Nina Turner on Alabama Vote & Democratic Party Unity Reform Comission
Nina Turner and Paul Jay discuss the significance of Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama and what this means for future of Democratic Party
PAUL JAY: Before we get into our take on what happened in Alabama and then some, let me remind you, we’re in our winter fundraising campaign. For every buck you donate, we get a matching dollar grant. This is a critical fundraiser for us. This is a big part of our funding for the year happens in the winter fundraising campaign. If you like what we’re doing, please donate. We can’t do it without you.
Now let’s get into it. So, in Alabama on Tuesday night, Doug Jones had an upset victory over Republican Roy Moore. Jones was neck and neck in the polls but it seemed that Moore had been pulling ahead, but in the final analysis, the deciding factor seems to have been the senior senator of Alabama asked for people to write in a vote, not to vote for Roy Moore. Essentially threw the election to Doug Jones.
There was something like around 22,000 write-in votes and the margin of difference between Moore and Jones was around 10,000 votes. In many ways, Shelby threw the election to Doug Jones. Democrats in any case are definitely happy with the results and I suppose a lot of people across the country are more represented. A particular brand of fascism, and I would call that brand the Bannon brand. Maybe that’s the big loser from the election is Steve Bannon, who threw everything he had behind electing Moore, even going for Moore over Trump’s choice in the Republican primary.
It’s a big defeat for Bannon. We’ll see what happens next with him, but he’s on the outs now with much of the Republican Party that he wasn’t already on the outs with. But more to the point for us, how is all this going to affect the politics of the Democratic Party? It was only a few days before this vote, the Democratic Party Reform Commission, Unity Reform Commission met. A big issue being what happens with superdelegates. I think these things are quite connected to each other because are corporate Democrats going to have some new wind in their sails because of the Jones victory? Are they going to think perhaps they need the Sanders wing less?
I describe the Unity Reform Commission more as two antagonistic wings of the Democratic Party, negotiating the rules of engagement for that war, rather than unity. But now joining us is a member of the Unity Reform Commission. Also one of the leading members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. She was a surrogate on the campaign for Senator Bernie Sanders, and that’s Senator, former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner. Thanks very much for joining us again Senator Turner.
NINA TURNER: Good morning Paul Jay.
PAUL JAY: Let’s start with the issue of Alabama. What’s your reaction? Do corporate Democrats find encouragement in this?
NINA TURNER: I think they do and maybe they should. I’m certainly glad that Mr. Jones won. As you described so ably, Moore was absolutely the wrong person, whether he was Republican or not, to lead that state for all of his beliefs, from homosexuality to Muslims to even making a statement that life was good during slavery time. Black families were strong. He should not have been able to run for dog catcher. That being said, he did lose last night. It was very close. We always knew the race was going to be close, whether it was him wining or Mr. Jones, but Mr. Jones did win.
However, I do caution the Democrats here because there is lots of work to be done, because Alabama like many red states have been left behind by the Democratic Party and if there’s any lesson to be learned here, it is: do not leave any state or any Democrat or progressive or Democratic-leaning folks behind in any state, just because we don’t believe we can win that state electorally.
I believe that Charles Barkley framed it best, especially when it comes to the African-American community which I have been saying this for years. That the Democratic Party needs to stop taking the African-American vote for granted. I mean, Paul Jay they had to knock and drag the African-American community out. This whole race hinged upon them and as we saw, the stats that have come out so far this morning is that 97% of African-American women voted for Mr. Jones and 92% of African-American men voted for Mr. Jones, while the other side, about 65% of white women voted for Mr. Moore and a little higher percentage still somewhere in the 60s of white men voted for Mr. Moore. This race undoubtedly was won because of the African-American community’s loyalty to the Democratic Party and also as you said the Senator Shelby from Alabama encouraging people to write in another candidate.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, certainly if there’d been a normal Republican vote and a normal Republican candidate, that Republican candidate in all likelihood would have won. In terms of what you’re saying about this 50-state strategy, not leaving anyone behind, number one, not taking the African-American vote for granted, but also did the Democrats simply give up on whole sections of the white working class? And not just the Democrats. I have to say, people on the left, even in independent media, including us, we don’t do nearly enough. Most of the white voters in Alabama are poor. Alabama has one of the lowest per capita GDPs in country. I think it’s sixth or seventh from the bottom and people of progressive values, how much is actually going on there to try to talk to these Trump voters?
