Nina Turner on Why Ossoff Lost in Georgia Special Election
Nina Turner and Paul Jay discuss the major funding by the Democratic Party in a race held in a Republican district with a median income of $84000
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
On Tuesday, former Georgia Secretary of State, Karen Handel, clinched the Congressional seat for Georgia’s 6th district. She won by just 3.8 percent of the vote against Democrat John Ossoff, a 30 year-old documentary filmmaker.
In his campaign, Ossoff said, and I quote from his campaign literature, he will “stand up in Congress for dynamic, forward-looking, fiscally responsible economic policy that maximizes opportunity for entrepreneurs, workers and investors.” He said he would “level the playing field for small businesses.” He would “work in Congress to reduce the tax burden on small businesses and simplify small business tax filing.” He’d “work to ensure that health insurance premiums don’t cripple businesses or force them to lay off employees.” He also said he supported the federal increase in the minimum wage, that he defends civil liberties, Medicare, Medicaid, reproductive rights, and the Paris Climate Agreement.
Here’s what Don Lemon had to say about a speech Ossoff gave to his supporters last year.
DON LEMON: Again I thought, were we listening to John Ossoff or Barack Obama? I’m not the only one who thought that as well.
PAUL JAY: Well, now joining us to discuss what happened in Georgia is Senator Nina Turner. She’s a former state senator from Ohio, was a prominent surrogate for Bernie Sanders. She’s also the host of the new show on The Real News program called “The Nina Turner Show.” Thanks for joining us, Senator.
NINA TURNER: Thanks for having me, Paul Jay.
PAUL JAY: So, something like 23 million bucks was spent on the Ossoff campaign in a district where the median income is about $84,000. It’s been a Republican stronghold for decades since Newt Gingrich held office. True, Hillary Clinton did much better there, and Trump’s … during the presidential election than Democrats usually do, Trump’s ratings there, about 35 percent of people say they actually approve of the Trump presidency.
But still, in a district that sees lower taxes as the number one priority for them, and traditionally are wedded to Republican quote-unquote “values,” why pick this state to spend so much money? Like I said, 23 million bucks spent on Ossoff’s candidacy.
NINA TURNER: Only God knows. That really is a good question when the Democrats had a very real opportunity to invest some of that money into the race in Montana, for example. It just really makes no sense. And as you stated, I think Republicans have been winning that particular district, Georgia’s 6th district, since 1979. Romney won that district by about 23 points. So even though Mr. Trump … Governor Romney, let me just say that … even though Mr. Trump did much worse, that district is very much a Republican stronghold.
I think also the message was that people are not looking for folks to run “Republican lite.” Either you are going to run on the values of the Democratic party, be authentic about those principles and those values, or you’re not. But people don’t want a substitute for the real thing, and that is what Mr. Ossoff was doing. He was being a substitute for what a real Republican is, and that district is a very strong Republican stronghold, no doubt about it.
PAUL JAY: If the “corporate Democrats,” as we call them or as many people call them, were set out to prove here that a Clinton type of candidacy, essentially very centrist … I read these things out at the beginning to show how much of his language was supposed to be pro-business and show that he’s not a tax-and-spend Democrat, as the Republicans like to call them.
And also very much appealing to this idea of lower taxes and less government spending, which according to the polling in the district, the vast majority of people – I think it was two out of three – said that’s what they were voting for, not Trump. And you have to assume they’re Trump voters also, so almost the entire vote of the Republicans was about lower taxes, less government spending, which one should say means less money on social programs for working people and poor people.
So if they’re out to prove that they can win those kinds of voters over to the Democratic Party because of what a mess Trump is, they actually proved the opposite. Where the heck does that leave them now?
NINA TURNER: That’s right, Paul Jay. It’s a epic fail. It is just a failure to really read the tea leaves and to understand the environment. That whole makeup of that district, and as you and I were talking about, the education levels of the district. You just really named what was most important to the people who live in that district, which those issues … they have a right in that district to say that those issues matter to them most. I mean, it’s a very educated district. I think you said the average income was, what, $88,000 …
PAUL JAY: Something like $84,000.
