That may not seem like a big deal but if you go around the United States you'll see a dramatic attempt to take money out of the education system. I was just in Oklahoma a couple of weeks ago. They dramatically reduced the tax on oil and gas lifting. They've moved to a four day school week in about a quarter of the systems and they took 24 percent away from Oklahoma University. There is a dramatic attempt to reduce education at a time when education has never been more important. The fourth thing I'd say is we have a right to live in a just and equitable society. If you think about where New Hampshire was hundreds of years ago it was really unjust. Just as a starter, women weren't citizens, they weren't even second-class citizens. They were not allowed to vote. But the number of things that were going on when this country started in terms of injustice were dramatic and the actual triumph of America is the increasing willingness of our society to accept more and more people with all the rights and all the dignity of full human beings. And those are unfortunately under attack in our society today, whether it's the right to vote for African-Americans the voter suppression, whether it is going after the LGBTQ community, women's right to control their own body.
STEYER: What we're seeing honestly the immigrant community taking children away from their parents and putting them in internment camps. We are moving away from a just and equitable society and it's not right. And the last thing I'd say is we have to restore a fair democracy. The reason all these things have been possible is because our democracy has been hacked, because money has taken it over, because there has been systematic cheating whether it's gerrymandering or voter suppression. Until we take that back and we can then I believe money will win in our society over people and in a democracy it's supposed to be all about the people of by and for. So when we think about how we're going to succeed if we had those five rights this should be an American century doing this for the last six years I have discovered something about myself. Very simple. I am a really parochial and competitive American. I am this country it was always supposed to be an idea to lead the world that was always the idea we were always supposed to be leaders in every way we were supposed to be the leaders of the free world. The fact that the president of the United States is not the leader of the free world just absolutely sticks in my craw. That is absolutely wrong as far as I'm concerned. That was what we were created to be. So that's it from now on it's up to you. And we're here to answer whatever questions you have.
NICIE: So I think I'm just going to parlay with Tom a couple of quick questions then we're going to open it up to you all, look forward to that. Tom it's great to have you here in our neck of the woods we love Manchester. We did a great episode on New Hampshire's first CD and we love love this area. So I described a little bit earlier about how Heather and I decided to drop everything and you I think are a charter member of the drop everything club. I'd love to hear you just tell the origin story, you were a super successful investor and could have just done yachts or whatever and decided you're something different tell tell us that story.
STEYER: As Nicie was saying I spent 30 years investing money basically for college endowments school endowments and foundations and investing is a super interesting fun thing to do. Two things happened to make me want to stop doing that and I completely stopped doing it at the end of 2012. But in 2002 I realized that George W. Bush was going to be a dramatic disaster for the United States of America. And I felt as if I've been so lucky and I don't want my kids and grandkids to ask me what did you do while the country was getting massively screwed up. And I would say making a lot of money. And I felt like that would just be a horrible embarrassing statement about who I was. So I worked really hard for John Kerry because I felt like he was the most likely to be able to beat Mr. Bush. And that in fact that would put the country back on the kind of just prosperous path that I thought we always should be on and that I thought that Mr. Bush was taking us off. So that was the first thing I worked really hard and I honestly believed that there was no way Americans would return George Bush to the presidency so, oops. And the other thing that happened I have four kids who are 24, 26, 28, and 30. So we started to go to church with our kids.
STEYER: And I'm not sure that it made that much of a difference to them but it made a huge difference to me because I started to remember how broad life is, how much goes into having a meaningful life. And I think it's really possible in investing. It's a narrow part of life. It's an important part of life but it is not life itself. And I started to talk you know you go to church and you start thinking about all the broad things that happened in the world and the responsibilities you have to other people and kind of the connection to the natural world and I felt like I was way too confined in that job I had and I felt I really really would like to be dealing in a more broad holistic way with what's going on in the world. And so after those two things happened I spent eight years really trying to be able to get out of the business I'd started and hand it off to my partners in a way that they could keep going and their livelihoods wouldn't be disastrously affected by my leaving. It took me a very long time. The crash of 2008 made my life a lot more complicated but that's what I was trying to do and that's what I've been able to do and which honestly I can say I have never had as much fun in my life as pushing for a more just America, most fun thing I've ever gotten to do.
