More Than Climate Change: In Denver, 2020 Candidate Tom Steyer Talks Voter Suppression And Youth Vote

Tom Steyer has said he's the only Democratic presidential candidate who's making climate change their No. 1 priority. But speaking with about 100 voters Sunday in a Denver union hall, the environment barely came up.

Instead, the California hedge fund billionaire spoke about voter suppression across the country, and why race relations should be a greater focal point for the people running for the White House. At one point, on the topic of gun violence, he stopped the conversation to console a woman whose son was killed in a 2018 shooting.

Anthony Cotton/CPR News
Democratic Presidential candidate Tom Steyer consoles Elizabeth Emerson of Castle Rock at a Denver town hall on Sunday, Dec. 29. Emerson's son Jacob was killed in a 2018 shooting.

And Steyer said why he's pledged to spend around $50 million as part of a push to increase youth voter turnout.

"Does the most diverse, progressive generation in America understand that they hold the key?" he asked. "Who is the President, who runs the Senate, who runs the House — what our whole future is."

Steyer appeared with Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Omar Montgomery, the runner-up to Mike Coffman in the 2019 Aurora mayoral election. Griswold also sponsored a town hall earlier in December with another Democratic presidential candidate, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

"I believe we need to level the playing field for everyday people in Colorado and across the United States," Griswold said. "Special interests have a lot more contact with policymakers than everyday people... we need to demand that eligible (voters) have their voices heard and ballots counted — so to be able to have these conversations is incredibly important."

Jim Cassidy of Denver said he came out because he's intrigued by what he calls the dichotomy that Steyer presents — the billionaire who tries to come off as an ordinary guy.

"He seems to have a pretty practical perspective on where we are as a society," Cassidy said. "And some of the things he's offered as his suggested remedies, I think they would work."

Steyer faces an uphill battle in the Democratic primary. He's polling at about 1 percent nationally, on average.

One issue he is eager to tackle in his campaign is voter suppression, calling recent rulings to remove voters from registration rolls in Georgia and Wisconsin "criminal offenses."

"We're seeing it on a daily basis, an organized attempt to disenfranchise, specifically African Americans across the country," he said. "It's a deliberate, organized attempt to cheat and it's successful."

Steyer also said Sunday that his fellow Democratic candidates aren't talking explicitly enough about race and the role it should play in policy decisions. Besides saying he supported reparations for African Americans, Steyer said there hasn't been enough recognition of the leadership that Blacks have provided throughout U.S. history.

"It's moral leadership; when we look at who's been right, who's consistently been out in front, it's been the African American community," he said.

That resonated with Barbara Groves-Jones of Centennial, who said Steyer's remarks won her support going into Colorado's primary in March.

"His philosophy is a little deeper than I thought it was, his knowledge is more inclusive than I thought it was, so, he's the guy," she said. "He's the guy, and I believe him."