The Tom Steyer I Know

Of all the billionaires I know, Tom Steyer is my favorite.

I had dinner and drinks with him and a handful of activists in Hermosa Beach a few years ago and found him to be about as as down to earth, smart and interesting as the guys I like to hang with.

March 11 2016
(photo by Al Muratsuchi)

You may have seen one of Tom Steyer’s video ads on-line or on television calling for the impeachment of President Trump.  Trump noticed them and called Steyer “wacky & totally unhinged.”  Nancy Pelosi criticized Steyer and his calls for impeachment as “not helpful.”

I think Steyer is dead solid perfect right-on and I’m glad somebody has the courage and vision to say the obvious. I’m especially glad it’s him.

Most of us in the environmental movement know who Steyer is, and we’re well aware of his work as a political and climate action activist, but plenty of folks I run into haven’t heard of him yet.

With Steyer seriously considering a run for Diane Feinstein’s US Senate seat and his ongoing impeachment campaign it won’t be long before Steyer’s recognition numbers go beyond the current 25% of voters who say they know enough about him to form an opinion.

I know plenty of elected representatives at all levels, I know my fair share of CEOs and celebrities too, but I don’t personally know a one of them as tough, determined, authentic and genuine as Tom Steyer.

It wasn’t because I knew Steyer from working with him at the Breakfree From Oil rally in DTLA in May of 2016.

It was because I had spent an afternoon with him a week earlier touring L.A. urban oil drilling sites in a van full of local activists who have been working on the issue for years.

Steyer’s Next Gen climate folks asked if I could help reach out to Stand LA, People Not Pozos and other groups I knew who were experts on the issue and would be willing to give him a tour. The Next Gen team insisted on no press or social media promoting or covering the tour. This wasn’t about publicity for Steyer.

We met at the Mercado La Paloma, got into a van and headed out to the first of 4 sites where fracking and oil drilling were happening just feet from peoples homes and bedroom windows.

The notorious Jefferson oil Facility. (all photos (c) Joe Galliani
The Jefferson Facility is this close to the apartment building on this side of the wall. Sometimes men in hazmat suits work with toxic chemicals while kids who live in the apartments play on the other side of the wall.

But before we got to the first site, a pale and pained-looking Steyer asked if we could pull over and stop the van for a moment to let him out to get some air.  He apologized for slowing us down, “…but I’ve been dealing with these kidney stones and they’ve kicked up again. I just need a minute or two,” he said as calmly as if it were a phone-call he had to take.

“Damn,” I thought. Kidney stones. The male equivalent of giving birth pain. No way we were going to be able to do this tour today. Bummer.

The van pulled over on the USC campus and Tom excused himself as he climbed out and took a little walk down the block before doubling over in obvious pain when he thought he was out of sight.  Maybe he even threw up a little.

But somehow within just a couple of minutes he composed himself, stood straight up, and headed back over to the van.

Okay,” he said. “I’m good. Thanks so much for stopping.  Let’s go.

Pretty much everyone in the van said, “Oh no, we can do this some other time when you’re feeling better. There’s no need to torture yourself today.

But Tom said, “No, I’m fine. I appreciate it, but this is really important and I’m good to go.   Thanks.”

And off we went to the first site. Steyer didn’t want to talk about his kidney stones at all and stayed focused on what was going on with the people who lived next to these toxic sites and the community’s history of fighting against them. I was amazed and impressed.

The infamous AllenCo site where the EPA ignored complaints until one of their inspectors was overcome from the toxic fumes.



We had to stop the van a few more times for Tom to get out and recoup. And each time he did just that. I don’t know how he did so other than sheer mind over matter. But he sure didn’t want to make any big deal about it. And I thought to myself, “He doesn’t want to make this about himself at all.”

And that is fucking rare not only for a high profile billionaire, but for almost any man I know.  Especially the ones involved in politics. Steyer did so much more listening than talking – and the talking he did was in the form of questions.

Steyer at the Jefferson urban oil site, listening to the residents’ stories.

By the time we were done he understood what was going down and how the people of the inner city were being screwed and abused. And he wasn’t happy about it.

And I understood what a tough son of bitch Tom Steyer was both physically and mentally.

After many years of doing the work I’ve done, very few men have earned my real respect and admiration.

Tom Steyer did that day. And he’s continued to build on that with each step he takes.

Now that a year-and-a-half has gone by, I hope he won’t mind that I’ve told this story.

He’s not the kind of guy to tell it himself.

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