NICIE: So one of the things that the sort of dirty secret of politics that I was naive enough not to know until Heather and I started this project was that when candidates run for office they get a campaign manager and the campaign manager gets them tells them here is the number of votes you need to win and money and time are limited so they spend very very little time and energy on people who don't vote. In fact almost zero.
STEYER: Or zero.
NICIE: Or zero. And you developed a focus on young people relatively early on. How did that come about?
STEYER: Sometimes what I say sounds super naive but we have a strong belief that the broadest democracy is the thing that will save us that it will be a representative participation across communities, across income levels, across ages, across geographies, that because politicians don't pay attention to nonvoting humans, therefore in order for people to get a fair shake they needed to participate in this system. And we also felt as if not only will that lead to a juster outcome, it will also lead to a smarter outcome. That's what all of the research says. The more diverse the people involved in making decisions, the better the decisions turn out to be. So we felt as if the democracy isn't saved, if we don't rejuvenate our democracy, then we're in effect lost. And if you look at our democracy the largest party in every election is the I don't care enough to vote party. It's bigger than Democrats and it's bigger than Republicans. The people who decide you know what it doesn't matter to me. There's nothing you're saying that hits my screen and we feel really strongly that in a functioning democracy that can't be true. And so we're willing to invest in the things the long-term infrastructure of democracy, so that we get back to having the foundation for people to participate and use the wisdom of wisdom of Americans to get a better answer and that's what we've been trying to do.
NICIE: So we want to get to your questions so just one last one. I did a little reading on the political history of Manchester, New Hampshire. And did you know that in the wake of winning the Republican nomination, good Republican, in 1860 Abraham Lincoln came and gave a couple speeches in this area in Manchester and it's where he first used the metaphor of slavery as a snake in a bed with innocent children. And I'm wondering we are so divided right now. America was so divided then, literally coming apart. What is the snake now?
STEYER: I don't want to be repetitious but I think there's a simple thing going on in terms of our democracy. I really do feel that there has been this corporate takeover but I feel that the people who are representing that corporate takeover are like magicians because they don't want you to watch what's actually happening. They've got to distract you with things that they make up as being really important. The way a magician says watch over here while his hand is going around here. So for instance just to go through the things that they've used to distract us all: the Ebola epidemic of 2014, millions of people dying from Ebola because the Obama administration is so inept and so incompetent that literally millions of people are dying in which one person died who got Ebola in Africa and came home and died in Houston. There was no epidemic. The criminality of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Huge criminal disaster. You know we definitely need to lock her up. Except for one thing. What exactly was the criminality? I mean they went through her e-mails and found nothing as far as I can tell. And they're still screaming about the criminality of the e-mails. I think though that there's also been a deliberate attempt to use race to divide Americans, to make Americans feel as if there's something more important than the economics.
STEYER: And I think you can see that if you look at 2017 in Virginia they were running the equivalent of Willie Horton ads for Latino immigrants the exact same format that they used with Willie Horton in 1988 where it looked as if he was Michael Dukakis his running mate in the way that they ran the ads they did with Latino immigrants in Virginia. There was an extremely racist race down in Alabama. There was a very racist race in New Jersey where people were talking about race as a way of not talking about what was actually going on. And I think that what we'll see this year they are going to try and use immigration as the scary point about America which is that waves of people are coming to the United States, crossing our border, causing havoc, using you know basically living on the dole, causing running up tax bills. Net immigration from Mexic: Negative. This is sort of like the Ebola epidemic which didn't exist. There is negative net immigration from Mexico. There is no wave. In fact we have 11 million people who've lived here for a long time and we don't have an immigration policy because Washington D.C. can't figure out how to get the basic things done anymore. So when we think about what's the snake what is the thing that's at the heart of our policy that is dividing us. It really is that we have a group of corporations who figured out exactly how to use this system for themselves, how not to pay for their pollution. Look I started doing a ton of stuff in energy environmental justice and climate.
