Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday had a private lunch with a major political ally in his efforts to pass climate-change legislation: California billionaire Tom Steyer.
Steyer, a hedge-fund tycoon turned climate activist, has announced he’ll spend $100 million this year to defeat Republicans who deny the reality of human-caused climate change. He has emerged as a liberal answer to the conservative Koch brothers, even challenging them to a debate on global warming.
Washington Democrats hope some of Steyer’s cash finds its way here as they try to regain a majority of the state Senate, which has been controlled by a Republican-dominated Majority Caucus coalition. Inslee has complained that Republicans in the Legislature are intent on blocking any urgent action on climate change.
On Thursday, Steyer and Inslee had an hourlong discussion over a salmon lunch at the governor’s mansion in Olympia, said David Postman, Inslee’s communications director. The lunch was an unofficial event and was not publicized, but Postman provided details after an inquiry from The Seattle Times.
Postman described the Inslee-Steyer discussion as “wide-ranging” on climate issues, with most of the time spent on “pretty technical and wonky” aspects of climate policy. They also discussed “the political challenges inherent in trying to address carbon pollution,” he said.
Asked whether the two talked about the 2014 elections and Steyer’s possible role here, Postman said “the governor has said before to him — he knows the challenges the governor faces in trying to get something done here.” But he said there was no specific political request or plan discussed.
The lunch was attended by Inslee, his aide Aisling Kerins, Steyer and one of his aides, Postman said.
Steyer reportedly had been in Washington talking to donors and other allies of NextGen Climate, his political committee seeking to play a big role in the 2014 midterms. Postman said Steyer reached out to Inslee to say he’d be in town, and the governor invited him to lunch.
Inslee met Steyer in 2013 when both men spoke at a Climate Solutions breakfast in Seattle and called for the West Coast to take the lead on addressing global warming. Inslee has since appeared with Steyer at several climate-policy events and was a guest for a dinner at Steyer’s house in October.
Later that year, Steyer poured more than $500,000 into a key state Senate contest in the 26th Legislative District. But his efforts failed, as Republican Jan Angel defeated Democrat Nathan Schlicher.
Republicans have accused Inslee and Steyer of conspiring to impose radical environmental policies that would boost gas prices. The state GOP filed a complaint accusing Steyer of violating state campaign-finance laws, but it was dismissed by the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Steyer’s political plans in Washington this year remain unclear. Washington was not on the initial list of seven states NextGen Climate said it would be targeting this year. But NextGen spokeswoman Suzanne Henkels said in an email “it is possible we could add or subtract states throughout the 2014 cycle.”