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Tom Steyer Prioritizing Climate Change, Immigration On Campaign Trail

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(AP Photo/John Locher)

Democratic presidential candidate and businessman Tom Steyer reacts after speaking at a Culinary Workers Union hall Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in Las Vegas.

Tom Steyer has outlasted several Democrats this primary season. He’s now one of 12 candidates remaining, 11 of which will find themselves on the ballot on February 22's Nevada caucus. 

For many voters, Steyer’s the newer, lesser-known guy. For others, he’s that climate guy -- or that rich guy.

But in four weeks, the question will be: Is he the guy Nevada voters believe will unseat President Donald Trump?

Steyer told KNPR's State of Nevada he can beat the president in November and Nevadans believe he can as well.
 
"He is going to be talking about the economy," Steyer said, "The Democrat is going to have to beat him on the economy and I'm the person who can do that, and I think people in Nevada are realizing that job one is beating Trump and the person who can do it is me."
 
Steyer points out that he built his own company, without any help from his family, and turned it into a billion-dollar operation. Plus, he said he has been working with the American people to fight against corporate interests that he believes have taken over the country's political system.
 
He believes that effort is one of the reasons he is connecting with voters in Nevada.
 
"I'm talking about being an outsider who has been taking on the corporations for 10 years -- the corporations that I believe have bought our government and prevented it from serving the American people," he said. 
 
Besides fighting corporate interests, Steyer says climate change is his number one priority. He said he would use the emergency powers of the presidency to address the crisis on his first day in office -- if elected. 
 
He wants the country to change how it generates and uses energy; the auto industry to move from internal combustion engines to electric cars and the country's built environment to use energy in a better way.
 
The candidate believes the country can address climate change in a way that helps create jobs and responds to the social justice aspects of the problem.
 
"We're going to make this country healthier, better, more just, with better-paying jobs, and solve the climate problem at the same time," he said. 
 
Steyer and his NexGen American Climate Action Committee helped to get Question 6 passed in Nevada in 2018. The initiative set the state's renewable energy portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030.
 
Getting an aggressive climate change agenda through Congress may not be easy. There are still lawmakers who don't see it as a problem that needs a solution.
 
Steyer believes he can broker any kind of compromise needed because of his business background, but he also believes there will be a huge turnout of Democrats in the November election. 
 
"We're going to get much, much higher turnout in the 2020 election than we've ever since in our lifetimes," he said, "I think that will prove that this is a generational changing election. We have a broken government in Washington, D.C. and the first step to changing that is going to be a gigantic turnout and a blue sweep." 
 
The candidate pointed to the Democratic sweep in Nevada in the last election as a template for the rest of the country. He said because Democrats are holding the power in Nevada, issues like minimum wage and climate change are being addressed.
 
"It's going to be grassroots truth-telling and a sweep that's actually going to get us to the place we need to be," he said.
 
The candidate's climate plan is not the only item on his agenda. He also wants to get comprehensive immigration reform passed in this country.
 
He strongly condemned the president's approach to immigration, which led to the separation of families at the southern border.
 
"Mr. Trump isn't obeying international law," he said, "When he was separating kids, he was committing crimes against humanity. I think that ICE is an organization that is deeply unjust in the way that it handles itself and treats immigrants. And I would change all of that."
 
Steyer believes the country can both control the southern border and treat those seeking asylum humanely. He also believes that immigrants have been the great strength of America.
 
Perhaps one of the biggest topics in the 2020 election cycle has been health care and how to fix the growing cost of health care.
 
While some candidates have proposed Medicare-for-all options or a single-payer system similar to Canada, Steyer believes in giving people a public option. 
 
"Affordable health care is a right for every American in the 21st Century," he said, "We just have to accept that and the only question is how best to accomplish that."
 
The Culinary Union is a big player in the Democratic Party politics in Nevada. The union has been firm that it does not want to see its hard-fought-for health care plan be supplanted by a public option.
 
Steyer doesn't want to take away private health insurance but he wants the public option to be robust enough for people to want to choose it. He believes the buying power of the federal government will push down prices for everyone.  
(Editor's note: This interview originally aired January 2020)

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Tom Steyer, Democratic presidential candidate

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