MILWAUKEE — Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer touted his plans for education, health care and climate change before an audience of educators and students today during a town hall organized by the American Federation of Teachers.
The billionaire hedge fund manager and activist also stressed the need to break “the corporate stranglehold” on America to fix a government he described as broken. And he took shots at President Trump and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
“I’m running for a simple reason,” Steyer told the audience at the Milwaukee Area Technical College. “I believe that the government is broken, that it’s been purchased by corporations, that it’s working perfectly for them but it’s not working at all for the American people.”
He said America has the financial means to address issues such as health care affordability, access to quality public K-12 and higher education, and access to clean air and water.
“We have the most successful society in the history of the planet. We have a broken government, not a broken people,” Steyer said. “We are rich enough to do everything that people are hoping we can do and we think would be incredible.”
Steyer called for taking away the ability of corporations to write the rules in order to ensure prosperity for the American people.
“Just take it away,” he said. “We need the government to write the rules for us, and the corporations live within those rules. They don’t get to write them.”
Steyer said when Republicans take control of government, their first move is to cut taxes on the wealthy, followed by cuts to education and health care. He said Republicans then target organized labor, labeling Walker “the kingpin and the face of breaking organized labor in America.”
Steyer said education is key to ensuring equality and prosperity in America. He called for two years of free higher education for all, student loan interest rates at the same level as what government pays, and student loan forgiveness for those who work in public service jobs.
“If you think about a society, in the 21st century, that is built around information, skilled labor, knowledge, the idea of cutting education as a prosperity move is the stupidest thing I can imagine,” Steyer said.
On health care, Steyer said he favors offering a public option as opposed to a “Medicare for All” plan other Dems want.
He said rather than force people into a government plan, offering a voluntary public option will demonstrate how effective it is.
“I just don’t want to tell 160 million Americans, ‘You’re going to do it my way, which isn’t proven, or you’re going to be breaking the law,’” he said. “I feel like, let’s make it work; let’s let people make the choice for themselves.”
Steyer, who founded NextGen America, previously known as NextGen Climate, said he is the strongest candidate to address climate change.
“I would make it priority one, and I would create millions of jobs and clean up the air and the water as a result,” He said.
Steyer took several shots at Trump, calling him “a failure as a businessperson” and that “his economic policy is the stupidest I’ve ever seen.”
He said Trump is “incoherent” and “ignorant” on jobs and the economy.
“I would love to take him on,” he said. “He doesn’t understand that the prosperity of America is built around the prosperity and success of the American people.”
Steyer was introduced by AFT President Randi Weingarten, who decried “crushing student debt” and GOP moves in Wisconsin to restrict collective bargaining and cut funding to K-12 and higher education.
After his speech, Steyer took questions from the audience, but that was interrupted near the end by a fire alarm. After the all-clear was given, Steyer posed for a photo with members of AFT Local 212, some of whom chanted “lock him up” in reference to Trump.
Steyer, who in 2017 began running ads calling for Trump to be impeached, largely steered clear of the topic but did briefly address his Need to Impeach campaign when discussing his background.
RNC Spokesperson Mandi Merritt knocked Steyer.
“Tom Steyer’s impeachment obsessed vanity project turned presidential campaign doesn’t resonate with Wisconsinites,” Merritt said. “While Steyer lights more of his money on fire pushing a radical agenda, Wisconsin voters continue to reap the benefits of President Trump’s America First agenda.”
Following the MATC event, Steyer was to participate in a town hall with Milwaukee County Dems. He began his day at a breakfast with Latino leaders at Nuevo Mercado el Rey.