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Nina Turner on Switching from Clinton to Sanders: He’s Been a “Constant Champion” of Civil Rights

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As Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaign ahead of the South Carolina primary, we speak to former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner. She made headlines in November when she switched her support from Clinton to Sanders. Turner is now a national surrogate for the Vermont senator.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, while you support Governor Kasich in this issue of dealing with police-community relations, you’re throwing your support on the Democratic side. You originally said you were going to support Hillary Clinton, but now you’ve switched to Bernie Sanders. Why?

NINA TURNER: Well, Amy, I know people want to focus on the so-called switch. But for me, in 2014, I was asked to help ready for Hillary, and that’s exactly what I did. But when it came time to endorse, I have endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders. He has the type of heart-soul agreement that I believe that we need in this country. He has been a constant champion for civil rights, women’s rights, voting rights. His plan to make sure that we have universal healthcare in this nation, as a right and not a privilege, really speaks to me. We have 29 million of our sisters and brothers in this country who still do not have healthcare, and even more who are underinsured. When he talks about directing our public dollar and our political will, or directing our public will, I should say, towards making sure that we change the model in this country to a pre-K-to-college model, that speaks to me, Amy, especially because I am a first-generation college graduate and I understand, from a personal perspective, the power of higher education to help somebody change the trajectory of their life. I grew up in a single-parent household. My parents got married young, and it didn’t work out. And my mother died at the young age of 42 years old with her dreams deferred. So, from the healthcare perspective, from the college perspective, what Senator Sanders unapologetically is standing up for speaks to me.

And so, yes, I am wholeheartedly supporting him and his efforts for a political revolution in this country. The system is rigged. Money is now speech. I mean, just alone, the Koch brothers, just using them as one example, have committed to spending almost a billion dollars in this election cycle, Amy. It makes no sense that the voices of everyday people, like you, me, your viewers and listeners, are being drowned out by money. Senator Sanders is going head up on that. He talks about how the working poor and the middle class in this country, they deserve voice, and they also deserve to live a good life. So, Senator Sanders is speaking the heart-soul agreement language.

AMY GOODMAN: I was just reading an article by Irin Carmon for NBC News, “Democratic Primary Finds Black Feminists Conflicted,” talking about Sanders and Clinton really going after the vote of African-American women. In Nevada, African Americans overwhelmingly voted for Secretary Clinton. The Latino vote, it’s believed, in the Nevada caucus went to Sanders. And now, of course, moving on to South Carolina. How does it feel to be so sought after? And did both sides court you, Nina Turner?

NINA TURNER: Well, I feel, Amy, that the vote of African-American women have always been important. But what we saw in 2008 and 2012, in particular, is that that vote, African-American women, were the highest voting bloc in the country, 9 million strong. When black women vote, our families vote with us, usually. And so, we have always been important. The fact that the political types are just catching up with that causes me pause, but it is vitally important.

And the thing that Senator Sanders definitely understands, coming from Vermont—as you know, his state is not as demographically diverse, but he has been fighting the battles of civil rights for a very long time. He didn’t just come to this. He talks about the five violences against black and brown people being political, physical, legal, economic and environmental, and the things that he wants to do to change this. When it comes to the African-American community, Senator Sanders fully understands that he has to earn the vote, he does not own the vote. And for a lot of folks in the African-American community, the Clinton brand is a known quantity, so Senator Sanders is going to have to fight harder. But make no mistake about it: He is working throughout this country, all 50 states, to earn the votes, not only of African Americans and our Hispanic brothers and sisters, but all voters in this country.

But you asked me how does it feel. It feels good, but it is a long time coming. The votes of African Americans have always been important. And at times, my own party has forgotten that. And, Amy, as you know about me, I am a straight shooter, no matter what. It doesn’t matter to me whether I’m talking about my party or the Republican Party. It is vitally important that nobody’s vote is taken for granted. And for too long in this country, it has been taken for granted by Democrats.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring another person into this conversation as we talk to former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner: independent journalist Harvey Wasserman, who’s based here in Columbus, Ohio, in Ohio’s capital. You’ve written a piece about Bernie Sanders and, overall, about military spending, Harvey. Can you talk about your concerns?

