Tom Steyer in Sheldon

Tom Steyer, a 62-year-old billionaire activist and Democratic presidential candidate, spoke Friday morning at Cook’s Cafe/Langer’s Bar & Grill in Sheldon. He addressed issues ranging from climate change, income inequality, trade and the federal deficit.

SHELDON—Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Tom Steyer stressed the importance of building grass-roots movements Friday morning, Jan. 3, while stumping at Cook’s Cafe/Langer’s Bar & Grill in Sheldon.

The 62-year-old billionaire activist took aim at President Donald Trump and addressed topics ranging from climate change to the economy while speaking to about 40 people in the restaurant.

“We need someone who can beat Mr. Trump, we need someone who can do the job on the economy and we need someone who can pull this party together,” Steyer said.

“It’s obvious this is a party that has splits, and I believe I’m personally all three of those things: beat Mr. Trump, be a very responsible steward of the economy, deal with the climate crisis, get this government back to the people.”

Steyer decried the influence large corporations have in the workings of government and said he would take on corporate power by building a grass-roots campaign.

He said he has spent the last 10 years doing grass-roots activism and mentioned his nonprofit organization, NextGen America, which seeks to mobilize young voters on progressive issues like climate change.

“We’ve been here since the beginning of 2014, and that’s an organization dedicated to the idea of broader democracy, more power to the people of the United States,” he said.

Part of being a grass-roots candidate means Steyer would welcome Republican voters into his coalition.

“As far as I’m concerned, they’re American citizens who thought this government didn’t serve them, who were mad as hell and in my mind made a terrible choice about how to break the system,” he said.

“But their instincts about the fact that the government was broken, I share. The instincts that the government wasn’t serving them or didn’t even respect them, I share.”

He did, however, target longtime Republican Party leaders such as Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and advocated for Senate term limits to ensure new leadership.

On the issue of climate change, Steyer claimed he is the only candidate who has made it his No. 1 priority. He said he would declare a climate crisis in the United States on day one of being president and create millions of union-backed jobs to help clean pollution in the atmosphere and water supply. He said he also would partner with countries around the world to find climate solutions worldwide.

Steyer also spoke of recent trade disputes involving the United States and criticized Trump for his handling of foreign trade.

“It has killed farmers, taking away really the biggest customer that American farmers have internationally,” he said. “I would get rid of the trade war on day one.”

Steyer went after Trump’s record as a businessman, calling the president a “fake business person” and a poor steward of the country’s economy. He criticized Trump’s tax cut as giving extra income to people who already are wealthy while exacerbating the country’s deficit.

Steyer meanwhile defended his own record as an entrepreneur.

“I built a business over 30 years,” Steyer said. “It would be ridiculous to call me a socialist, it would be ridiculous to say that I don’t understand what creates a successful company, a successful country, how we’re going to compete, what real prosperity looks like.”

Despite being a billionaire, Steyer said he comes from a family that values giving back to others.

His mother was a schoolteacher in the New York public schools, while his father was a lawyer who went on to prosecute Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II.

“My parents were Depression-era, World War II babies who believed the United States was the greatest thing that ever happened to them but that anyone who was a citizen had to give back at least as much as they got from the country.”

Steyer took questions from the audience after wrapping up his speech.

Sixty-two-year-old Mike Earll of Sibley asked how Steyer would handle the federal deficit, pointing out how it was a topic Republicans used to care about solving.

Steyer said the country is at full employment yet has a trillion-dollar deficit due to the tax cuts granted to the richest Americans and corporations. He would first undue those tax cuts and then would push for a wealth tax.

“We’re going to take back the giveaways that have gone on for 40 years to the richest Americans and the biggest corporations because it’s the right thing to do and we have to do it,” Steyer said.

He also was asked how he would reverse the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, which gave corporations unlimited spending power in elections.

Steyer said he does not think corporations are people and should not be treated as such when it comes to campaign spending. He said he would be open to adjusting the number of justices on the Supreme Court.

“I honestly will be pushing for different Supreme Court, a larger Supreme Court so that it actually does reflect the will of the American people.”