STEYER: And I thought for five years that if I showed up with a bipartisan group of people and I could show we had cheaper energy, cleaner energy that would create net millions of American jobs, that wages would be higher. We'd be healthier. We could lead the world in one of the biggest growing industries around and we'd save the world again which is what Americans are always the proudest to do that there is no way people wouldn't listen to me. Correction: wrong. We didn't even get a hearing. And I realized it was not about objective truth. It wasn't about any of those things that would be good for the American people. It was all about the interests of fossil fuel companies and their ability to control elected officials because they care about their bottom line way more than anything about America. It was a horrible education. But I'm never going to forget it because the truth was those elected officials are smart. They went to college. They have no excuse. There's no ignorance here. There's no argument here. They're just taking the money and doing the wrong thing. That's the snake. It's so expensive to run now for office that there are a bunch of people who are going to put themselves, their careers, and their party ahead of America and the American people. And that's just dead wrong. And it's going on every single day in the most basic ways you can look at there are a million examples I could give you but climate, clean energy, environmental justice, health is an absolutely clear one because they don't even argue it anymore. There is no argument on this, on the other side it's just interest, it's scary.
NICIE: So we've got a couple people with mics, so raise your hand and someone will find you with the microphone and if you could just tell your name where you're from and keep it to 30 seconds or less.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Ok I will try to do that. I'm Ann Cook, author of Democrats in the Red Zone we met them both. I also worked for Kerry and I became an Independent after he lost because I feel that language is the problem. Democrats have done a terrible job of achieving buy in with a majority of voters and keeping them on the right side of things. Would you agree for example that maybe instead of saying health care for all we should be more specific and precise and remind people that we're talking about health insurance for all we need to be smart about our language and have it represent shared values and shared priorities and not lead with the identity politics stuff.
STEYER: So obviously Ann I agree with you that Republicans have been able to frame issues for a long time in a way that policies come out of the frame. And so what you're talking about in terms of language, precise language, and how you describe things is incredibly important and I'll give you a simple example. One of the basic changes in 1980 was that Americans were convinced that the market was somehow just and efficient. And actually I spent 30 or 35 years working in markets. Markets are neither just for sure nor efficient. Markets weren't set up by God. Markets were set up by human beings with rules they're as just an efficient as the rules for the market. So let me give you an example. 100 years ago we could have hired a 12 year-old to work for 12 hours a day and paid him or her a quarter. That was legal. That was the market. Now we don't believe that's fair anymore. But if you listen to people talk about we should leave it to the market. There's an implication in there that somehow that will be just there is no reason to believe that a market will provide a just solution. Changing the rules for instance on pollution in fact will ensure that it provides a very unjust unhealthy and dangerous solution.
STEYER: But by the time you've accepted the idea that government is bad. The Ronald Reagan, the scariest words in the English language are I'm from the government and I'm here to help. He changed the way we thought about government that all of a sudden government can't do anything well that this is not part of society that's productive. The more we starve government the better off we'll be. I assure you if you go around the United States of America and see where there's starving government, there's an extreme cost for those states and there's an extreme cost for the people of those states and the prosperity of those states and the growth of those states. So when you talk about how much language matters it matters an enormous amount including how we describe different groups of people in our society and you can stigmatize people very easily. Once you've done that then the policies that take advantage of them or don't treat them as fully human suddenly seem very fair and reasonable which they're not. So Ann I absolutely agree. Democrats don't even realize that the way that we frame issues is critical. We don't even try and do it. We accept the frames and then are shocked when the policies come out the wrong way.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm Margaret Merrill from Madison up in the north country where we need to hear from you too. You've talked about going back to church with your family and what it meant to you. Can you give us an idea if it's not too personal how God has helped you in your current journey?
STEYER: I'm always reluctant to talk too much about faith because I don't want to imply that if the way that you show your faith isn't through a traditional religion that in some way that's less good. I believe that everybody's got to try and figure out how to show their spirituality and their morality and their faith in the way that's meaningful for them. But I'll give you an example of how if I can get through it which is a question of when I think I feel most in touch with what I would say is the positive life force that I want to be connected with. And that's this: we do something in California called California Food for California Kids. And basically it's farm-to-table in the public schools. And the idea is if you are a poor kid you need a free lunch. You may need a free breakfast. You may need a free dinner but it can't be Cheetos and Coke. That everybody who's a parent knows that if you feed your kids bad food and expect them to perform or be healthy or be calm you're kidding yourself, that what you put in very much affects their attitudes and their behavior. So what we've tried to do is farm-to-table in public schools particularly in public schools where there are a lot of kids on free and reduced lunch. And so if you want to find God or if I want to find God I would say go to a poor school and watch an 8-year-old boy or girl who's very low income eat a fish taco on a sunny day. That as far as I'm concerned is as close to doing something absolutely right as you can do.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi my name is Michael Kallus I'm running for Congress. I'm a Republican. I like to say I'm the first liberal Republican since Abraham Lincoln.
