How Tom Steyer sees the New Hampshire Senate race
FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2013, file photo, businessman Tom Steyer talks during a meeting to announce the launch of a group called Virginians for Clean Government at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. Setting his sights on Republicans who reject climate change, an environmentalist billionaire is unveiling plans to spend $100 million this year in seven competitive Senate and gubernatorial races, as his super PAC works to counteract a flood of conservative spending by the Koch brothers. NextGen Climate Action said it plans to spend at least $50 million contributed by founder Steyer, a retired hedge fund manager and longtime Democratic donor, and another $50 million the group is seeking to raise from likeminded donors. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
Businessman Tom Steyer speaks during a meeting to announce the launch of a group called Virginians for Clean Government at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. The group was formed to explain the impact of CONSOL Energy not paying royalties to their family and neighbors as well as speaking out against Ken Cuccinelli's acceptance of $111,000 in CONSOL contributions. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer sees a clear difference between Scott Brown and Jeanne Shaheen on the divisive issue of climate change. A difference so big, in fact, that he’s willing to spend a lot of money here to make sure Shaheen wins re-election to the U.S. Senate.
“I don’t think we’d be in New Hampshire if Scott Brown hadn’t run,” Steyer said yesterday in an interview with the Monitor .
Steyer is the founder of NextGen Climate, a super PAC that’s playing in seven races this fall where Steyer sees a major gap between the candidates on climate change. The New Hampshire Senate race is one of those seven. NextGen first announced its efforts here in May , and Steyer visited New Hampshire this week to talk about climate change with elected officials and others. Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat up for re-election, is one of the people he met with, but he did not meet with Shaheen. NextGen is also involved in Senate contests in Michigan, Colorado and Iowa as well as gubernatorial contests in Maine, Pennsylvania and Florida.
The oil and gas industry
In an interview with the Monitor , Steyer talked about why NextGen chose to get involved in this race and how NextGen will work on the ground here to bring climate change to the forefront of people’s minds.
NextGen chose to get involved in New Hampshire because the state has prominence in national politics and Steyer sees a big difference between where the candidates stand on climate change, Steyer said. Brown still has to compete in a Republican primary against Jim Rubens and Bob Smith, but NextGen’s plan assumes he’ll be Shaheen’s challenger in November. Shaheen has a solid record of acting on climate change, Steyer said, while Brown has a history of cozying up to oil companies.
The New Hampshire Democratic Party has been tying Brown to the oil industry since he first jumped in the race. While a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, Brown voted for a bill that kept millions in subsidies for oil companies and received $439,000 in contributions from the oil industry in the 2012 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (The oil and gas industry ranked 15th among industry contributions to Brown’s 2012 campaign.)
To Steyer, Brown’s willingness to support the oil and gas industry, which isn’t present in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, shows that he is not truly representing his constituents.
“I think with Scott Brown there’s a clear indication that he has taken a ton of money from an industry and supported them right down the line,” Steyer said. “It’s an industry that does not exist in any of the states that he’s lived in. This is not a climate issue, it’s a trust issue.”
Brown’s communications director, Elizabeth Guyton, referred the Monitor back to a comment made in May when NextGen first announced it would spend money here.
“Scott Brown has a strong record supporting a clean environment, but he believes we need to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt New Hampshire’s economy,” Guyton said.
A broader effort
Speaking more broadly about NextGen’s efforts in New Hampshire, Steyer acknowledged that it can be difficult to get people to cast a vote specifically based on climate change. But framing climate change as an issue that relates to health, employment and trust can help the message resonate with voters. When NextGen first announced its efforts here, it highlighted New Hampshire’s reliance on outdoor tourism as a reason people should care about climate change.
“If you can draw it back to employment, health of their kids and whether you can trust the people running for office, then it becomes actually an issue which affects voting and moves to a place where it does impact the outcome of elections,” he said.
Here in New Hampshire, NextGen is organizing a field team that will focus on voter outreach and turnout. The group will specifically focus on young people who tend to stay home in midterm elections but may care more about climate change. Overall, Steyer said his goal is not to tell people in New Hampshire what to think, but to get people in New Hampshire talking to each other about climate change and the importance of acting on it. Part of NextGen’s strategy is to start that conversation here now, so that it’s on voters’ minds when 2016 presidential contenders start coming around.
“Mostly what we want is for that normal Democratic process to be enhanced and (to create) better-educated, better-motivated voters,” he said.
Hedge fund controversy
Steyer is becoming somewhat of a lightning rod in political circles, as Republicans try to paint him as Democrats’ version of the Koch Brothers, the billionaire oil barons who spend big money to prop up Republican candidates. Steyer used to run the hedge fund Farallon Capital Management. The New York Times recently scrutinized Farallon’s investments and found that the fund made major investments in coal plants worldwide, which directly contradicts Steyer’s environmental efforts.
Responding to the piece in a Politico op-ed , Steyer said he left Farallon in 2012 because he couldn’t reconcile his climate views with some of the fund’s investments.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)