|Rev. E. T. Caviness [Photo by Jeff Ivey]|
Friday, November 30, 2012
Black Ministers Start Groundswell:
Turner as Secretary of State in 2014
A small but influential group of black ministers, labor officials and community activists met at a Glenville area church Tuesday night to promote the candidacy of State Senator Nina Turner as Ohio’s next Secretary of State, hoping to spark a fuse that will catapult a black candidate to the upper levels of state government.
If their efforts prove ultimately successful, Turner would be the first African American Democrat of either gender to be elected to statewide office in Ohio.
The dismal history of African American Democrats as candidates for statewide office — not one has ever achieved a statewide win in 12 attempts by ten different candidates dating to 1972 — was detailed at the beginning of this week in a front page story from Sunday’s Plain Dealer.
The article was clearly the immediate catalyst for the meeting. Transparencies of the article were projected on a wall and read aloud, with meeting convener, the Rev. Dr. E. T. Caviness regularly interjecting emphatic commentary to underscore his disgust with what he portrayed as an unacceptable lack of commitment by Ohio’s Democrats to support its black candidates in state contests.
Following this discussion of the article, a critical excerpt was read on-screen and discussed from Carl Stokes’ seminal book, Promises of Power. The selection described the origins of the Twenty-First Congressional District Caucus, that hallowed moment in the early seventies when black political power reached its short-lived apex in Cuyahoga County. Under then-Mayor Stokes leadership, the unified political strength of the black community drew respect from every politician of any color and either party. The Caucus occasionally would provide crucial support to a white Republican candidate, sending a message to both renegade black candidates and retrograde Democratic Party leaders.
The message of Tuesday’s meeting was clear: it is time for the Ohio Democratic Party to do whatever it takes to elect a black Democrat to statewide office. Caviness acknowledged that the Party had worked to retain incumbent Justice Yvette McGee Brown on the state Supreme Court, investing a reported $750,000 in her campaign. But it wasn’t enough, he thundered, adding that if need be they should spend one million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars to support Turner.
Caviness kicked off the fundraising part of the meeting by saying he had pledged $1000 to the draft Turner effort and that Rev. Larry Harris of Mt. Olive Baptist Church and the president of Black Pastors in Mission would do the same. Before the evening was over almost $15,000 had been pledged, much of it coming from the national transit workers union, whose local representative, William Nix, Local 268 president, was in attendance.
No Permanent Friends or Enemies, only Permanent Interests, so Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows
Addressing the unspoken irony that this gathering of very mainstream black Democrats in the room was working to draft the same black woman whose outspoken policies and independent ways they had spent much of the last three years vilifying, Caviness said that “we had to forgive her” even though she had “stabbed us in the back”. Caviness was referring to the contention of many that Turner had agreed at a meeting of black politicos to oppose the reformation of county government only to emerge a few days later as a featured champion of reform.
Turner offers a different version of those events but the stark reality is that she proved to be right and her political foes wrong on all counts. Black voters all across the community rejected the conservative counsel of their elected representatives and hoary leaders. And hindsight suggests that the voters were right: not only is there a more rational system of county government in place, but the black community appears to have stronger representation and voice in that new government.
This outcome no doubt fueled Turner’s flirtation late last year with the idea of challenging Congresswoman Marcia Fudge in this year’s Democratic primary. Fudge reacted quickly with an impressive show of district-wide support. Once again Turner was vilified in large measure by the establishment black political community. This time, Turner’s political calculus, informed by Fudge’s demonstration and the truncated Ohio primary season belatedly set by the legislature, convinced Turner to channel her political ambition elsewhere.
Turner has done so energetically, maintaining a rigorous and demanding schedule. Somehow she manages to juggle her work as a state legislator along with her duties as a history professor at Cuyahoga Community College, speaking regularly before community groups, and appearing frequently as a guest on MSNBC talk shows.
“Secretary of Suppression”
With Ohio in the national cross-hairs as the quintessential battleground state in the recent presidential campaign, much attention was focused on the coordinated nationwide efforts of Republicans to curtail voting rights by cutting back early voting, seeking to establish unnecessary voter ID requirements, and generally discouraging voting by those whose lives were already burdened with the pressures and complications of just trying to get through the day. In Ohio, those partisan efforts were centered in the office of Secretary of State Jon Husted, who Turner took to lambasting on MSNBC as the “Secretary of Suppression”.
After the meeting, Caviness called and spoke with Turner in Columbus, where she is working in the midst of the General Assembly’s lame-duck session. Reached later by this reporter, Turner seemed at a rare loss for words, saying that she was “humbled” by the show of support. Pressed as to whether she had made a decision on whether to take on Husted in 2014, Turner said that she would decide sometime in January, acknowledging that an early decision was necessary given the requirements of running a statewide race.
Other sources contacted by The Real Deal said they expected Turner to make the race. She is passionate about making a difference through government service, they say, and protecting citizens’ voting rights has once again become a core issue, nearly fifty years after the country’s civil rights revolution.
Turner is also term-limited as a state senator, which is likely to spur her willingness to become the standard bearer for what may turn out to be, in the words of one meeting participant, “an excellent opportunity to elect the first black to statewide office.”