STEYER: That's not true!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well you can Google me. But my campaign now and I've told this to my Republican friends is a referendum on the impeachment of Donald Trump. So that's a vote with consequences. So my question to you is would you vote for a liberal Republican that's running on a referendum to impeach Donald Trump?
STEYER: That's a good question because I honestly Michael I haven't seen one. I got it. I got it. My parents were both Republicans. When I think about America and how our democracy works, traditionally the way our democracy works and which I'm entirely in favor of is we don't have to agree. We have to tell the truth. We have to be stuck on the truth and we have to put the country and the American people first and then we can disagree about absolutely everything. In fact we are a loud vulgar group of people in the United States of America which I love about us. We disagree. We can yell at each other but as long as we tell the truth and put the country and the people first then it's great. We'll meet in the middle we'll both be smarter at the end. What we've seen from the Republican Party is that the people who try and take a principled stand including specifically in New Hampshire on any issue are attacked very very strongly by the moneyed interest, the Koch's go after them in the primaries to try and prevent them from succeeding and so that the party has drifted more and more to the right. So the question will be can the Republican Party with people like you regain their sense of patriotism, put the country first, tell the truth, and go do their darndest to represent the American people which as far as I'm concerned when the Republican Party does that that will be the biggest most positive change in America that I can imagine. And so I'm not a Republican. I can't vote in the Republican primary Michael. If if in fact this is the start of a wave to retake your party then God bless you because actually that form of democracy with competitive attempts to represent the American people better is exactly what democracy is supposed to be about is figuring out the best way to represent the most people and go to him and say that's why you should vote for me.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is Ronald Fifths from Portsmouth and I share your concern for the well-being of our democracy and I want to know if you have read the book How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky?
STEYER: I own it and I've skimmed it. But if we were in class I would say yes I've definitely read it sir. But I think I'm...
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I bring it up because his opinion of what exactly is the real fault in our democracy right now is different than yours.
STEYER: How would you define what he thinks?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: He believes that the problem lies with the Democratic and Republican parties from primarily the Republican and the no holds barred approach to candidates. He draws a lot of parallels to democracies that have failed in both Europe and in South America and in fact to the rise of Hitler in Germany.
STEYER: The way our system is set up is designed for people to do the right thing for selfish purposes and that's really how democracy is supposed to be. If you want to be the governor of New Hampshire, you're supposed to figure out what most people in New Hampshire want and then promise to give it to them so you can get elected. It's a selfish way of doing the right thing. So I understand that the Republicans are playing extreme hardball. I think because they understand that they're basically a minority party in the United States of America, that they feel that they have to bend every rule that they can to win elections because they don't represent most Americans. And so that's why they're doing voter suppression, gerrymandering, all the things that they're doing. But there is really something else going on that is very big which is the money issue. If you talk to Congresspeople, if you talk to people running in the state legislature, in the state Senate in New Hampshire, they spend an awful lot of time needing to raise money so that they can get their message out at all. And that means that they are going to be beholden to the people who write them those checks because they also intend to run again in two years or four years or six years. And so you know if you go to Congress I think they literally spent hours every day dialing for dollars and that means that if you spend all your time raising money, it doesn't make you a bad person but it means you spend all your time with people who have money.
STEYER: You know if you want to get a 5,000-dollar check, you need to call someone who could give you five thousand dollars. I mean not to be snotty but you can't call someone who is not pretty well-off. Which means you spend all your time with people who can write a five-thousand-dollar check. And I think who you see in this world really determines how you think about the world subconsciously. If you only see people who are worth a million bucks or more, that becomes the norm for you and you really don't see average people anymore who have the needs and interests and concerns and fears and hopes of normal working people. You get really warped. I think it's both the strictly corrupting part of money and the subconscious corrupting part of only seeing rich people that you really lose your sense that you're supposed to represent your constituents because that may not be something that you can win doing. And the whole question that we're trying to do in terms of grassroots organizing is to get it back so that people go back to selfishly trying to figure out what people need instead of selfishly trying to figure out what donors need so they can get the money so you can get the name recognition so you can get elected. I really think that's the root cause of why we've had this corruption and until we solve it I don't think we're going to get politicians who are asking themselves the right questions.
