Nina Turner on Bitter Fight in California Democratic Party
Nina Turner says Kimberly Ellis’s loss to a Clinton democrat for chair of the state party by only 62 votes shows strength of the Sanders movement, but makes clear corporate Democrats won’t give progressives an inch for the sake of “unity”
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. Last Saturday, the Democratic party of California held its election for various positions, including its chair. A very bitter fight over who would be chair. Kimberly Ellis lost by only 62 votes. Kimberly was backed by most of the Sanders forces and, you could say, “corporate Democrats,” or at least that’s how they’re described by the Sanders forces. Bauman won by only just, as I said, 62 votes out of 3,000 votes cast. Now Kimberly Ellis has called for an audit of that vote and is quoted as saying, “The race is not over.”
This matters for a whole lot of reasons. The California delegation is the largest delegation at a national convention, and as Nancy Pelosi said, “California Democrats are essentially the ATM for the Democratic party, and not just for California.” People running in the Democratic party from all over the country head to California and try to raise money. And, according to Pelosi, most of them have to make a visit to the chairman of the party’s office.
It’s a very influential position and it became the target, or the focal point, of what is really an ongoing civil war in many ways between the Sanders forces, who describe themselves as “progressive,” they want single-payer healthcare, Medicare for all, $15. But most importantly, they don’t want to raise money from billionaires. They want to raise money from the general public, and that’s a point of great division in the party right now, and it was a point of great division at the California convention.
Now joining us to discuss all this is Senator Nina Turner. Senator Turner is a former senator from Ohio, a state senator. She also was the major surrogate, maybe the primary surrogate, for Bernie Sanders during his primary campaign. She’s also the host of a new show coming soon on The Real News called “The Nina Turner Show.”
Thanks for joining us, Senator Turner.
NINA TURNER: Thank you, Jay. Good to be with you.
PAUL JAY: So, first of all, why is Kimberly Ellis calling for an audit? Why doesn’t she trust the results?
NINA TURNER: Her and her team believe that there are some discrepancies. They believe that some people may have voted twice, so they’re calling for an audit and I think that is reasonable given how close the race was.
PAUL JAY: It seems a reflection of how contested or even bitter this contest became. During the convention itself, there were many times – least, reading the press reports, you can tell me if this is true – where speeches were interrupted. Apparently, Tom Perez was interrupted by chants. There was a real – what’s the word? – “mood” of a real fight going on there in spite of all the language of unity.
NINA TURNER: Absolutely, Paul Jay, and it is a reflection and Democrats need to listen, not just the California Democratic Party but the DNC. Yes, the nurses and non-nurses who care … that’s how I categorized it because the nurses are quite a force in California, and should I say in this country, are really standing up for single-payer healthcare.
There is a “Healthy California Act” that is in the legislature right now, a legislature that I want our viewers to understand that is controlled by Democrats … the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, the Governor in that state. So we have a situation here in the state of California where Democrats can’t blame other folks, they can’t blame other forces, they can’t blame Russia, they can’t blame the Republicans, they can’t blame Director Comey. And I don’t say that to be cute; I say that to say that here is a state where we really can show this nation that Democrats are standing up for what the majority of Americans, whether they label themselves as progressives or Berniecrats or not, that there was a [inaudible 00:03:59] that shows that the majority of Americans across the political spectrum believe that we should have Medicare for all. And so, the point in California is, if you can’t get Democrats who are in full control of the state to pass a bill like this, what does that say about the Democratic party?
So the nurses and non-nurses, humanitarians, marched. They had a rally led by RoseAnn DeMoro and the nurses, and they did march … the had a rally at the statehouse, and then they did march on to the convention. And nurses and other activists did come into the room where Chairman Perez was speaking and they made it very clear that they want support of the Healthy California Act.
PAUL JAY: Now, it got so rowdy at a point that the former chair of the party actually used the word “f-u-c-k” and told them to get out because he was so angry at the disruption. What do you make of that moment?
NINA TURNER: He did, but I will tell you that I was there the entire weekend; I didn’t leave until Sunday. But the chairman is [low 00:05:08], he is retiring, which opened up an opportunity for people to run, which opened up this opportunity for Kimberly Ellis. As I watched people pay tribute to him, I would say that Berniecrat and Clinton Knights and everybody in between in California, they do love him and they know that he uses that word “f-u-c-k” as a noun, a verb … it is a purpose and place and thing for him. It is a noun and it is a verb for him, so people understand that that is his way of operating.