NINA TURNER: No, I totally agree with that Paul Jay. I only bring up African-American community only because out of all of the base voters who would vote for the Democratic Party, they are the loyalest in terms of the percentages that they will vote, but you are absolutely right. It is one of the reasons why I called Reverend William Barber, Dr. Barber, in North Carolina, who has resurrected Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s poor people’s movement. As you know, that movement was about poor people across the spectrum, all ethnicities or as Reverend Jesse Jackson called it in the 80s, the rainbow coalition.
Yes, we are going to have to, we are going to have to, especially the Democratic Party but extra-especially progressives, reach out in a deeper way, continue to forge relationships with poor people across the ethnic spectrum because really this fight is a fight of the working poor and the middle class against the elites of this country, both Republican and Democrat.
PAUL JAY: Doug Jones, as we said, owes a lot of his election victory to the senior senator, Republican Senator Shelby, who asked people to write-in the vote. There was hints in his speech, his victory speech, of bipartisanship, reaching across the aisle, that kind of language. I guess we, one only speculates now whether there was actually some kind of deal with Shelby and what kind of Democrat is Jones. There’s people writing us on Facebook who are saying that Jones is a pretty centrist, maybe somewhat liberal centrist Democrat, and people shouldn’t be so excited about the victory. What do you make of that argument?
NINA TURNER: I mean he might be. That remains to be seen. I’d rather keep an open mind. Because he has not ever been elected to any office that I am aware of. Of course, he was a U.S. Attorney, but I don’t know. But him coming from the South, I mean if you want to use the fact that he just won in Alabama as any hint, there might be some validity to that, but I want to hold out my judgment until we see actually what he does. I think it is also both very telling that in terms of progressives, you know, real progressives, calling on real progressives to help in that election, I didn’t see that happen, but I’m not sure if that is a tell-tale sign of how he will operate as a U.S. Senator.
It is my hope that he will support policies and push for policies that lift the working poor and middle class and these families. Paul Jay, those stats that you laid out in terms of poverty in Alabama itself and especially in rural and urban areas and the need to have a real champion of the people, Medicare-for-All, paid family medical sick leave, making sure that we make the requisite investments in education so that we’re not leaving any child behind and that their success academically is not based on their zip code or how successful their parents are or are not. That is the kind of champion that people in Alabama need, so let’s wait and see though. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.
PAUL JAY: I would say just in terms of my own thinking, I think it’s a victory for the people if you will, that Bannon and Bannon’s candidate lost, and mostly that Bannon lost. Bannon represents a kind of overt racism and fascism and I think the more battered Bannon gets, the better, even if that victory is within the realm of corporate Democrats. At the same time, I don’t think anyone should have any illusions about what one can expect from corporate Democrats. That being said, let’s talk a little bit about the Unity Reform Commission.
NINA TURNER: Well Paul Jay, before you there, and I absolutely agree with that, that as a nation, Alabama showed that they rejected that kind of overt racism, sexism, xenophobia. You’re right. It is a jab, if you will, to the Bannon wing of the Republican Party, but I also want you to look at who rejected that outright, overwhelmingly.
It is the African-American community, the community that has always, from the moment that our ancestors were brought to this country has been on a journey for liberation and not just our own liberation but the liberation of a nation. That is important to point out too.
PAUL JAY: I guess I could add to that that one of the things Moore did … I’m sorry not Moore. One of the things that Doug Jones’ campaign did is they put real effort in getting out the vote in the African-American community. They knew they could only win with the African-American community, including the poor, and often especially corporate Democrats spend more time trying to win over Republican votes than they do African-American votes.