NICIE: You made a pretty unusual gutsy decision to back Andrew Gillum in the Florida gubernatorial race recently and at a time when most people weren't, he was raising a lot of money from the moneyed elites. Tell us about that decision and why you think it worked out.
STEYER: So there were four good Democrats running to be the nominee for governor in Florida this year. And we've been involved in Florida politics from a grassroots organizing. We're on 45 campuses in Florida. Just to give you a number. Florida is the swing state in the United States. You know it's the third most populous state. It's truly purple. The first state, the largest state in population is California deep blue, second state Texas deep red, third state Florida purple, fourth state New York deep blue. It's the swing state in the United States. The reason we came up with a different answer in Florida which we've done in a handful of cases was 'cause Andrew is that good. You know I talked to I think all of the candidates just explaining what we were doing in terms of youth organizing. We're going door to door in Florida as well with organized labor to try and talk to voters to get them involved in the issues and to participate. And I talked to Andrew Gillum who is the 39 year-old mayor of Tallahassee. And I said You son of a bitch you are making my life really difficult. You are really a good candidate and he was like good. I'm glad I'm making your life difficult. And we decided that in this year in this state he was fourth out of four. He was given really no chance of winning. But we said this is the guy who's telling the truth about health care, pollution, climate, gun violence. You know you go right down the list and he was stepping up and telling the truth and nobody else was. You know we absolutely aligned with him on the issues but mostly he was willing to tell the truth.
STEYER: He was willing to take on the NRA, Parkland happened in Florida. Nothing was done. He was absolutely willing to step up and we felt like if we're not willing to step up for this guy, at this time, then shame on us because if the problem that people are having in the United States is the system has been taken over so that people won't tell the truth who are running for office for fear of annoying people or turning people off them how are you ever going to solve our problems? If we don't have people who will tell the truth about our problems how are we going to address them? And here was a guy who was willing to step up and talk about the truth consistently, sensibly you know in my mind admitting problems and describing them and then talking about how to solve them is the only way to solve them. So we thought OK we're going to make a statement about right and wrong here and we're going to get behind him and we're going to try. But we didn't know he was going to win. We knew that he was the right guy to back. You know when I think about what I've learned in the last six years of doing politics it becomes so much simpler and so much more effective when you stop thinking about all this political maneuvering and just do the right thing. I mean I know it sounds super naive and all the people in Washington are yelling at us in terms of impeachment because we keep saying no no we're telling the truth and trying to protect the democracy and the American people. And they're like No no you can't do that. Our pollsters tell us that's not good. But Andrew was about doing the right thing when you had somebody who is standing up for the right things publicly. And it worked because everybody else saw what we saw, that he was actually going to try his darnedest.
NICIE: And tactically, you guys sent like hundreds of thousands of texts to younger voters.
STEYER: Well as I said the turnout for young voters is up 200 to 1000 percent. I mean we did go to work. We we are intent on actually letting the truth out. I mean our whole goal in that was to do voter to voter contact through text, through personal contact so that people would get the information and they were excited because when they heard it they thought oh someone is talking to me about what I care about they're telling the truth. I need to support that person.
NICIE: Yeah. And I think the statistic was 25 percent of the early voters in this primary were first-time primary voters right?
NICIE: Huge, huge.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr. Steyer it's a great pleasure to meet you. And thank you for being here. My wife and I are visiting from Massachusetts. We appreciate the hosting of the New Hampshire folks and particularly since we come from a state where we haven't seen a Republican in a while.
STEYER: Your governor!
NICIE: Charlie Baker yeah.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Oh I forgot. I beg your pardon. Here's the question: when this election comes around, one group is going to say the economy is growing at four point two percent per year and corporate profits on average of the S&P 500 are up nine point two percent. Now it's true we have one point five trillion dollar new deficit. But how would you respond when the economic counter-argument as a shift comes into the discussion?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you.
STEYER: So that's a great question because I think it's a pivotal point about America right now. It is true that we have very very low unemployment. Three point nine percent across the country. And it is true that overall growth in the United States has been pretty good in the stock market has done pretty well to very well. But if you look in the last 12 months about what happened to the buying power of the average wage it went down. So with full employment, good growth, good corporate profits, the average person what he or she took home was worth less than at the beginning of the year. So when we talk about success averages can hide a lot of truth. You know the old joke. On average I felt pretty good. My head was in the refrigerator and my feet were in the oven. An average is not the story the story is what's happened to the people of the United States and what we've seen is that the top 10 percent of this country have taken 100 percent of the increase in prosperity and growth and productivity for a very very long time. And last year was a perfect example of it.