NINA TURNER: … a year? So again, if you want to run as a Republican, run as a Republican. But the Democrats actually proved nothing last night. That district voted their interests, and that is why Secretary Handel won.
PAUL JAY: And apparently, one of the things that Ossoff did is, while he critiqued Trump, he didn’t make a big issue out of critiquing Trump because apparently he didn’t want to offend Republicans who had voted for Trump. So it winds up being just a mushy middle campaign with no real focus whatsoever.
NINA TURNER: Exactly. And I think Einstein defined insanity when he said if you’re doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result at the end. The Democrats really need to do an autopsy, Paul Jay. I really do believe that. And I don’t know what it’s going to take. I was quoted in the New York Times saying that the Democratic Party hashtag-not-woke-yet (#notwokeyet), and that is still my hashtag on Wednesday after that election.
And then the Republicans have won six of the last of special elections, even … even with someone like Mr. Trump in the White House who has, what, a 35 percent approval rating at this point, in the country? That we concede even some of the erosion from his own base at this point in June of 2017? And Republicans still won six of the last special elections. Hashtag-not-woke-yet Democrats. And I don’t know what it’s going to take.
PAUL JAY: Maybe the thing for corporate Democrats and the leadership of the Democratic party is that they are so connected to Wall Street, to sections of the military arms establishment, to Silicon Valley billionaires. They’re so reliant and connected that maybe they actually would rather lose than have a Sanders-type candidate win.
NINA TURNER: Well, Senator Sanders I think said it best, and I’m paraphrasing him, but he said many of them would rather have a first-class seat on the Titanic as long as it’s a first-class seat, than to really take on the progressive agenda. And it is, Paul Jay. It is an agenda that most Americans believe in.
Now maybe not necessarily for Georgia’s 6th, which that district, the demographics of that district, they voted their interests, but most Americans believe that we should have Medicare for all. Most Americans believe that we should have paid family and medical leave. Most Americans believe that the burden that people who go to college, particularly the Millennial generation right now, which that debt is in the trillions, over a trillion dollars worth of debt that they’re saddled with when they walk across the stage of colleges and universities across this country with their degree in one hand and debt in the other, that impacts middle class families.
It’s not just even that student, but it is the families that are struggling to send their son or their daughter, or in some cases with extended families, their grandchildren to college so that they can have a better life. Or technical schools. Those families are being crippled by that kind of debt.
And so to not hear the cries and the burdens of the American people … Maybe we don’t call it progressive, because for some portion of the electorate that is a bad word. But if you talk to them about the issues, I know most Americans either have a family member that has been afflicted by cancer for example, or who have a pre-existing condition, or they know somebody that has been afflicted. So Medicare for all is something that polls very well.
Why? Because this is not a Republican or a Democrat, or a black or white, or Hispanic, Native American, or Asian issue. This is an issue for humanity. And to me, that is the value proposition that Democrats should be fighting for. And so, if we’re going to fight for it, let’s fight for it. But don’t be half measured about it.
And people like authenticity, which is I think another reason why Democrats lost in that district. They weren’t fooling anybody.
PAUL JAY: Well, it goes right back to what the 2016 campaign was, to Hillary Clinton’s main strategy, was not inspire poor and working people to get out to the polls; it was cleave off a section of a Republican vote, which in the end, didn’t happen. Quite the contrary, the opposite happened. She didn’t get … cleaved off the Republican vote, and Trump actually cleaved off some of the poor and working class vote.
NINA TURNER: He did, especially in states like my state. Again, he won 70 percent of the vote in 30 counties in the state of Ohio. And a lot of that had to do with the trade deal, and a lot of it had to do with the populist message that he was pushing. He basically told people, “You’ve gotten a rotten deal and I’m going to drain the swamp.”
