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Nina Turner: Democrats Must Decide If They Are “Party of the Corporatists or Party of the People”

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We look at the Democratic Party’s opposition to progressive challengers such as Nina Turner, former Ohio state senator who earlier this month lost her congressional primary challenge after facing massive spending and attacks by super PACs. Turner says the corporate wing of the Democratic Party seeks to consolidate the existing leadership’s power while shutting down champions of progressive policies like Medicare for All. “The Democratic Party as a whole has to make a decision: Is it the party of the corporatists, or is it the party of the people?” says Turner.

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

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to bring into this conversation Nina Turner, the progressive former Ohio state senator who earlier this month lost her race for Ohio’s 11th Congressional seat after facing massive spending and attacks by super PACs. She co-chaired Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

Nina, welcome back to Democracy Now! Your take on the primaries yesterday, and particularly the role of big money and how you saw it playing out? And then we’d like you to talk about what you saw happening in your own race.

NINA TURNER: Sure. I certainly agree with my colleague David Sirota that there are some wins from yesterday for progressives. But here is the caution here: that we know that these super PACs, along with the corporatist Dems and, as David laid out, the oligarchs — because that’s exactly what they are — when you have cryptocurrency billionaires, oil baronesses, other corporate interests infusing or injecting themselves into these local races, it is a problem, because what they do is they drown out the voices and the will. We don’t truly know what the will of the people would be if these super PACs would not jump in in the way that they do. And they seem to — not seem — they particularly target women of color and, going even deeper than that, Black women.

So, let’s take state Representative Summer Lee. She had a 25-point lead before they came in there. That is very reminiscent of the lead that I had last year. When these forces jumped in there, they closed in, and it was a squeaker. And it still is a squeaker to this moment, although the representative is claiming victory, a victory that was hard fought, but it should not have ever been that close. And thank god you had some Democratic leaders in her state, in her cities, that stood up to both AIPAC and DMFI and called it out and called it what it was. And so, I am so proud of her and the work that her team has done.

In other races, you know, whether or not a progressive won or lost is no reflection these days on how hard their respective teams were working. I should know. It is very much a reflection on this dark money, super PAC money that comes in to sway the will of the voters. And one more point on this, Amy: And those forces do not care about the quality of life, or lack thereof, of the people who actually live, work and play in these communities. All they care about is buying elections. And this caution is vitally important for all of those of us who do believe in democracy, regardless of what candidate you support. This is about making sure that the voices of the people who actually live in these communities are not drowned out. And that is happening all over this country. It’s coming to a district near you.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nina Turner, could you talk about the role of AIPAC and the Democratic Majority for Israel in your race and why they felt it was so important to defeat you?

NINA TURNER: Well, twice. I mean, they spent over — combined, between special election last year and the election this year, upwards of $6 million combined. Last year, in the special election, $12 million was spent — that’s between both campaigns and the super PACs who came in — very expensive race, for a seat that is a Democratic seat.

You know, certainly, I was told by some of my allies, and some allies that I have who do do the dance with the corporatist side from time to time, but they support me, asked the question, you know: Why are these people coming at you like this? And I’m just talking about the alliance between corporatist Democrats and these super PACs. And this person was told that I was not the right kind of Democrat. In that, they meant that I don’t bend, that I come from the Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm school of Democrats, and that is unbought and unbossed.

These people are pouring in this kind of money because they want to be able to control the outcomes that happen on the congressional level. This is it, plain and simple. You don’t invest that kind of money without expecting a return. There is nothing so spectacular about the people who they endorsed and who they supported, whether it was my race in particular, especially so, or any other races across the country. They are investing in corporatist-type Democrats because they want a return on their investment.

Let’s look at the Iran deal. Many of us remember that that was one of the biggest foreign policy accomplishments of President Obama’s presidency. You got President Biden pushing for that. And you have the person who benefited from DMFI PAC money and AIPAC money standing against, with other Democrats — I think it was about 18 in total — against that deal, one great example of them getting a return on their investment right away.

