Tom Steyer Isn’t Running for Senate, but He May Be Angling for Another Office

The billionaire climate activist had been considering a bid for the California Senate seat. But now he may be looking elsewhere.

Tom Steyer introduces a panel during the National Clean Energy Summit 6.0 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on August 13, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for National Clean Energy Summit 6.0)
Ben Geman and Rebecca Nelson
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Ben Geman Rebecca Nelson
Jan. 22, 2015, 10:38 a.m.

Tom Stey­er has of­fi­cially taken him­self out of the 2016 Cali­for­nia Sen­ate race. But he may have his eyes on something else.

In a Huff­ing­ton Post op-ed Thursday af­ter­noon, the bil­lion­aire cli­mate act­iv­ist said that while he had giv­en ser­i­ous thought to a run for re­tir­ing Sen. Bar­bara Box­er’s seat, he had chosen not to join the race.

But a source close to Stey­er said the 57-year-old still has designs on run­ning for of­fice, say­ing “it’s no longer a ques­tion of ‘if.’” Stey­er has been men­tioned as a po­ten­tial can­did­ate for gov­ernor in 2018 when in­cum­bent Jerry Brown’s fi­nal term ends.

The source close to Stey­er said a fu­ture cam­paign would “need to be the right of­fice and be an of­fice where he be­lieves he can do more and ac­com­plish more in the in­side than he can from the out­side.”

That means, the source said, an of­fice where ex­ec­ut­ive de­cisions are made, or “sub­stant­ive pro­gress” can hap­pen be­cause of po­ten­tial fu­ture Demo­crat­ic con­trol in Wash­ing­ton, where right now Re­pub­lic­ans hold Con­gress. That could bring the Sen­ate back in­to Stey­er’s sights in 2018, when Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein’s cur­rent term is up, if she does not seek reelec­tion.

In the op-ed Thursday, head­lined “The Fight For Justice Starts With Cli­mate,” Stey­er echoed themes Pres­id­ent Obama out­lined in his Tues­day State of the Uni­on ad­dress on eco­nom­ic in­equal­ity and the Amer­ic­an dream.

“To move for­ward,” he wrote, “we need lead­er­ship in gov­ern­ment and out­side of gov­ern­ment that is com­mit­ted to en­vir­on­ment­al justice, eco­nom­ic justice, and edu­ca­tion justice.”

Stey­er’s ab­sence in the Sen­ate race helps en­sure he can fo­cus more heav­ily on us­ing his for­tune to help oth­er can­did­ates in the 2016 cycle, something the Bay Area res­id­ent hin­ted at Thursday while stand­ing down from his own run.

“Giv­en the im­per­at­ive of elect­ing a Demo­crat­ic pres­id­ent — along with my pas­sion for our state — I be­lieve my work right now should not be in our na­tion’s cap­it­al but here at home in Cali­for­nia, and in states around the coun­try where we can make a dif­fer­ence,” Stey­er said in his post.

Stey­er spent $74 mil­lion in last year’s elec­tions try­ing to elect can­did­ates to the Sen­ate and gov­ernor’s man­sions that sup­port ac­tion on cli­mate change. He had mixed res­ults, com­ing up short in four of the con­tests.

His an­nounce­ment comes after he toyed with launch­ing a Sen­ate bid in an­oth­er Huff­ing­ton Post op-ed last week. In that post, he as­ser­ted that “Wash­ing­ton needs to be shaken up.”

Last week, Cali­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Kamala Har­ris an­nounced her can­did­acy for the seat. Mo­mentum for her grew quickly: The Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee lined up be­hind her just minutes after the an­nounce­ment, and a day later, power­house fun­draiser and pro­gress­ive hero Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren of Mas­sachu­setts en­dorsed her, call­ing for sup­port­ers to raise $25,000 in Har­ris’ elec­tion ef­fort.

Des­pite Stey­er’s ex­treme wealth, he likely would have had trouble run­ning against the much-bet­ter known Har­ris.

The flurry of Cali­for­nia Sen­ate activ­ity comes just weeks after Box­er, who has served in the cham­ber for 21 years, an­nounced that she would re­tire at the end of her term.

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