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Sam Altman wants to see a techie run for California governor and challenge Trump

The Y Combinator president talked politics and the future at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

Annual Allen And Co. Investors Meeting Draws CEO's And Business Leaders To Sun Valley, Idaho Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Sam Altman has gained a reputation over the last year or so for inserting himself into politics and social issues. Altman, the president of influential Silicon Valley startup incubator Y Combinator, has been loudly critical of President Donald Trump and is organizing tech workers to pressure their companies to commit to such values as privacy and equitable pay for employees.

He has also been prodding tech executives to run for governor of California and challenge Trump’s policies.

“I think you'd be good at this,” he has told Silicon Valley leaders, whom he wouldn’t name. “You seem pretty bored at your job.”

But this was just “like a few dinner conversations,” Altman told “Vice News Tonight” correspondent Nellie Bowles and a crowd of about 500 during a Thursday night forum at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. And none of the executives he mentioned it to expressed much interest.

Altman told the crowd that he thinks it’s important to work with the president, to try to help him be successful, and to not be dismissive of people who voted for Trump.

After the election, Altman told Bowles, he traveled through the Midwest and talked to 100 Trump supporters.

“So you just got into your self-driving car,” Bowles said, and took a road trip to meet Trump supporters?

Altman didn’t answer that question, but admitted to Bowles that he did go into some diners and Starbucks on the trip. “There were a lot of people’s dads I did talk to,” he said, when Bowles offered as a joke to introduce him to her own father.

Altman said he thinks it’s good that SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is on Trump’s Business Advisory Council, but doesn’t feel that he himself would be able to stomach working with the Trump administration.

He also said that venture capitalist Peter Thiel — a personal friend and adviser of Y Combinator — didn’t deserve the “constant barrage of negativity,” including protests outside his home over his support of Trump.

Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, was Trump’s most vocal supporter from the tech world during the election, and has served as an adviser to the president. He also secretly funded the sex tape lawsuit that drove Gawker Media into bankruptcy and ultimately forced Gawker to close.

“I think he was willfully mischaracterized,” said Altman, defending Thiel against accusations of being prejudiced against minority ethnic and religious groups.

Altman concluded by noting that Y Combinator’s year-old “universal basic income” project is expanding. The project — in which Y Combinator is distributing $1,000-$2,000 a month to 100 families in Oakland — is set to grow that number to 1,000 families.

For all his involvement in public life, Altman doesn’t see himself in office.

“I don’t think charisma is my strength,” he said.

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