February marks Black History Month. With the Beyoncés and Obamas of the world, we forget about the other amazing, intelligent, and courageous black movers and shakers in America. Nina Turner is one of those amazing people. Nina Turner recently ran for Ohio Secretary of State, but unfortunately lost. Prior to running for Ohio Secretary of State, Turner was a State Senator for Ohio’s 25th District. Her term in the State Senate came to a close at the beginning on this year. But this is far from the end for Senator Nina Turner. I was privileged enough to sit down with Senator Turner and discuss some of the central issues in politics today, as well as how young voters play a part in the political game.
Carrington Walsh: I have heard you speak about women’s rights, and voter’s rights, among other topics. Is there a cause you feel most passionate or most strongly about? Do you have one?
Senator Nina Turner: Out of those two it’s hard, but I would have to say the voting. Because voting leads to everything else. My concern about the women’s reproductive health space could be settled if people voted in, folks who understood that it’s important to allow women to be able to have control over their own bodies. I just believe that all roads lead through the ballot box. If you want a better world or a society that cares about the weak among us as well as the great, all of us working together in concert, we can all make this world a better place. You gotta vote because you have to have the type of policy makers that understand that Mrs Jones might be living on a fixed income, but deserves to live a good life just as well as anybody who may be solidly middle class or upper class, and that the voices of the people who don’t have as much wealth should matter just as much as the voices of the Koch Brothers. To me, voting is key to everything.
CW: What do you think is the most important thing young people should know, in terms of politics?
NT: That their voices matter and that you can make a difference no matter what your age is. And, to use history as an example, when you think of great movements in this country like in the Civil Rights debate, since we’re celebrating 50 years since the Voting Rights Act, if we go back 50 years, think about the Freedom Summer and the Freedom Rides. Those were young people. Those were college students. Those were 18, 19, 20-somethings putting their bodies on the line for a cause greater than themselves. You are never too young to make a profound difference. Young people have to come out to vote, as you know, Carrington, I’m sure, and I know you’re not old enough to vote. But young voters only come out during certain elections. If you want to be relevant, if you want policy makers to pay attention to you and your concerns, you have to make sure that you vote every single year. Young people certainly turned out for President Obama. There were several blocks of voters that I believe put the President over the top, and younger voters are certainly among that group.
CW: What is the best piece of advice for aspiring politicians?
NT: Someone who wants to be a politician should first ask themselves why. You know, “Why am I doing this?” Because that sets them up for the type of service. I believe that politics is still an open profession. If you fight for the people, then you’re doing good work. If you only fight for yourself and your self promotion, then it is not good for you to be a politician. I believe politicians are in the elected ministry, that it is our job to will the power of the people in a way that lifts them to help make their lives better. For anybody that is aspiring to be an elected official, they need to know solidly from their core why they are doing this. If they are doing this to make changes, to speak up, to speak out, to use the people’s power in a way that creates opportunities for all, by all means they should run. But if they’re doing this just for themselves, to get publicity, to have a soapbox for themselves, then it’s really not the right profession.
CW: Since you recently ran for Ohio Secretary of State, what has been the most difficult part of campaigning?
NT: Fundraising, Carrington. Oh my God, it takes so much money in the 21st century to run and to win an office. If you don’t come from enormous wealth, it’s harder and harder to run. You have to be so wealthy that you can self fund your campaign, or you need to be connected to high wealth people who will help fund your campaign. And that is not what America is about. The rhetoric of our country, and I know I’m being harsh by using the word rhetoric, says you can dream and be anything you want to be in this world. And while I am an optimist in that I believe that can be true, the pragmatic side of me says, in politics, if you don’t have money to get the message out, then you most likely will not win. So, unfortunately for me, raising money was the hardest part about the campaigning process. And that is becoming harder and harder for people to run and raise the money.
Also being a woman. Being an African American woman in particular is very challenging because Ohio’s Democrats have never elected a female African American candidate to statewide office. There have been many, many great and talented African Americans that have run for statewide office, but we continue to fall short. 2014 was a hard year for all Democrats regardless of your ethnicity, no doubt about that, but we have to do a better job of making sure that people who are elected to office reflect the diversity of our community, our state, and our nation. We need to do extra work to make sure people of color are firmly represented in those spaces because if we don’t get statewide African American office holders, those are the positions that might run for federal office or Senate, or one who would run for Governor, or one who would run for the President of the United States. So if we don’t have African Americans, or Hispanics, or Asians, you name it, if we don’t have a mosaic of people in those statewide offices, then the likelihood for another person of color for the Presidency becomes slim. And this is not an African American problem or a Hispanic problem. This is an American problem. We should care that we have diversity in those spaces. I mean, right now there are only two African American women elected statewide in the entire United States of America. It is totally unacceptable in the 21st century to say there are only two African American women in statewide office. We have to do a better job of supporting and encouraging people of color, women of color, particularly African American women, to run for those offices and to win. It is very challenging as an African American woman to push through sexism and racism and try to go for higher office.
CW: What has been the most gratifying part of campaigning?
NT: My biggest joy was to meet the people. That’s where I got my energy. When I was feeling weary about the race, everyday people reminded me that I was doing a great work for them. Whether I was in a rural county, or my home county, whether I was talking to black or white, Hispanic or Asian, it didn’t matter. To have people say to me that it matters that you’re running, thank you for fighting for us, thank you for standing up for us. That meant so much to me. That gave me the fuel on days when I was weary. Those are the folks that were the wind beneath my wings. They gave me the strength to keep on running.
CW: What has been the most difficult part of your career so far?
NT: Being in the minority as a Democrat in Ohio, it is really hard to have your ideas take shape in the form of legislation that would pass. That was hard, for me, serving for over six years and to have great ideas and not have those ideas actually turn into legislation and into policy that made a difference in the lives of people.
CW: What do you view as your biggest accomplishment so far?
NT: My biggest accomplish has occurred when I can touch everyday people. I have mentored with younG people for four years. I started off my journey with them when they were in 9th grade and I followed them for four years until they graduated. I went to visit them once a month for at least an hour a month, and I would always bring a friend. I would bring a CEO of a company, the Mayor from the city of Cleveland or an investment banker. Nobody is going to say “Oh Nina Turner is a mentor,” but for me, that was a great accomplishment.
What are your thoughts on Senator Turner’s words? Is it time for more diversity in our government?