Now even though he hasn’t done any of that, and to this point he has proven himself unworthy to be in the White House, but he is there because he ran hard against the establishment, and Democrats just did not hear that message, they didn’t get that message. They basically told voters that Trump, that Mr. Trump was going to be “worse than.” That was the kind of campaign they ran on. It wasn’t that aspirational “I’m running because I want to serve you and these are the things that I want to do to make sure that your life and the lives of your children and your children’s children are better. And, you know … it’s FDR.
I’m telling you, Paul, we really do need a New Deal remix in this country, and we’ve got to add in something about the environment to that New Deal. But FDR had it right when he talked about people in this country, what they deserve in the economic sphere. That they deserve decent housing, they deserve health care, they deserve to live a decent life, which I would substitute that for “good,” because it really to me is shameful that in this country that certain sectors of the population blame poor people for being poor, or at least they believe that people want to be poor. And that is has been criminalized to be poor. That we don’t think that people who are within the working poor deserve to have a high quality of life. Not just make good wages, but to be able to spend quality time with their family, to be able to take a vacation every now and then. It is not just about a job. It is about touching all sectors of the lives of the people who live in this country. And if the Democratic Party is not going to do it, Paul Jay, who is going to do it?
PAUL JAY: Well, it’s either going to be some major fight where there is a takeover of the Democratic Party. And I don’t know if that’s really possible, but that fight either takes over or gives rise to something new. Because as I was saying earlier, I think that the corporate Democrats who lead and control the party apparatus in most situations, they don’t want to go there because it’s not in their own economic interests to do it.
And in this particular, in the Georgia 6th, in this election, we were looking at his election, Ossoff’s election program. And while support for the Paris Accord is there, it’s one of many things and the Paris Accord, as anyone follows this issue, is not nearly enough to deal with the real threat of the climate crisis.
But there was a Washington Post editorial I keep referring to early in the election campaign, that said that the real wedge issue that Clinton could have used against, or could use at the time, against Trump was climate change. Educated Republicans know that climate deniers either are lying or sticking their head in the sand. But I don’t see that even when they’re running a corporate Democrat.
In this situation if they really want a wedge issue, why didn’t Ossoff make climate change and climate denial a major issue? I don’t see that; I see all this language about helping small business and an equal playing field. You know, typical, actual Republican talking points.
NINA TURNER: It’s the standard talk of which Republicans have really done nothing to help small businesses. And listen, we’ve got to give a shout out to small business owners. We know that the majority of small businesses employ people, they employ people in their communities. They supply most of the jobs. So that part of his talking point was not bad.
However, that is the only thing that he talked about. What he didn’t talk about, the issues that really matter to the working poor and middle class in this country, and maybe it’s because of the type of district that he was running in.
But again, you have to be authentic to who you are. So if you believe those things, then maybe he should’ve ran as a Republican.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, otherwise I say, if you’re going to try to change the dynamic of that kind of district, focus on the climate change issue because educated people who vote Republican, I think the polling shows most of them accept climate crisis as real, it’s caused by humans, and so on.
NINA TURNER: They do, and that would have been, to your point, a perfect district to bring that up because they are so educated and, one would assume, very informed. And you’re right. People who understand that this science is real, that Mother Earth … we don’t get a do-over when it comes to Mother Earth. We have to get this right, and we have to get it right, right now.
And another thing about this race that I want our viewers to even think about, when you talked about the $23, 24 million dollars – we know it was about $55 million dollars between both candidates – that that race is definitely a poster child for the need for campaign finance reform. It is a poster child for doing something about Citizens United. That is an unseemly amount of money to spend on one race.
And guess what? Whoever the winner was, whether it was him or her, but they’ve got to do this all over again in a few months, next year.
PAUL JAY: That’s crazy.
NINA TURNER: It just doesn’t make any sense.
PAUL JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Senator.
NINA TURNER: Thank you, Paul Jay.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.