LACONIA — Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer harkened back to his experience as captain of Yale’s Division 1 soccer team to drive home a point at the end of his hour-long town hall at Lakes Region Community College on Thursday.
He said he regards fellow Americans as being on his team, and he on theirs.
“If you’re a good teammate, it is unacceptable to have someone run by and kick one of your teammates in the face, and that’s exactly what I am observing,” Steyer said.
He said that, on the campaign trail, he and his family have heard repeatedly from people who are suffering and in despair. They can't afford health care or housing. They work multiple jobs at meager wages but can't support themselves.
“There’s something wrong here,” he said. “We are over-intellectualizing what’s going on in the United States of America. This is just cruelty. I’m not going to let that happen.”
Steyer discussed how the economy under both Republican and Democratic leadership has enriched the fabulously wealthy while leaving behind most other Americans. He said resulting despair can be measured in increasing alcoholism, addiction and suicide and a decline in life expectancy for the third straight year.
Moderator Dave Solomon, a freelance reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader, asked Steyer how he intends to make the economy a centerpiece of his campaign when there has been consistent growth and record low unemployment.
Steyer said he turned his one-room start-up business into a multi-billion-dollar international investment firm by understanding that even the most successful companies can’t survive if a country’s economic fundamentals fall apart.
He said the thriving stock market and positive unemployment and growth numbers don't tell the whole story.
“We have made the assumption over the last 40 years that a growing economy meant that it was a successful economy,” he said. “And, in fact, the economy has grown since 1980 pretty well and I would say relative to other countries, very well. But if you look at how the money has been split up, you will see, and I’m certainly a beneficiary of this, it has overwhelmingly gone to the richest Americans, and it is not close.
“If you look at what’s happened to 90 to 95 percent of Americans, there has not been an increase in wages in this country for two generations and that’s never happened before. And if you look at what Mr. Trump has done on the economy, he gave the biggest giveaway in terms of taxes to the richest Americans and the biggest corporations.”
Steyer said the 400 top corporations in the country last year paid an 11 percent tax rate.
He said the minimum wage in 1980, adjusted for inflation, would be $11 dollars an hour, not the current $7.25. If workers' share of productivity gains were factored in, the wage would grow to $22.
“Are we pushing for the rights of working people to have unions to negotiate on their own behalf?” he asked. “I always tell people, walk in to Walmart and negotiate your salary, see how that goes. It’s not going to happen.”
He said Walmart employees get $6 billion worth of SNAP, or food stamp, benefits per year.
“So the American taxpayer is subsidizing Walmart $6 billion a year that they don’t pay their employees for a fair wage,” Steyer said.
“We’re in a place where actually this government is serving American corporations very well, and it’s devastating for American people.”
He said corporate tax rates are ludicrously low.
“I would undo all the tax giveaway to the richest Americans and the biggest corporations,” he said. “It was a huge mistake and an attack on working people.”
He said he would institute a wealth tax.
“We have redistributed wealth in this country for the last 40 years — from everybody else to the richest Americans. It’s been done quietly, no one’s talked about it, but it’s absolutely unacceptable. We’re becoming a banana republic where there’s a few people absolutely crushing it and millions of people working hard, doing the right things and suffering.”
Solomon asked Steyer about one of the candidate’s signature issues, climate change.
“There is no debate on the science,” Steyer said.
All peer-reviewed articles agree that climate change is a fact and that it is caused by human behavior, he said.
He said the U.S. should take the issue seriously and exercise leadership to help persuade developing countries to take the issue seriously as well.
Steyer said that climate change is his No. 1 priority.
“I believe that the way that you win is you start in the communities that are mostly black and brown where it is unsafe to breathe because you’ll get asthma and if you drink the tap water you’ll get sick,” he said. “If you start with leadership from those communities, you get the right climate policy, you have the moral high ground and you end up doing the right thing.”
He said millions of good-paying union jobs could be created to do the work necessary to fight climate change and boost environment sustainability.
Audience member Ann Bunnell, of Wolfeboro, said Steyer seemed to get emotional when he talked about defending average Americans. She said she got emotional, too.
“I tried not to cry,” she said. “I teared up. I find Tom so real and so genuine. I’m so impressed with somebody who puts his money where his mouth is, puts his money where his heart is.”
Steyer mobilized an effort calling for the impeachment of President Trump. He’s backed programs to get out the youth vote. He started a nonprofit to fight climate change.
Another audience member, Bruce Berk, of Pittsfield, said Steyer was “spot on.”
“I heard a simple thesis,” Berk said. “The country is suffering in a lot of ways. He said he understands that and is committed to working on climate change, education and integrity to get us back on the right road.”
Steyer has spent $83 million on advertising for his own presidential campaign.
He is still trying to qualify for the next Democratic presidential candidates debate.
Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have qualified for Tuesday debate in Iowa.
Steyer has reached the debate threshold of 225,000 unique donors, but has yet to reach the polling requirement of 5 percent support in at least four polls or 7 percent support in polls from early primary states.