Why Does California Billionaire Tom Steyer Care So Much About Control Of Nevada’s State Legislature?
Western Wire’s Simon Lomax explored the involvement of California billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer in Nevada politics in a guest column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The piece, published yesterday, shows how lawmakers backed by Steyer are pushing bills to ban hydraulic fracturing and more than double the state’s existing renewable electricity mandate.
With Steyer’s help, Democrats won back control of the Nevada Legislature last November after two years of a Republican majority. But the last time Democrats were in the majority, they had very different views on energy:
In 2013, Democrats ran the Legislature, as they do now. But lawmakers flatly rejected calls to ban fracking. Instead, they overwhelmingly approved a bill that allowed the technique in Nevada under a new set of regulations. The pro-fracking bill cleared the Assembly in a 41-0 vote and passed the Senate 21-0 before it was signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
What has changed? The answer most likely involves Tom Steyer, a hedge-fund manager and billionaire environmentalist from San Francisco.
Nevada campaign finance records show Mr. Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, personally contributed $70,000 to five state legislative candidates in the 2016 election, all of them Democrats. The candidates were Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, Assemblyman Justin Watkins, Assemblyman Chris Brooks, state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse and state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro. Their victories helped Democrats win back control of the Legislature after two years of Republican rule. Two of Steyer’s candidates — Assemblymen Watkins and Brooks — are pushing the oil and gas ban. They are also pushing another energy bill, AB206, which would double the state’s renewable electricity mandate to 50 percent by 2030, with an even bigger goal of 80 percent by 2040. Assembly Speaker Frierson is also a primary sponsor of the bill to dramatically expand the state’s renewable energy mandate.
These measures line up perfectly with Mr. Steyer’s environmental agenda. He’s tried to ban fracking in his home state of California. He has very close financial and political ties to “keep it in the ground” groups such as 350.org and the Sierra Club, which actively oppose oil and gas development in Nevada. During last year’s election, Mr. Steyer’s political action committee — NextGen Climate — pushed candidates to support a 50 percent renewable mandate by 2030. According to The New York Times, supporting the mandate was a condition of the billionaire’s financial support.
And yet, almost nobody noticed that a California billionaire environmentalist was actively involved in the battle for control of the state legislature, and how this could influence public policy in Nevada. As the column concludes:
Mr. Steyer has a First Amendment right to support the candidates and causes of his choosing, of course. But the public also deserves to know why a California billionaire cares so much about who controls the Nevada Legislature.
To read the full column, visit the Las Vegas Review-Journal.