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People gathered Saturday in an effort to draft former state Sen. Nina Turner as the Democratic candidate for Ohio governor. (FILE)

Looking to 2018, group of Ohio voters push for former state Sen. Nina Turner as governor

Some Ohioans have already set their sights on the next major election, taking part in a grassroots effort to support former state Sen. Nina Turner in a campaign for Ohio governor.

A "Nina for Governor" meeting in the Athens area is planned for Feb. 25. The meeting will take place at the Athens Friends Meeting House in Chauncey at 11:30 a.m.

“People who really want to have an actual conversation about the direction of the Democratic Party should come to this meeting,” Lawrence Greene, a local business owner and musician involved with the event, said.

Greene said the meeting would include conversation about Turner, the direction of the Democratic Party and what people would like to see going forward. Turner has not yet declared whether she will run for governor. She ran for Ohio secretary of state in 2014. During the 2016 election, she campaigned for Bernie Sanders, often stumping for him at rallies in Ohio.

“I just feel like she understands all the different areas of Ohio and the challenges that all these different areas have, whether it’s the inner city, the rural farm or the struggling little, small post-industrial town,” Greene said.

After the election, people who had organized for Sanders in Ohio started looking for candidates who backed him and offices those people could run for, Greene said. He said he knew about Turner before he knew about Sanders because she previously served as a state senator.

Greene said he reached out to Nina for Ohio, the larger effort, to set up an event in the Athens area. The campaign has held larger events in areas such as Cleveland, Greene added, but has been encouraging people to hold smaller events in their own areas as well.

“I think there are some really capable potential candidates,” John Haseley, chair of the Athens County Democratic Party, said. “She’s a great politician who’s very skilled, but I think it’s important to note that she’s not the only progressive voice, and there are a number of really strong, progressive public servants in the state of Ohio that may end up running for governor.”

Names of other Democrats have come up in speculation over the gubernatorial election, but no one has definitively stated they will run. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan told earlier this month he would announce his decision soon.

“Honestly, I feel like every time I talk to a Democrat about who’s running for governor, a new name just is thrown at me,” Sam Miller, president of the Ohio University College Democrats, said.

Miller said some other interesting names she has heard floating in her conversations with people include Connie Pillich, a former state representative; Joe Schiavoni, Ohio’s Senate minority leader; and Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton. Pillich seems to stand out to a lot of people, Miller added.

“We know that she’s actively fundraising to run for governor, and I know a lot of people are probably going to back her if she announces she’s going to run,” Miller said.

The question of how the Democratic Party should proceed after its 2016 loss across various political offices mirrors the debate that played out during the election. Some Democrats, predominantly those who supported Sanders, thought the party should be more liberal.

Greene, who is 39, said Democrats in his generation tend to lean toward the center, and he would like to see a candidate who can speak to the economic issues of people who continue to struggle, despite working for years to establish their careers.

Miller said the party ultimately needs to promote dialogue between different constituencies, such as people of color and the white working class, and let them know all their issues are valid.

Miller added that the OU College Democrats have both members who lean more moderate and others who might identify as democratic socialists who supported Sanders but ultimately got behind Clinton in November. She said after the election, she noticed the majority of the OU chapter leans more to the left than others in the state, and many of those who supported Sanders like Turner and “applaud a lot of her efforts.”

Haseley said many people have their early favorites right now, but Democrats should look at the candidates as they emerge and evaluate who they think would be the best choice at that time.

“I mean, we lost pretty bad in 2014,” Miller said. “We lost terribly in 2016, and it's clear that we need to unite people again, and whatever that takes, I’ll get behind.”


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