Tom Steyer Endorses Lawmaker Behind California’s Unpopular Gas Tax Increase

Chris White | Energy Reporter

Billionaire Tom Steyer is backing the senatorial bid of a California lawmaker responsible for spearheading an unpopular gas tax increase that Republicans are using as an election issue in the state.

Steyer is backing state Sen. Kevin de León’s bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the November election. De León, a Democrat, was instrumental in passing a widely unpopular law imposing a 12 cents per gallon hike on Californians.

“I think he’s the kind of young progressive that reflects California and would be a very strong advocate for our state nationally,” Steyer told the Los Angeles Times Tuesday. “I know him well and he’s a friend. We share a lot of values.”

“I just believe Kevin is the true progressive and he reflects something we need representing California going forward. I have nothing bad to say about Dianne Feinstein. I have a lot of good to say about Kevin de León,” said Steyer, a wealthy liberal financier urging congressional Democrats to impeach President Donald Trump.

He faces long odds as he fights to unseat Feinstein, who has more than $10 million in the bank, while De León has only $670,000 squirreled away to carry on the campaign. De León is not without influential supporters. He has raked in important endorsements from the California Labor Federation, for instance.

Steyer said he does not have plans to plow any money into De León’s money-starved campaign, but the California billionaire is known to bankroll Democrats and liberal policy pushes in the past.

He spent about $86 million during the 2016 election cycle, for instance, in a losing bid to get Democrats elected. Steyer’s political group, NextGen Climate, spent about $56 million in 2016, according to campaign finance data.

NextGen also spent nearly $21 million in the 2014 election cycle but only had a 38 percent rate of supporting winning candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Steyer spent more than $73 million of his personal fortune that election cycle, only to see Republicans take control of the Senate.

De León’s political ambitions could hit a brick wall even if Steyer decides to contribute to the young Democrat’s political war chest. De León’s campaign could be dead in the water if Republicans can foist the gas tax increase around his neck like a millstone.

Nearly 58 percent of voters oppose the tax increase, including 39 percent who say they strongly reject the legislation, according to a survey the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies conducted shortly after the measure was passed in June 2017. Only 35 percent of voters surveyed favor the law, which raises taxes on gasoline and diesel and hikes vehicle registration fees to fix roads and highways.

Opposition against the measure is widespread. Voters in all major regions of the state other than the Bay Area and all age categories over 30 are unhappy about it. Liberal voters are the only group that largely supports the law. Other polls are more split. More than 47 percent of likely voters favor repeal, while 48 percent oppose nixing the law, according to a poll the Public Policy Institute of California released in February.

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