Ohio is the quintessential swing state, its political hue such a deep purple you can almost hear a Smoke on the Water riff.
But for the second mid-term election in a row, a majority of the low numbers of voters who showed up have put the reigns of power into the hands of Republicans in all five statewide administrative office as well as both chambers of the General Assembly
The Ohio Democratic Party faced some tough losses in 2014 but can now take stock and re-emerge with renewed energy and a refined focus. In a series of interviews, Plunderbund is asking party leaders where Ohio Democrats go from here.
State Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, was not able to unseat Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted this past November, and with her term in office expiring, she said last week she’s not sure what’s next for her, but she does have some ideas about what the party can do to show the people of Ohio who’s looking out for them at the every day level.
“Everybody who ran, we ran against incumbents and we knew that was going to be tough,” she said. “And what happened to Democrats around the country, that was not pleasant.”
With low voter turnout, Turner said she wants citizens to know their voices do matter and agreed that the party now has an opportunity to reach out to voters in new ways.
“As the Democratic Party, we can talk a lot about issues, but maybe the connection is about how do you help people solve their problems and link that to the power of elected representation,” she said. “There is promise in this problem.”
The Democratic Party has to connect the dots, showing clearly to people how the policies of their elected representatives impact lives, from education and health care to transportation and anti-poverty efforts.
“Local government should have the money they need to plow the snow, pick up your garbage or make sure safety forces are funded,” she said. “That’s done by making sure you elect people who understand that economic relationship between state-level government and local-level government. We have to drill down and have a solid message, stand by our message and have a righteous indignation for those things we believe in.”
Turner said that Democrats fight for a better quality of life for all people, no matter where they come from, where they live or how much money they have. “Everybody is entitled to live their measure of the American dream,” she said.
Engaging young voters is one way Ohio Democrats can look to bring energy and participation to the democratic process, Turner said, pointing to a possible college tour to re-engage young people and build on it year-by-year.
“We need to have listening tours, college tours, engaging young people and doing it on a regular basis,” she said, also advocating pre-registration of 16-year-old and 17-year-olds to get them involved early. “We need to let them know we want their voices to be heard and give them a real seat at the table here in Ohio. We can do that, and we need to do that, like, yesterday.”
Turner said that moving forward the Democratic Party has to let people vent about what could’ve been done differently this past election cycle, and then move to make changes for next year.
“We have to listen to all of our stakeholders, and Democrats do have a big coalition tent,” she said. “From the LBGT community to African-Americans to women to even our wealthy donors and labor, we need all of those stakeholders to know their voices are not only heard but that we will execute some of the recommendations they have laid out on the table. And we need to engage these constituencies every single day.”
On the topic of the next Ohio Democratic Party chair, Turner said the “what” may be more important than the who.
“What do we want to see in that chair? What do we want to accomplish? What are our short-term and our long-term goals?” she asked. “How do we plan to get there? It might be one person with the title of chair but that person is going to need a team of people around them to be able to take this party to the next level. It’s important we don’t lay everything at one person’s feet.”
She pointed to the importance of having a coalition working to raise money, saying that the party raised $40 million in 2010 with Ted Strickland at the top of the ticket, but struggled to raise even $10 million this past cycle.
“That is a big cut in funds to try to get the message out and support statewide candidates,” she said. “We really have to reflect on what happened and chart a path forward and put people in the positions who have the skill sets collectively to take our party to the next level. We can do it. We know how to do it. It’s how we won in 2006.”
She said the statewide party needs to build strong relationships with the individual county party chairs and the activists that support them so there is a strong Democratic Party apparatus in all 88 counties.
Asked if this was akin to Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy when he was chair of the Democratic National Committee, Turner said that’s exactly the point but it takes work and won’t happen over night.
“We have to be able to tell the truth to people that we didn’t get in this hole over night and it’s going to take a lot longer to dig out, but if you believe, if everybody is willing to work for the same cause (we can do it),” she said. “We have the moral high ground, but we need to regain it in our speech and how we communicate with people. That starts with re-energizing our base and the faithful within the party and stretch that out to others in the community and let them know that we have the candidates and we have the plan to help you and make your life better.”
Turner said she plans to play a strong role and be purpose-driven in what she does to help the party moving forward, while acknowledging she doesn’t know exactly what the future holds for her.
“I do want to help rebuild our party,” she said. “It takes teamwork to make the dream work. It doesn’t matter how great one executive is, they can never do all the things that need to be done to create pathways of opportunity for all people all by themselves. We have to build that team.”
David DeWitt is a journalist and universal minister based out of Athens, Ohio. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He can be found on Twitter @TheRevDeWitt.