STEYER: That's why Americans are not enthusiastic about this administration. They hear those numbers too and it sounds pretty good but it's actually not working for people. You know I will say this. The communication workers I was in Sacramento, California communication workers were out on strike. So I was walking with them and asking what the strike looked like. What are they offering you? What's the problem? Because these are you know they're dealing with big big big multinational communications companies and they said they're offering us a 2 percent wage increase for three years which is low but you know a start but they're also asking us to increase the copay on our healthcare and the deductible on our health care. And I said well let's do the math let's see how much those two things add up to and let's do two percent of their income was about 51,000 bucks. So a 2 percent raise. It's pretty easy. It's about a thousand bucks. The copay and the duckbill were more than a thousand bucks. They were getting offered lower net wages from their employer. And if you said to the employer aren't you guys being pigs? They would say fairly no, the cost of health care is moving up so much that really what's happening is it's chewing us up too. We're asking workers to pick up more of their share but in fact that doesn't mean that our cost of health care for them isn't also going up dramatically. But if you look at it from our standpoint in fact we're going to be paying more health care for them plus giving them modest raises so for us it's a worse deal too. And that's what's going on in the United States. If you look at healthcare I call it the monster that ate New York. It is such a big part of our country and it's growing at such a fast rate something like 6 percent a year that with the compounding as an investor compounding is magic. And this is magic in a bad way. It just keeps eating us up and until we get this under control we are not going to see workers' real incomes go up even in years like this year when there are all these reasons short-term reasons why it should be going up dramatically. It actually went down. That's what's going on in the United States.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi my name is Chris Meller. We just moved here from Texas about a month ago. We've moved back to New Hampshire. And thank God. OK. What I wonder and I don't know if you can answer this because I have tried and tried. What has happened to common sense of the American people? Plain and simple we have a person who is running our country that has the common sense of an amoeba.
STEYER: That's awfully cruel to the amoebas.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Exactly yeah. He has taken in one and one half years and taken a proud wonderful country and turned it into a laughingstock in this world. And I do not understand how he could have done that and how people still rally around this man. And what is it going to take to impeach him? I have a husband who is a lifer in the Air Force. I was in the Marine Corps. What the hell's happened? I do not understand it. And what I'd like to do actually is I'd like to run for an office somewhere and I wanted one meeting with this man to tell him what I think but before we're finished I would say you can throw me out only after I am done telling you what I think of you. So what has happened to America? What has happened to common sense?
STEYER: That is a huge question and I actually think it's understandable. And it really comes down to this. The vast majority of Americans think the system has disrespected, disregarded, and disowned them. So that if you think about what Mr. Trump was talking about in 2016 he actually was talking about things that Americans care about. He was saying the system doesn't pay attention to you. They're not worried about your jobs. You know he was talking about things that people were very upset about and that they didn't feel either party was addressing. When I think about 2016 I think there were two people who really caught the passion of the American people. One was Bernie Sanders who talked about a lot of the same things and as I like to say Bernie's not a Democrat. And Donald Trump and Donald Trump's not a Republican. So when you think about who Americans were excited about in 2016 it was politicians from neither party. And I think Mr. Trump was talking about issues that people really care about the issue that I have with him is his solutions. It's sort of like I understand you have a cold and now we're going to chop your head off. It's like well as a solution I'm not really going to go for that. You know when you talk to Trump supporters and you say to them Are you aware that if he keeps doing this it's going to be terrible for the country. They're like good like no this could really be bad for the United States of America and they go good because they feel so angry about what this country and what this system has done to them and not done for them and not cared about them.