NINA TURNER: Yeah, it was a great strategy. They understood clearly that African-American voters had to perform equal to or higher than what they did for President Barack Obama in 2008. It was in fact the strategy, but let’s see if the knocking and dragging of African-Americans, to come into the African-American community at the last moment, and this is not Mr. Jones’ fault. He was running a campaign, but I’m talking about the Democratic apparatus as a whole, if they will understand from this moment on that they cannot continue to take any group for granted, but especially the African-American community who they come to depend on, whether it’s Alabama or Ohio, there will be campaigns by which the Democrat, the Democratic Party’s calculus is that they have to have X number of African-Americans to over-perform.
My concern here is that the overwhelming burden of Democratic Party success is on the backs of the African-American community, and I have not thus far seen that community, our community, reap any real generational benefits from that, but it is time. The time for taking that vote for granted is over, so I am hoping that it is a wake-up call. I often say there’s never been an African-American woman ever elected to serve as governor in the United States of America. Period. Nada. None. What is going to happen there?
African-American communities continue to be drenched in poverty across this country. What are we going to do, the Democratic Party, locally, on the state level, and nationally to turn this around, to deal with incoming wealth inequality? Not only for the African-American community — and I want to be clear here, I particularly leverage the African-American community because of how much the Democratic Party depends on that community to be extremely loyal. Paul Jay, almost 100% of African-American women and men in Alabama voted for Mr. Jones.
PAUL JAY: Let me say that in many cities across the country, where there is the worst African-American poverty, in power is the Democratic Party. For example, Baltimore and Chicago and other such places.
NINA TURNER: That’s right.
PAUL JAY: That’s part of what the fight within the party is about. So let’s talk a bit now about the Unity Reform Commission. As I said, I think it’s more a commission to establish the rules for essentially what is a civil war going on inside the Democratic Party, between the, as people call the corporate wing and the Sanders wing, or the corporatist wing and the progressive wing. And you’re one of the prominent leaders of the progressive wing. You were on that commission. What did you make of the results? One of the big issues obviously being superdelegates.
NINA TURNER: Yeah, I mean overwhelming the results were good. This is just the first stage of a longer process here. That there were 21 members on the Unity Reform Commission, just so our viewers, just refreshing our memory about this, that this was an agreement between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton, coming out of the 2016 primary, that there was definitely a need for reform in the Democratic Party, especially when it comes to dealing with the presidential election process.
21 of us, eight of the 21, were appointed by Senator Sanders, affectionately known as the Party Eight. One of the things that was written in the resolution beforehand, so we dealt with four major areas. It was caucuses, primaries, superdelegates, and transforming the party, and not necessarily in that order. Now the superdelegate, though, portion of the resolution was already pre-negotiated, meaning that it was written prescriptively in that resolution that at least 60%, that 60% of the superdelegates would be done away with. That leaves about 280 superdelegates who are unpledged, meaning they can vote any way that they want, and those delegates are the honorable party leaders, the elected folks. Think your governor, think your U.S. Senator, think your Congress people. Those are, they make up the 280 superdelegates who are, who still remain unpledged. Other portion of the superdelegates are bound on the first vote, the first round of the voting during the presidential primary process, they are bound to the outcome of their state.
PAUL JAY: You favored no superdelegates at all. It wasn’t just well-known progressives. Even Tim Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential nominee, actually advocated eliminating superdelegates, but most of that commission were members that had been appointed by Tom Perez, who essentially represents the Clinton wing or directly the Clinton wing. There’s still superdelegates. There were other issues as well. For example, the role of paid consultants and the kind of money that gets sloshed around there. What did you think of the results of those kinds of issues?
NINA TURNER: Yeah, and we did deal with that. I do want to say, yes, the overwhelming majority of the people on the Unity Reform Commission were appointed either by Secretary Clinton or Chairman Perez, so again I gave the eight. All you got to do, 13 and eight, the headline is 13 and eight. We came in at a numerical disadvantage. However there was consensus. There was compromise, and I wish that the public at large had gotten a chance to see some of the tension that was going on behind the scenes because we all came in totally on the opposite side and were able for many of these proposals to come to some kind of consensus or compromise. Compromise means that neither side gets all that they want.
