Region III of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) convened in Columbus this week. The hall was filled with people who've spent more than their share of time out in the elements making sure the community has the lights on, warmth in the winter, cool in the summer and fresh water to drink. A highlight of the event was the address by honored guest and keynote speaker, Ohio Senator, Nina Turner.
Sen. Turner castigated her political peers. "People who are elected these days have become heartless," she said, admonishing officials with examples of their heartlessness, including congresspersons who shut the federal government down costing taxpayers 24 billion dollars but then recessed prior to the holidays without extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans out of work.
Sen. Turner's tone vacillated between righteous anger and slack jawed incredulity as she explained, "Members of congress had the pure unadulterated gall to wish people a 'Merry Christmas'" even as they were, "wielding power that disadvantaged the neediest."
Sen. Turner advised the assembled UWUA membership to turn away from politicians who hate government. The Ohio Senate Minority Whip explained that politicians who want to eliminate protections and federal or state-sponsored programs still want a position of power, "They'll shrink the government down but then they still want to run that little government."
Sen. Turner explained that state and federal austerity disciples need to keep their of jobs so that they can continue preaching the, "Gospel of scarcity for the poor and middle class while they preach the gospel of prosperity for the wealthy."
The senator went on that this is part of a plan. "Selfish people elected to office who refuse to use their power to make public policy to lift people," can't stay elected for long if the people have unfettered access to the ballot box. That's why the officials who turn their backs on their constituents are also trying to limit voter turnout among the poor and disadvantaged.
UWUA Vice President John Duffy agrees. "Voter suppression politicians are the first ones to send our kids to war and the last ones to help them out when they come back," Duffy said citing one instance of why -- if the ballot box were unrestricted and the people turned out to vote in their own best interests -- these politicians would be put out of work.
One politico, Sen. Turner, is actively trying to retire is Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
Ohio has earned a notorious reputation for ballot tampering. In the 2004 presidential election, a recount launched by the Green and Libertarian parties revealed Ohio elections under the stewardship of then Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell were so underhanded that Blackwell -- according to the Director of the Board of Elections -- "locked down" voting data and declared that they were "no longer part of the public record." For this and other reasons, Congressman John Conyers urged the FBI to investigate "possible criminal violations."
In reaction to these improprieties, Ohio became a model of voter opportunity and enfranchisement. The 126th Ohio General Assembly responded and voters were given 35 days with which to cast ballots. County boards of elections had the flexibility to set the rules. Evening and weekend hours were established so that workers could fit voting in around their varied schedules. Sunday hours allowed churches across the state to initiate a "Souls to the Polls" campaign. Sen. Turner said that these reforms were very popular with the people.
But those reforms are nearly a decade old, the memories of government ill will toward the voter have faded, and subsequent Ohio General Assemblies have chipped away at the enfranchisements gained post 2004. Sen. Turner pointed out that between the last two biennial elections as "current leadership takes you back in time, almost 175,000 people walked away because they couldn't take it anymore."
Sen. Turner grieves these losses and acknowledges that most Ohioans -- along with individuals across the nation who now face voter suppression -- are too busy just trying to survive. She thinks masses of people don't understand how this is happening and she intends to use her campaign to educate them. Sen. Turner believes that no secretary of state should be re-elected if his or her record shows a decline in voter turn out. The senator says the roll of the chief voting officer in the state is "expanding and protecting" a citizen's rights at the ballot box.
In closing, Sen. Turner reminded the assembled leaders of the UWUA of something her grandmother told her that she keeps in mind as she fights for the rights of voters across the spectrum. Her grandma told her you need three bones: "A wishbone to keep you hoping, a jawbone to speak truth to power, and a backbone to keep you standing. Because, her grandma said, 'You can't have testimony if you don't have a test.'" With the primary behind her, Sen. Turner's next test is the general election this Nov. 4.