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Billionaire Behind 'Need To Impeach' Campaign Begins Town Hall Series In Columbus

Tom Steyer, center, talks to attendees at his "Need to Impeach" town hall in Columbus.
Karen Kasler
Ohio Public Radio
Tom Steyer, center, talks to attendees at his "Need to Impeach" town hall in Columbus.

A billionaire Democratic fundraiser who’s been running a TV and online campaign to impeach President Trump has launched what he says will be a series of at least 30 town hall meetings around the country, and he kicked it off in Columbus. He'll go to Cincinnati next.

“It is wonderful to be in Columbus, Ohio, and to start off this series of town halls with you guys,” said Tom Steyer a California hedge fund manager turned progressive activist

This could be described as the opposite of a Trump rally. Around 150 attendees sat in padded straight back chairs in the basement ballroom of the YWCA in Columbus, listening to Steyer share his thoughts behind his “Need to Impeach” campaign.

There were several moments of loud applause and spontaneous shouts. But there were no signs, no chants, no protests – just an hour of pointed anti-Trump rhetoric, such as “We view this president and this campaign as a fight for the soul of America.”

Steyer had said he would be making the case for impeachment to Democrats, independents and Republicans – but the audience was overwhelmingly left leaning.

Sandy Callahan came up from Lancaster to hear Steyer’s pitch.

“I’ve watched the ads and he’s been the person who has been saying out loud what I’ve been thinking for months and months," Callahan said. "And he’s been the only one I’ve heard say it out loud. So I wanted to know more about him."

Callahan lives with her son David Clayton-Ready, who recently moved to Ohio.

“I think that the reason we have something like Need to Impeach to exist to begin with is kind of a symptom of the whole problem – it’s not just Trump. It’s been brewing for a long, long time, both on the Democratic and Republican side,” Clayton-Ready said.

Phyllis Elmo from Columbus is already active in progressive politics – even helping write cards to voters in recent elections in Alabama and Pennsylvania. She’s glad to see Steyer start this series of town halls to supplement his TV ad and online campaign.

“I’m really happy he’s doing it, and I’m also happy he has enough money to do it, so which unfortunately has become necessary in these days,” Elmo said.

Columbus environmental advocate Carolyn Harding is among the 5 million people who’ve signed Steyer’s online impeachment petition, and has no concerns about what he’ll do with what he’s called a digital army of activists.

“I knew that when I gave him my email. I knew that I’d be in his database. But I’m very transparent about what I stand for,” Harding said.

After the event, Steyer said he’s assembled the largest grassroots organization in the U.S. He plans to spend $30 million on ads and town halls in this midterm election year – and was asked why he wasn’t pouring the money into state and local elections instead.

“We’re doing phone banking. We’re using snail mail. We’re using all of the online means of reaching people because as far as we’re concerned, everything you’re talking about, we’re doing,” Steyer said.

Steyer’s series of town halls begin in Ohio, a state that went for Trump but has a Trump critic as governor. Steyer did say he watched John Kasich in the 2016 debates and on TV since then, but says he’s never met him.

Steyer has for years used his activism to combat climate change. In 2008, Steyer and his wife Kathryn Ann Taylor donated $41 million to create the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford University. It works to further the development of affordable renewable energy and promotes public policy to make renewable forms of energy more accessible.

The Ohio Republican Party said Steyer's efforts to Impeach President Trump will have little impact in the state.

“If Tom Steyer, the king of dark money, thinks Ohioans will take his calls to impeach President Trump and kill our energy industry seriously, he has another thing coming," said Ohio GOP spokesperson Blaine Kelly in a statement last week. "In Ohio, we support our President and we see our natural resources as assets, not liabilities."