One the superdelegate side, I too would have like there to be no superdelegates whatsoever, but again, out of all of the areas that we worked on, that one was very much prescribed. So, in terms of writing in rules or making recommendations that consultants can’t both consult for a presidential campaign and also consult for the DNC, that money cannot be sent within the DNC process, as we know was revealed by a former chair, interim chairwoman Donna Brazille in her new book, “Hats.” That folks who did not have control of the DNC were able to dictate how money was spent. They were in fact spending money without the authorization of any officer to have the fiduciary responsibility for the party. The Unity Reform Commission has recommended that that not ever happen again, and so I’m hoping that that will stick.
Another thing that we recommended was an ombudsman committee that will be elected from the body of the DNC, and that committee would be charged with taking on any complaints or concerns that a presidential candidate had during the primary process. All of those things are really good towards bringing the party closer to transparency, but all of this is contingent, Paul Jay, on making sure that the Rules and Bylaws Committee, they are the next committee in the process that will take up the recommendations from the Unity Reform Commission. They have up to six months to take up these recommendations.
PAUL JAY: And given the recent changes that Tom Perez had made in the DNC, how well represented is the progressive wing on that Rules Committee?
NINA TURNER: Not very well represented. I believe there are 35 members on there. Not well represented at all. Again, we’ll be outnumbered but there are some members that were members of the Unity Reform Commission who are also on the Rules and Bylaws Committee. None of the Bernie-crats are but I am definitely hoping that we got public commitment from folks who served on the Unity Reform Commission with us to take back the true nature and spirit of everybody from the Unity Reform Commission.
As a matter of fact the chairman of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, Mr. Roosevelt, he abstained from lots of the votes, and I got to give him lots of credit for that. He abstained because he knew he was going to have to take these things up as the chair of the Rules and Bylaws Committee. Even though they have six months to take up these issues, he has committed to making sure that they have their first meeting either towards the end of January or the beginning of February.
It will be made public, so I would hope that our viewers will make sure that they go to the Democratic Party’s website and check out when, you know, make themselves, stay abreast of when that public meeting will be and get engaged and involved and make their voices heard because this is not over. This was only the first phase of reform and transformation. The next phase is the Rules and Bylaws Committee and then after that, it goes to the member of the DNC.
PAUL JAY: There was a moment during the commission meetings, there was a resolution, and I’m sorry. I forget the exact resolution but part of the wording, I think it was an amendment you had put forward, and part of the wording had the words “undue influence,” talking about the DNC using undue influence over the campaign, obviously referring to what Wasserman-Schultz of the DNC did during the 2016 primaries, where they clearly did everything they could to throw it to Clinton and create obstacles for the Sanders campaign. You argued at the commission that those words “undue influence” needed to be in because there had been undue influence in 2016, but you lost that vote. What does that tell you about the character of where this is headed or the nature of it?
NINA TURNER: Well they certainly made it clear, they being the 13, that undue was a bridge too far, but yeah if anybody critiques the 2016 election, and what has come out thus far in terms of facts, there was undue influence by the superdelegates, undue influence by Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and others within the Democratic Party apparatus, from the staff on up to the chair. It absolutely was undue influence, and that influence impacted the primary race. It absolutely did, but they didn’t want that and they had the numbers and they voted it down.
PAUL JAY: Okay, we’re going to go take a question from social media, from Facebook. I think this is actually someone you know. Portia Bolger on Facebook writes, “Doug Jones called for renewal for the CHIP program last night during his victory speech. It’s a clear victory for women, in that Jones is pro-choice.” What, put that, the Jones victory into the context of the #metoo and this whole issue of sort of a kind of an awakening in the women’s movement?
