Monday, August 01, 2016

Nina Turner to accept slot on Green Party ticket?

Ohio politician has history of going against the grain

(Reports have been circulating nationwide since yesterday that Nina Turner has been offered the Vice President slot on the Green Party ticket. Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein tweeted about 4pm today that no offer has yet been made and that she is "in discussions with several strong candidates".)

It was a typically bold and courageous move when former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner surprised many in the political world and joined up with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in his pursuit of this year’s Democratic presidential nomination. She quickly became one of Sanders’ most prominent, vocal, and ubiquitous surrogates, opening rallies, introducing the candidate, and appearing on talk shows on a regular basis.

It was a bold move because Sanders was a distinct underdog with next to no recognition in the black community. Heck, he wasn’t even a Democrat, and Turner had just gotten through establishing herself as a major rising star in the Ohio Democratic Party. 

A swift and unpredictable rise

Turner’s political rise had been unusually swift and totally unpredictable. The eldest of seven children, her parents split up before she was five. Graduating from high school in 1986, she worked a variety of jobs before returning to school. But before turning 30, she had obtained associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees, along with getting married and starting a family.

Former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner
Turner’s first political position was in Columbus as legislative aide to then state Senator Rhine McLin of Dayton. She returned home to work in the administration of Cleveland mayor Michael White, rising quickly to become Executive Assistant of Legislative Affairs and then Director of Government Affairs for Cleveland public schools, which are under mayoral control. With the mayor’s blessing, in 2001 she ran for city council against the incumbent. She lost, but four years later, she beat his wife, who had succeeded him mid-term.

Turner took office in January 2006 but served substantially less than a full four-year term. When an unexpired term in the Ohio Senate came open in 2008, she leapfrogged several of her political seniors to win the appointment. She later won a full term and remained there until she was term-limited in December 2014.

Turner’s boldest move as a public official came in 2009, when she stood virtually alone among Cleveland-area black elected officials and backed a measure to reform a corrupt and obsolete county government that had been thoroughly dominated by the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. Vilified by the party hierarchy and most of the black political establishment for her apostasy, Turner became a certified political star when the reform measure received overwhelming support countywide, including the black community. She ruffled establishment feathers again in early 2012 with a preliminary challenge to Congresswoman Marcia Fudge before backing off and serving out her state senate term.

The next year, she started running for Ohio Secretary of State, hoping to become the first-ever black Democrat to win a non-judicial statewide election. Although the entire Democratic slate went down in flames in November 2014, her campaign enhanced her stature within the party, and she became the virtual co-leader with incoming party chair David Pepper until she resigned to join the Sanders campaign.

Diverging from the Clintons

It is unclear what commitments Turner made to the Hillary Clinton camp, if any — Turner says none — but the Hillary forces, including the eventual nominee herself, saw Turner’s move as a betrayal, in no small part because Bill Clinton had helped raise funds for Turner’s statewide bid. While Clinton forces all but accused Turner of being an ungrateful runaway, Turner said she chose Sanders because his position on the issues resonated more with what she saw as the black community’s needs.

Clinton of course went on to defeat Sanders for the nomination after a surprisingly long and difficult struggle, in part because she kept a near lock on African American support.

Turner was a fierce and effective campaign Sanders advocate throughout the campaign, so no doubt the Clinton forces enjoyed the opportunity to thwart Sanders’ two attempts to reward Turner’s work. Although wild rumors had Turner being stripped of her credentials and evicted from the convention, the actual payback was her being denied the opportunity to introduce Sanders the first night and then to place his name in nomination the second night.

Turner’s choice

No one should doubt the independence of Turner’s political calculus or her willingness to go against the grain. I have heard her deliver many speeches to diverse groups; not once has she failed to reprise her grandmother’s injunction about the importance of having a strong backbone. Turner is clearly not a Hillary fan at this point, nor is she apt to feel any loyalty to the Party establishment.  Accepting the reported offer to run with Jill Stein on the Green Party ticket would likely raise Turner’s national profile, and probably that of the Greens as well.

But to what end? The Green Party will not win the Presidency. They more than likely will come in fourth, behind both major parties and the Libertarians.

At age 48 and with undeniable political ambition, Turner is potentially a future mayor of Cleveland; that seat could open up in 2021. If a Clinton victory led to a federal appointment for Marcia Fudge, Turner would be a frontrunner for Fudge’s District 11 Congressional seat.

Yet too many losing races will dim even the boldest star. While Turner has options, she will pay a steep price for siding with the Greens whether or not Clinton wins in November. Nobody would risk incurring the ire of Madame President, and given the alternative to a Clinton victory, it’s hard to think Turner would want to do anything that would contribute to a GOP win this fall.

Successful political careers are based on some alchemy of hard work, relationships, timing, and luck. Bold as she is, it’s hard to see Turner putting all her chips on a Green veep’s race. I expect her to leverage the Green Party offer, decline it with grace, and find a way to remain relevant until a likely open mayoral race in 2021. It won’t be easy after the way the Clinton forces dissed her last week, but Nina surely knows politics ain’t beanbag. Sure, on some level squelching Turner’s biggest national moment was personal, but that’s how the game is played.

Turner usually does the right thing for the community. With all that’s at stake nationally, indeed globally, as well as personally, look for Turner to keep whatever blue chips she still has and not exchange them for a self-destructive green one.
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