But what happens in a district like mine? Ohio is the poorest city in the country right now. The poorest. One in every two children go to bed hungry at night. You have suffering in Cleveland and the greater Cleveland area. But those PACs that come in here, they don’t care about that. You think that cryptocurrency billionaire care whether or not the babies in Cleveland or greater Cleveland get a chance to eat, or whether their parents are making a living wage? No, they don’t care about that. All they wanted to do was to buy the election. So they rented it last year. They flat-out bought it this year. And so, elections are being decided in boardrooms instead of ballot boxes.

AMY GOODMAN: But, Nina Turner, what does that say about the well-known progressives in Congress? I mean, you have last year, when you ran in the special election, the Congressional Progressive Caucus supported you. But this year they endorsed your opponent, who had become, of course, the incumbent, Congressmember Shontel Brown. Why do you think this is? And then you have the many CPC progressive members — Pramila Jayapal, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman — who didn’t endorse any candidate this year, though they did you last year.

NINA TURNER: Yeah, well, Amy, I don’t — can’t answer for the individuals. I mean, they have to make a decision for themselves as to why. People get a right to endorse or not endorse, and I get that. As a political person, I truly get that. What I will say about the Congressional Progressive Caucus as a whole is that they were wrong. And I’m really excited to see progressive leaders across the country — and I’m talking about leaders who lead caucuses, from California to Nevada to New Mexico to Iowa, people — those progressive leaders — it was about 11 of them in total, all across the country. Once the CPC did what they did, they came out and made it very clear who the real freedom-fighting progressive in my race was. And I applaud them, and I hope that they stay together and continue to do those things.

The progressive leadership, elected leadership, has a decision to make: Either they are going to side with corporatist Democrats and not do anything that is immensely different from them, or they are going to be the difference. Either they’re going to complement the movement, or they are not.

I will say that Congresswoman Jayapal, in an article — I think it was in Punch Bowl — did say, after being pressed — because the movement pressed the CPC; they didn’t do this on their own — saying that they may have to rethink, or they should rethink, how they do endorsements, not to endorse people right away, and to also look at what type of entities are supporting these candidates, to determine whether or not they are truly progressive. The person in my race joined that caucus because she knew full well that I was going to run again. It was all for cover.

But people are suffering in this country, all over this country, not just in my district. And we need the progressives inside that Congress to be the ones who stand up and call it what it is. That was not done in my race this time around. I do want to thank Senator Bernie Sanders. He was with me the first time, with me the second time. And Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez came in, as well. So, I do appreciate that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And briefly, your thoughts, in terms heading into the November elections, what the prospects look for progressive candidates and a progressive agenda to move forward?

NINA TURNER: Yeah, the agenda is strong. We know that the overwhelming of the American people, if you don’t put the label on it, they agree with that agenda. Look, gas in Ohio is $4.55. It is continuing to go up. It’s going up all over the country. The minimum wage here is $8.80, a little higher than the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25. Juan, look at what people have to do just to survive. They are barely surviving. So, the agenda that is being put forward by those on my side of this movement — Medicare for All, living wages, making sure people can unionize, protecting voting rights — the overwhelming majority of people believe in it.

What is missing is intestinal fortitude on the side of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party as a whole have to make a decision: Is this the party of the corporatists, or is it going to be the party of the people? So far, it is failing and proven that it is the party of the corporatists. For example, the child tax credit expired [inaudible], that cut childhood poverty in half, which was a beautiful thing, a tremendous policy push by the Biden administration. Gone. So now those same children that were pulled out are now back in, at a critical moment where you’ve got the pandemic still waging — can’t be done with the pandemic, the pandemic is not done with us — and then you have inflation that is eating every little dollar that the poor and the working poor and the barely middle class have.

So I want to say to the progressive movement: Let’s stay. We’re going to keep on pushing for the policies that change material conditions. And the Democratic Party has a decision to make. And one more point on that: They will do — the corporatist wing —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

NINA TURNER: The corporatist wing of the Democratic Party will do anything to try to defeat progressive candidates. We cannot stand for that. We must continue to fight. And we will.

AMY GOODMAN: Nina Turner, progressive former Ohio state senator, co-chaired Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, and David Sirota, journalist and founder of The Lever, former adviser for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

When we come back, a rare interview from the frontlines of the battle of Donbas in Ukraine. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Stefania” by the Ukrainian folk-rap group Kalush Orchestra. The group won the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest over the weekend in Italy. They then went back to Ukraine and were honored by President Zelensky.

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