Now, why he would say it at that exact moment to that particular crowd … maybe he was frustrated at the time, but I do want viewers to understand that he is beloved and that is part of his nature. I’m not saying that it was right for him to say that to the group that was there asserting their First Amendment right to say to the Democratic party that you need to pass the Healthy California Act, that California needs to lead the way because it is controlled by Democrats. I don’t agree with him saying that at that particular moment, but I do want to preface that by saying that he is loved in that state.
PAUL JAY: Ellis actually supported Clinton in the primary and in the election, so this division’s not a straightforward Sanders versus Clinton split, at least not on the face of it. What were the issues that divided Ellis from what we know what Sanders people are calling the “corporate democrats?”
NINA TURNER: No, and I’m so glad you bring that up because for me, and everybody knows I fought very hard for Senator Sanders, I acted as primary surrogate out there, and I came in to support her. It wasn’t the first [time 00:06:45] I came into California to support her because this is about the purpose …
PAUL JAY: Let me interrupt for a second. You actually introduced her to the convention, correct?
NINA TURNER: I did. Right before her speech she asked me to introduce her, and the place went wild. They love her, certainly I am loved in California, too. But that example, the point that you’re bringing up, that Kimberly Ellis, I believe, is the best one to build the bridge, to be actually the bridge, between the Berniecrats and everybody else in between, and the Clintonites because she did support Secretary Clinton and I supported Senator Sanders. But guess what I was there doing on Saturday? Asking the delegates there to vote for her and to support her.
So you’re right, in California for that particular moment, let’s just say that Kimberly Ellis was able to bring, by her presence and the symbol of what she was fighting for in terms of being the chair, she was able to bring both forces together, which is a beautiful thing.
PAUL JAY: Why are the Clintonites, as you described them, why are they fighting so tooth and nail? They wouldn’t give an inch over the DNC when Keith Ellison was running against Tom Perez, and you would think given that Ellis is someone who actually endorsed Clinton, and as you describe, is somebody who be kind of a natural to bridge these two camps, they’re still fighting tooth and nail not to let the Sanders forces have anything.
NINA TURNER: Absolutely. I think it is indicative of the raw emotion that is bubbling up within the Democratic Party, and I think you pointed it out that this is not pure unity. And you know, RoseAnn DeMoro, the leader of the nurses, said something in her speech during the convention that I think is worth noting.
What she said was, there is not going to be consensus or unity for the sake of unity; that the Democrats have to show that they really are the party of the people. And that message is not just for California Democrats; that message is for the DNC as well, but it seems like they are not hearing that … the fact that they do continue to fight, and not necessarily the Clintonites who were supporting Kimberly Ellis, because I think they saw a bigger picture here. They saw a young woman who was saying that we have to redefine, and these are her words, what it means to be a Democrat. That shows in her leadership that even though she supported the Secretary, that she understands that all is not right within the Democratic party, that it’s California and that it’s national.
She also talked about the need to tell the truth; to have hard conversations – again, her words – and to tell the truth. [Again, 00:09:27] that was very attractive to the Berniecrat because we know that truth-telling was not revealed at the convention in Philadelphia where the DNC and the people in the Clinton campaign tried to make it appear as though everything was unified.
But what I will give the California Democrats credit for, and maybe it’s because the Berniecrats were such a force, is that there was no illusion there. Folks knew that there was tension in the room. They knew that it was a fight between these so-called establishment Clinton Democrats and people who are more on the progressive side. That wasn’t hid. You didn’t see Chairman Burton, other than that moment with the nurses and the other supporters of the Healthy California Act, but you really didn’t see leadership in that state trying to quell or crush the voices of the opposition. So in that I did see a ray of hope, Paul Jay.
PAUL JAY: The delegates … 3,000 of them voted. In the process of selecting those delegates there was a pitched battle. My understanding, in San Francisco there was one voting booth or one area place where voting was taking place, and busloads of people were being brought in who had almost no idea what they were voting for. They had just been kind of corralled by the local Democratic party and brought in to vote for a Clintonite Democrat. But I have to say, that was in San Francisco … I think, in fact, in the end, the Sanders delegates didn’t win the majority.