STEYER: So that's the first thing I'd say. Second thing I'd say is this if you go around this country which I have had the great fortune to do and I don't think it's a fluke that you and your husband are in the service. We see a huge up springing of patriotism in America about saving the democracy and saving the country. And that is a response to this president. People really are here and are present and we're seeing huge turnout of Americans who understand what's at risk. And I will say that if you go across this country you would be so reassured to understand how compassionate and generous and brave and wonderful Americans are and their past but they truly believe that this system has turned its back on them that the democracy that was built to serve the people has absolutely turned its back. And they're mad. And that's really the underlying fundamental truth that you can look in every one of these elections is you see the vast majority of Americans who in some way shape or form feel as if my vote doesn't count. These people don't even like me. They don't have any respect for me as a person or my family. They're all caught up in themselves. And you know what I know because my relatives are like this. If you tell my relatives you disrespect them it's over. They really don't care anymore. They will they will fight to get back to you. And that's what Americans are doing. They're really really upset. But I think what we're seeing actually is a gigantic resurgence of patriotism across this country and a real attempt to take back the democracy which I think is it's just one of the most heartening inspirational things that I can imagine and very very American and that anything that would go against that is something that I would emotionally and morally oppose as strongly as I could. But let me take a couple other points. First of all I mean I'm from San Francisco, California. And we have a huge gay community. And in fact the president pro tem of the Senate in California who was previously the Speaker of the House is a woman named Toni Atkins who's originally from southern Virginia who's lesbian who in my opinion is probably the best elected official in the state of California.
STEYER: And I want to tell you one other thing the guy who runs something called Courage California is one of the big LGBTQ organizations in California. A guy named Rick Zabor who a college classmate of mine. And Rick always invites me to come they do a big dinner like a thousand people in L.A. every year and they do a big dinner in San Francisco and since Rick's been my friend for at this point forty years he always invites me and I try and go because they're big parties and they're super fun. And he always gets a transgender kid to speak. So somebody who's been between the ages of 14 and 18 and they get up and talk about what it's like to be a transgender high school student and generally this is not their first speaking gig I mean they're pretty professional and pretty good. But the last time I went he had a probably 18 year-old girl who was a senior in high school talking about what it was like to be transgender at that age and how it was when when she was seven eight nine ten and what her family did to support her and all this stuff. And she said you should know that half of the transgender kids below 21 try and kill themselves. And I thought OK. Anyone who would pick on them is really mean because you're talking about kids who are going through something really difficult with tons of pressure. And if you see people who are going through that kind of trauma and pain and you walk by and kick them I can't think of anything meaner or worse honestly. So when I think about the LGBTQ community my point is the same point that I would make for every community that is vilified in this country. It's like really how is it possible that we these are Americans who we should be supporting and trying to make it possible for them to have the best possible life. Who is mean enough to walk by and kick them?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Donald Trump.
STEYER: But you know I was talking about listen I was talking about a just and equitable society. This is a guy who is going who is using race intentionally to separate us, who tries to vilify people based on race. Who wants to take away people's rights and take away people's dignity in order to make himself stronger and help his career. I can't think of anything more immoral so I know that the whole point about impeachment is breaking the constitution. But when you talk about doing the immoral things towards American citizens it really gets my goat.
NICIE: Thank you, Tom do you want to wrap this up?
STEYER: Yeah I want to say thank you guys for coming because I don't know what Nicie would say but this is being able to go out and talk to Americans today trying to get promises to commit to vote from kids at the U NH campus seeing how patriotic Americans are, how fundamentally good the people of this state and this country are is by far the most inspirational fun rewarding experience I've ever had. I'm not nearly a good enough person to deserve it. It's such a gift. It really is. So I really thank you for coming and I am so impressed and grateful for the work that you're doing in terms of restoring the country. Thank you very much.
NICIE: Our thanks to Tom Steyer and Next Gen for their collaboration on this great conversation. So what were the results in the New Hampshire primary? Well turnout in New Hampshire's largest college towns, Durham and Hanover, doubled compared with the average of the prior five election cycles. Statewide numbers were also pretty stunning. Democratic turnout was up 193 percent compared to 2014. Republican turnout down 24 percent. That means well over half of the votes cast were by Dems which bodes well for Democratic candidates in November if this energy can be sustained. Speaking of which, tune in on Friday for a combo pod with Chris Pappas the Democratic nominee in New Hampshire's first congressional district and Lucas Meyer. He's the head of the New Hampshire Young Dems. And coming up in two weeks, stay tuned for our roundup of the action in Iowa where Democrats are fielding a dream team of candidates. We want you to know too that we're going to be doing a lot of traveling and we'd love to meet you. Sign up for our newsletter at themidpod.com/newsletter or check us out on social for details. Thanks for listening and thanks for being an active citizen.