NINA TURNER: Yeah, Portia is right about that. This is about the numbers, so we have, we have Mr. Jones, as we know that next year, the Democrats I believe will have 26 seats if we include our two independent senators in the Senate, that they have to protect, and if they can pick up two more seats, plus the Jones seat, then there it is. We can take over the Senate. So this is vitally important.
The fact that the Republicans dissolved the CHIP program, heartless, heartless. Meanwhile they begin to talk about how much they love families and how much they love children, but they took away the CHIP program, so it was refreshing to hear Mr. Jones talk about that program, and absolutely he is pro-choice so that’s a win too. That is part of it.
For women, it is about choice, not just reproductive choice, but definitely having the choice to have a good job, to be able to be paid dollar for dollar for that job. If they have a family that includes children, to know that their children can be healthy and safe, that the education system will educate their children. I would also say that that choice extends beyond reproductive health but we know that the Republicans from state-level government, in my very home state of Ohio, all the way to the federal level, have been trying to take away access and have taken away access.
It is vitally important that we not just only look at the Congress. We have got to, Paul Jay … We lost 1100 seats in eight years, both on the federal and state level. We have got to continue to focus where we have to focus, on the state level as well, because we are losing ground, whether it’s losing voting rights or women’s reproductive health or concentration of poverty, taking away, not investing as much in education or infrastructure. Those things happen on the state level of government too, so it’s a both/and. We have to both fight to have elected officials who will stand up for the people and push policies that will lift the people, both on the federal level and the state level.
PAUL JAY: I know you need to go so I’ll just, a final question. Every time we talk about fighting within the Democratic Party and the Reform Commission type politics and such, we get a slew of emails and comments. Why even bother fighting in the Democratic Party anymore? That the corporate Democrats in the final analysis do control the machine. It won’t be really a democratic process and the character of the party now is a corporate party. Why still work within it? It’s a complicated moment for the progressive movement in the party and outside, with a kind of overt fascism on one side, in a way that it hasn’t appeared for a long time. This is like George Wallace politics on steroids, nationally. On the other hand, corporate Democrats when in power, on many issues, are only, are Republican-light at best and sometimes not even light. How do you balance these things?
NINA TURNER: Paul Jay, we have to fight both, and we can do both. I certainly understand the feelings that I’ve heard from people in person. I have traveled to about 14 states now in two and a half months and have heard people on the ground ask the same questions. At the same time, I’ve talked to and heard from people who do believe that the Democratic Party is still worth fighting for. In the words of one progressive, it’s our party. We’re not going to be kicked out of our party. We can do both.
We do need, as my chairman of our revolution, Larry Cohen said, that half of this battle, is an inside fight, and so we do need some people who are committed to fight the inside fight. It is hard because you are fighting against family. We also though need those voices who are out there fighting on the outside. Both voices are equally important to pushing and pressing for the change. I don’t want people to give up, and don’t lose hope. Yes we are fighting fascism on the outside, especially against the Republican Party and we are fighting in many ways, apathy and arrogance and a lack of authenticity within the Democratic Party in many cases on the other hand, but we can absolutely fight both, demand better from both and so I just, I don’t want people to give up, Paul Jay.
This is a fight. It’s worth it. Booker T. Washington, and I want to end with this, once said that there are two ways of exerting one’s strength. One is by pushing down and the other is by pulling up. We need more people who are willing to use their strength to pull up.
PAUL JAY: All right, thanks very much, Senator Turner, who’s also president of Our Revolution. Before we conclude, let me remind you again, it’s our winter fundraising campaign. Every buck you donate gets matched, at a critical moment for us in terms of fundraising. If you like what The Real News does and I think what we do is quite unique and it doesn’t work without you. You know we don’t accept corporate donations or government funding. We don’t sell advertising. This kind of model’s only possible if you click on the donate button, which is somewhere around this video player. There’s only a couple of weeks left in the campaign. If you haven’t donated, now is the time. If you watch The Real News and you don’t donate, well then don’t expect Real News to keep being here. We need this support and I would love to stop nagging everyone about donating. Even if it’s just to let me stop nagging, please donate now to The Real News Network. Thanks very much for joining us.