- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2019

PHILADELPHIA | Lisa Hastings stands out as one the most rebellious activists at this year’s Netroots Nation, not because of her far-left politics but because she is not opposed to billionaire Tom Steyer, the latest entry into the Democratic presidential race.

Most at the annual gathering of liberal activists quickly dismiss Mr. Steyer and his fat bank account as part of the problem in America. But not her.

“This annoys me tremendously. There is nothing wrong with rich people,” said Ms. Hastings, 62, an individual investor and environmental activist. “Not all rich people are evil and not all poor people are good.”

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She may sound reasonable, but the remark drew suspicious glances from the crowd at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Mr. Steyer is a former hedge-fund manager who created the grassroots advocacy group NextGen America in 2013, launched the Need to Impeach campaign to oust President Trump in 2017, and joined the presidential race Tuesday.

Ms. Hastings welcomed him to the crowded field as another strong voice on the environment and climate change, saying he’d be “a good president.”

The consensus at the convention, however, was that the $100 million that Mr. Steyer pledged to spend on his own campaign would be better spent supporting other Democratic candidates and causes.

Mr. Steyer was more popular at Netroots Nation before he announced his run. He was slated to speak at the convention Thursday night but organizers canceled the appearance after the announcement for “equity reasons,” said a Netroots Nation official.

Mr. Steyer has not accepted an invitation to participate in the Netroots Nation presidential forum Saturday, which is the only place where candidates will appear. The forum lineup includes Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The hands-down favorite Democratic hopeful at Netroots Nation remained Ms. Warren, who is running on promises to put the squeeze on the wealthiest 1% of Americans and crack down on Wall Street and corporations.

“I don’t want a billionaire in there. They’ve been the problem forever,” said Ginny Soules, 73, a retired physician from New York City who wore a “99%” button on her blouse.

Ms. Soules said the problem of wealthy men messing up the country started with the Founding Fathers, some of whom she claimed to be related to.

Netroots Nation attendee Amina N’Diaye, a 21-year-old political science major at Temple University, said she didn’t know much about Mr. Steyer but called his billions enough to disqualify him.

“Anyone having that much wealth is wrong,” she said.

They echoed their champions in the Democratic race.

“The Democratic primary should not be decided by billionaires, whether they’re funding Super PACs or funding themselves,” Ms. Warren tweeted after Mr. Steyer announced his run. “The strongest Democratic nominee in the general will have a coalition that’s powered by a grassroots movement.”

Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who is vying for the party’s far-left vote, called Mr. Steyer a “good guy” and a “friend.” But “I’m not a great fan of billionaires getting involved in the political process,” he said on MSNBC.

Mr. Steyer fired back Thursday, saying he was the real outsider in the race.

“The top three candidates have been in Congress and the Senate for a combined 70 years,” he said on Fox News, referring to Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

“The real question here is not about money or personality. The real question is who has a vision for what we need to do in America and can connect with the American people,” he said. “Are you going to do the reform from the outside, which is what I’ve been doing for 10 years successfully, or are you going to count on an insider to somehow reform the system that’s so badly broken?”

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