Capitol Alert

Tom Steyer details goals for possible Senate run

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., on Sept. 25, 2013.
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., on Sept. 25, 2013. AP

In the first comments on a possible Senate candidacy, billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer said Tuesday that Washington needs a jolt, but he gave himself more time to consider his own candidacy.

Steyer, a prolific campaign donor and former hedge fund manager, is weighing a run for the seat coming vacant when U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer steps down in 2016.

“Holding office is a sacred trust in our society, and I am honored that so many colleagues and friends have encouraged me to consider entering this race,” Steyer said in an entry published by the Huffington Post. “One thing is clear: Washington needs to be shaken up, and we need climate champions who will fight for the next generation. California Democrats are blessed to have a deep bench of talent, and I will decide soon based on what I think is the best way to continue the hard work we've already started together to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity.”

In addition to his political donations, Steyer’s work through his environmental organization has given him the ear of powerful politicians. In California, aides say he’s been able to amass an email list that exceeds 1 million registered voters. His biography on the Huffington Post refers to him as “an avid Californian.”

Steyer, a 57-year-old Democrat, and his team of political operatives have been logging hundreds of phone calls and emails to supporters and potential contributors to gauge what a statewide campaign might look like. He recently polled, and sees an opportunity for a campaign focused on providing the next generation a fair shake.

Among the questions they are trying to answer is whether the Senate, or at least a well-publicized run for the office, would offer a better platform to advance the cause of tackling global climate change. Steyer is coming off a rough election in which he spent about $74 million in races nationally where Democrats generally performed poorly.

A Senate bid also would test whether he could retain his popularity while challenging one of the state’s next generation of potential leaders. Steyer would be joining a contest that features Attorney General Kamala Harris, who shares many of his concerns about the environment. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a statement praising her entry.

Other Democrats wrestling with a possible run are former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Treasurer John Chiang, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, and several other members of Congress. Assemblyman Rocky Chavez and two former state Republican Party chairmen are considering candidacies.

The Senate campaign may present an opportunity for Steyer to call in some favors. He spent a combined $40 million on two environmentally focused ballot measures in 2012 and 2010. He was the single-largest donor to labor organizations in their successful effort to beat back a ballot measure meant to curtail their political power.

Steyer pledged to keep his NextGen Climate organization running no matter what he decides.

“People rail that democracy has been subverted to powerful economic interests -- that ‘We the People’ have been overlooked. Based on what I have seen over the last several years, I fear there's some truth in that charge, and it scares me -- badly,” Steyer wrote.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.

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