But this battle’s taking place, like, practically block to block. It’s not getting a lot of coverage in the media, but it’s as almost as serious or as serious a fight as a reelection campaign.
NINA TURNER: I agree. This is the fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. And you’re absolutely right, games have been played. The establishment folks play games, they still play games. Even though I will say that I think what happened in California was a little more transparent in terms of the rigorous debate, and you could see it, you could feel it, it was palpable as compared to Philadelphia, where they tried to stage and to pretend like it was a love fest going on when in actuality it was not.
I think what happened in California is a real reflection of what would have happened in Philadelphia had forces not tried to … not “tried to,” they actually shut that down so that the camera … so that the nation would see something that was really an illusion. And I do believe all that. Because of that, you’re going to continue to see this bubbling over, this bubbling up if you will, of the progressive wing of the party, no matter what they label themselves, be united in trying to make sure that their voices are heard and the things that they are fight for.
So you’re actually right. Games were played, they continue to be played, but the people have decided they’re not going to stand for it. And we’re going to continue to see people protest and make their voices … speak with a loud voice. And that’s the only way that we are going to get change, not just in California, but also in the nation.
PAUL JAY: Bernie talks about the fight against the oligarchy, and clearly these corporate Democrats that control the Democratic party and are continuing to fight to control – and so far, successfully in most cases – this is a section of the oligarchy. When fighting corporate Democrats is fighting a part of the oligarchy, in the end, this is not a place where there’s going to be real unity. There might be some temporary truce, I suppose, in terms of fighting Trump, but as they head into 2018 and 2020, this is a knockdown fight.
NINA TURNER: I think Frederick Douglass put it this way. He said, “Power concedes nothing” and I’m paraphrasing him, “without a struggle. It never has and it never will.” And so we do see these power dynamics. The establishment Democrats are not going to give up easily because they think that they’re right, just in the same way that the progressive wing of the party believes that they’re right as well.
Who is right, though, really is contingent on not just pure “rightness” in my mind, but a humanitarian spirit that I believe is more in line with what progressives are fighting for, which that foundation was laid or reaffirmed by the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders. It goes back to President FDR, and it goes back to, I think, in also in many ways, to leaders like Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who dared to fight against her own set of establishment Democrats when she was running in 1972, which talked about the fact that her presence signified a new era in American politics.
I very much saw Kimberly Ellis as the heir, if you will, or the personification of what Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm was trying to do in 1972. She didn’t have big names, she didn’t have establishment. As a matter of fact, they were against her. And black establishment was against her, too. But I saw Kimberly Ellis’ candidacy to be the chairwoman of the California Democratic party in that same light, that she symbolizes a new era in California’s political structure … but the folks that did not want to see that happen fought against that tooth and nail.
But the beauty of this, Paul, is even though she lost – and I want our viewers to understand this – sister Fantasia, the singer, said it this way; she said, “Sometimes you’ve got to lose to win again” – the fact that she only lost by 62 votes says a lot. The fact that the establishment-backed candidate, who had every big name, had more money, more influence, more power only won by 62 votes, that the California Democratic Party is really split between the progressive wing and the establishment wing says that progress has been made.
As you pointed out, what happened in San Francisco, what happened all across the state of California … because in order for Kimberly Ellis to even come that close to winning means that the work that needed to be done to get the delegates there, certain types of delegates there, to get people to run in their own community so that they would be able to give voice to the type of vision that they want to see in the Democratic Party and also the state of California, took a lot of work, it took a lot of organizing. Organizations just like … National Nurses, absolutely, under RoseAnn’s leadership, but also our revolution was involved. There were lots of groups that came together to get the grassroots to participate in the process.
It is not enough for progressives to be right on the issues. We have to win races so then we can influence policy. And that is happening in California, and I hope that Kimberly Ellis and all that she has fought for, that she will continue to organize on this because she has a great foundation to continue this fight in California. It’s not over, Paul Jay.
PAUL JAY: Okay. Thanks very much for joining us.
NINA TURNER: Thank you.
PAUL JAY: And please join us on “The Real News.” Coming soon, “The Nina Turner Show;” just keep checking for updates and pretty soon … in a couple of days, there’ll be a Facebook page and on our page there’ll be more information about the show.
Thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.