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, Bernie’s wonderful programs have been attacked, of course, because allegedly they cost too much money. And no one has really, in this campaign—and Bernie may have mentioned it here and there—talked about the fact that we’re not talking about cutting the defense budget, cutting the military budget. There are a trillion dollars earmarked right now to upgrade our nuclear weapons program. Why are we upgrading it? Why don’t we just get rid of these nuclear weapons? There’s a call out there to build 12 new Ohio-class nuclear submarines at 8 billion bucks apiece or more. Why would we even think of doing that? Bernie has wonderful social programs laid out there. The money to pay for them should not come from raising taxes; it should be coming from cutting the military budget. And we have laid that out in the piece. We think Bernie needs to talk about that a little more strongly.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on this, Nina Turner?

NINA TURNER: Well, Amy, unfortunately, my earpiece was out at the time, but I think I caught the tail end of what he’s talking about in terms of taxes. Certainly, Senator Sanders has a plan to—it is a fallacy that folks are putting out there that Senator Sanders is going to raise taxes on the middle class. Every program that the senator has put forward, people can go to BernieSanders.com and see how he plans to pay for those. I will use the college plan, college for all, tuition-free college for all, as an example. The senator wants to put a speculation—or, a tax on Wall Street speculation, again, asking Wall Street to help Main Street, as we did when we bailed them out. You know, folks don’t have a problem with us investing our money to help the wealthiest people in this country—corporate welfare, if you will—but folks seem to have a problem with us investing our money in the working poor and middle class in this country.

Where there is a will, there is a way. And we can get this done. If we can go to the moon, we can find a way to have universal healthcare as a right in this country. If women can get the right to vote, we can find a way in this country to fund, to fully fund, the—similarly that we have a K-through-12 model, to take that model that no longer works in the 21st century, to a pre-K-to-college model. Where there is a will, there is a way. And making those kinds of investments in the American people is the right thing to do. We cannot go from President Obama’s “Yes, we can” to “No, we can’t.” And that is what a lot of folks are talking about, Amy, and I just reject it flat out.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Nina Turner, what Harvey Wasserman was saying is that the money should come from military budgets, and he is finding that Bernie Sanders, in this primary, is not talking very much about cutting military spending, as none of the other candidates are.

NINA TURNER: Oh, well, thank you for that, Amy. As I said, the first part, I—


NINA TURNER: I didn’t hear the first part of what he had to say.


NINA TURNER: And so, all I heard about was the taxes, and a lot of people have been promoting that.



AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Harvey?

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, you know, the problem is that the country is being roiled by terror, threats of terror and things like that, which we always see, that goes all—all through time, governments terrorize people with the idea of a foreign threat. The money that’s spent, being spent on our nuclear weapons arsenal, on our Ohio-class submarines, on 900 military bases around the world in 175 different countries, that makes things worse. And what we really need to do now is face the 800-pound gorilla in the room here and get this money out of the military. And I’m sure that’s Bernie’s inclination. The question is: When will that become part of the dialogue in these primaries and, of course, in the general election? How can you talk about raising taxes to pay for social programs, when all of this money is being thrown down the military toilet?

AMY GOODMAN: Nina Turner, I want to thank you for being with us, joining us from another part of Ohio. Did you want to respond to what Harvey Wasserman said on that issue of why—

NINA TURNER: No, I—no, I’m—yeah, thank you for that, Amy. Yes, my earpiece is back. I certainly understand exactly what Harvey is saying, and that will be for the senator to decide. But I really—his point that’s being made about this fear factor, that people are being amped up, both on the Republican and the Democratic side, if you will, about this foreign threat—any president of the United States of America is going to be fully capable of protecting this country from any threat, both domestic and foreign. But what I find to be the biggest threat is the income inequality that is faced in this country, that we need to do more about. And Senator Sanders is firmly talking about that. So, Harvey, thank you for your point well taken, and I will definitely take that back to Senator Sanders. And, Amy, thank you so much. It was a pleasure to join you this morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much, Nina Turner, former Ohio state senator, speaking to us from Cleveland.

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