In Primaries, Democratic Progressives Take On Party Elites (1/2)

In Primaries, Democratic Progressives Take On Party Elites

Our Revolution president Nina Turner discusses the first major primary day of the 2018 election season and the ongoing clash between progressives and the Democratic Party establishment

Story Transcript

AARON MATE: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

The first big primary day of 2013 has been held, with votes in Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, and North Carolina. For Democrats it’s the first major test of the very contentious battle for the soul of the party, pitting Bernie Sanders-style progressives on one side versus establishment candidates backed by party leaders.

This is a fight we’re covering very closely here in the Real News, and joining me to discuss is Nina Turner, former Ohio state senator, and president of Our Revolution. Senator, welcome. Let’s start with the governor race on the Democratic side in your state, Ohio, where you campaigned for Dennis Kucinich and his running mate Tara Samples against Richard Cordray, who is the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray was endorsed by party figures, including Elizabeth Warren. Kucinich lost, and now you’re hearing some pundits and Democratic voices saying that this loss by Kucinich, who is a staunch progressive backed by the Bernie Sanders wing, is a sign that progressives and their far-left message is not going to fare well in reaching voters in key states like Ohio. Your thoughts on that?

NINA TURNER: Yes. Thank you, Aaron. And of course they would say that. So we, those of us on the progressive side should not be surprised that they would say that, you know, Congressman Kucinich and his running mate Councilwoman Tara Samples, they ran a really great campaign. They stood in the ready position for those ideas that we hold dear on the progressive side. And you know, the fact of the matter is that the Congressman really did not get into this race till the mid part of January. So he really had four months to run this race with Councilwoman Tara Samples in, in 88 counties, to try to do what he could penetrate and to get his message through.

And as you laid out, all the establishment Dems, no surprise there, you know, did not support him and his vision and his candidacy. This in no way stops the progressive movement at all. No way at all. And so the way that they’re framing this is the wrong way to frame it. The way to look at this is that people across not only Ohio, but across this country, they still continue to cry out for a political class that cares more about the next generation than they do about their next election. That doesn’t change. The fact that Medicare for All is needed, is necessary in this country, that doesn’t change. The fact that we need to end for-profit prisons, that does not change. You know, making sure that we legalize marijuana, that does not change. So the issues by which the Kucinich – Samples campaign elevated across the great state of Ohio, none of that changes, and they were great champions for those, for those issues, and I’m really proud of their campaign.

And it really is a shame, especially if those same folks, Aaron, want to win over the Berniecrats or the progressive, progressive wing of the party. If they really want to win over, today is not the day to say, see, we told you so. Today is the day to say you know what, we won this one, and let’s take some of those ideas that the Kucinich-Samples campaign was pushing for and wrap those into our platform, and see how we can bring people together so that Democrats could actually win in November. That is really what the response should be.

AARON MATE: Well, let’s go to some of the signals that we’re getting from the Democratic Party leadership on this front, in terms of how they’re approaching progressive candidates. There was just recently a piece in the Intercept that published a leaked recording featuring Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House, speaking with a candidate, Levi Tillemann in Colorado, and Hoyer was recorded trying to convince Tillemann to drop out of the race.

LEVI TILLEMANN: You would like me to get out of the race.

So your position is decision was made very early on before voters had a say. That’s fine, because that’s, the DCCC knows better than the voters of the 6th Congressional District. And we should line up behind that candidate.

STENY HOYER: That’s certainly the consequence of our decision.

AARON MATE: That’s certainly the consequence of our decision, says Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House trying to convince a progressive Democrat to drop out in Colorado. Nina Turner, when you heard this recording, your reaction? And how you think it speaks to the the attitude that national Democrats like Hoyer are bringing to races across the country.

NINA TURNER: It really is unfortunate, but at least the citizens of this country get to glimpse behind the curtain. And really that conversation revealed what many of us know all along, is that the establishment wing of both, both parties, both Republicans and Democrats, they do the same thing. They just want to win, and they want to win no matter who they have to shut down to do it.

And this type of approach to politics, while it may, may get you the win, it is not the sustainable way, because the democracy is absolutely stronger. Yes, it may be messier. Yes, it may be harder, the mountain to climb, or just the mountain may be higher. All of those things are true, because when you are in a representative democracy we have to take the bitter with the sweet. So it doesn’t go along with the status quo program. But what that type of mentality does is that it impacts the democracy, small d democracy, because it is a stronger democracy, not only the more people from all walks of life who even dared to run for office, but also from the perspective of the voter.

And it is unfortunate, but this is the way this game is played and the only way it will change is if the voters in this country mount up a consequence for this kind of behavior. It is truly unfortunate that we find ourselves electing the selected. In other words, those of us who are the voters end up most of the time only being able to elect those people who were selected for us to elect, and that is not the way. And leaders should not be, and the Democratic Party should certainly not be trying to strongarm progressives out of the race. This is not the first time. You know, it’s on tape now. But they’ve been doing this all along. But just even look at what the D C CC is doing and has done to Laura Moser. They’re doing the same thing to Amy Velella in Nevada, in Vegas. Doing the same thing to her. Doing the same thing to Greg Edwards in Pennsylvania. So it goes on and on and on. But unless we the voters and the citizens of this country make it clear that we want a different type of politics, they’ll continue to do this, and and get away with it in some cases.

AARON MATE: You know, Sen. Turner, it would be one thing if the party leadership can say, well, look, we’re doing what works. We have a strategy that’s proven, we have a good track record. But if you look at the state of Democrats over the past decade, it’s been, aside from President Obama’s victories, it’s been a string of losses. Can you talk about just the results of the party’s strategy in terms of the candidates that it’s favored over these past many years?

NINA TURNER: Well, you hit the nail on the head. Eleven hundred seats lost all across this country over almost a decade. I was serving in the Ohio legislature at the time. I went to the Ohio Senate in 2008. And I know what it’s like from a professional perspective, you know, serving in the Senate with my colleagues of the, of the heaviness that is there when you have your national party turned its back on state legislatures, for example. That’s where we’ve lost the most ground. And also governor’s mansion. You know, having a supermajority in Ohio, for example, where my Republican colleagues did not need Democrats to take the floor in either the Senate or the House of Representatives in Ohio to do the people’s business, because they had such majorities.

So if the Democratic Party wants to restore itself as the party of the people, not only do we have to have the right value system, push the right ideas, we cannot turn our backs on statehouses and governors’ mansions and other constitutional offices in this country and just look at the Congress and the presidency. All of those things go together.

And I would also say, I want to push back a little bit on something that you said. It’s not even if they have a winning position. Because what the congressman, you know, was caught on tape saying is bad for small d democracy. It’s not just even if you have a winning position, but it is whether or not we are going to be the party that says we want every voice in v olved. And no matter who you are supporting, let us, you know, try to win the race. And let, let that play out with the voters. And so the people who have the most money and the most voice should not be able to decide who even gets to run for office.

And that leads me to the fact that this is why we really do need campaign finance reform in this country. And that is something that those of us on the left, the progressive left, the left, the right, and the middle can agree on, that we should have campaign finance reform and people should not be able to buy seats. And that’s part of the problem here. The more influence you have in terms of people who you know, or the more money that you have, gives you a greater opportunity to get your voice, your message out even more, to the disadvantage of the everyday person in this society who may wake up one day and say, you know what, I want to run for office, too. I want to serve my fellow Americans in the state house. I want to serve them in the Congress. I want to serve them in the White House. This money is drowning out all of that opportunity, and it’s not right.

AARON MATE: All right. We’ll pause there and come back in Part 2. My guest is Nina Turner, former Ohio state senator and president of Our Revolution.