Congresswoman Shontel Brown and Nina Turner’s rematch heats up ahead of Ohio primary election

U.S. Rep. Brown and Turner did not mince words with theGrio about why each feels they should represent the Buckeye State’s 11th District.

U.S. Representative Shontel Brown and challenger Nina Turner
Left to right: U.S. Representative Shontel Brown and challenger Nina Turner. (Photo: House of Representatives /Getty Images)

A clashing of rhetoric has defined the final days of the hotly contested Democratic primary election rematch in Ohio between U.S. Congresswoman Shontel Brown and her high-profile challenger, Nina Turner.

In separate sit-down interviews with theGrio, Congresswoman Brown and Turner did not mince words as they made their cases for why they should represent the Buckeye State’s 11th Congressional District over their opponent. Brown called out Turner over “lies” about her character, while Turner accused Brown’s campaign of being in the pocket of corporate interests. 

Brown was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives just last November after defeating Turner 50.2 percent to just under 45 percent in last summer’s primary in a special election to fill the vacant seat left by Marcia Fudge. Fudge moved on to work for the Biden-Harris administration as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Representative-elect Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) participates in a swearing-in ceremony with Marcia Fudge, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (2nd L) to the Congressional Black Caucus in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on November 4, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

Serving less than six months in Congress, Rep. Brown told theGrio that “it’s been like drinking from a firehose. Every day, I’m trying to soak up as much as I can, as quickly as I can,” adding, “There’s so much to learn in such a short period of time. But I’m proud to say I’m a fast learner.”

However, as Brown navigates her freshman year in Congress, she’s already facing her first reelection challenge. Turner is back in the political ring in hopes of being elected as the 11th District’s next representative in the U.S. House. The district has been redrawn since Brown and Turner last ran against each other, resulting in a slightly altered constituency.

“Thirty percent of the district is brand new. There is no incumbent in 30 percent of the new district. Those folks especially have a right to have a choice…I am running for this district to bring a type of vibrancy to this district that is not there at this moment,” Turner told theGrio.

The politics of last year’s special election largely still holds true in Tuesday’s contest, as pundits and political analysts have characterized Turner’s challenge to Brown as a case study on where Democratic voters’ loyalties lie most—the “establishment” or moderate candidate (Brown) versus the “progressive” candidate (Turner). Both candidates, however, made clear to theGrio that they reject such an analysis.

U.S. Representative Shontel Brown and challenger Nina Turner
Left to right: U.S. Representative Shontel Brown and challenger Nina Turner. (Photo: Getty Images)

“I’ve never really focused on the labels. I’m always interested in the issues and who can get things done,” said Congresswoman Brown. “When we talk about establishment versus moderate versus progressive, you know, those things really don’t ring true in local politics because when someone needs to know where a food bank is or how they can get their hands on some PPP money or what grants are available, they never end those calls with, ‘and oh, by the way, are you with the establishment or the progressives?”

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Brown also noted that she has been endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, dispelling any notion that she is not progressive enough. 

The congresswoman said that while she has not served in Congress long, she has hit the ground running, including casting her first vote on the House floor on her second day in office to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which she noted is “delivering billions of dollars to the people of Ohio’s 11th Congressional District.”

Rep. Shontel Brown
Rep. Shontel Brown (D-OH) speaks at a press conference on H.R. 40 legislation on Capitol Hill on November 16, 2021 in Washington, DC.. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

However, she did acknowledge that despite the “great” and “monumental” work Democrats in Congress are doing, it has “unfortunately been overshadowed by the issue with the pandemic and what’s happening in Ukraine, which is also created some inflation.”

Turner, a former Ohio state senator and national surrogate for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, has seized on these economic issues to make a case for why she is more suited to represent Brown’s district.

Turner said this race is less about moderate versus progressive and more about “the haves, and the have nots” and “who has the capacity and the courage to stand up for the poor, the working poor and the barely middle class in this district and in this country.”

Turner also named inflation as a key issue, as well as chronic poverty and lack of affordable health care as the main drivers for her campaign. As a progressive, she believes her role is to “push the Democratic Party further than it ordinarily would go on behalf of the people who are suffering so much.”

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“People who were already suffering before the pandemic and before the explosion of inflation due primarily to corporate greed are suffering even more so right now. And Cleveland itself is the poorest city of its size in the entire United States of America,” said Turner. “One of every two children go to bed hungry at night…And we have to do something about it. And we cannot be ashamed or afraid to speak a certain truth to power and to push.”

While Congresswoman Brown touted the child tax credit, by way of last year’s COVID-19 economic stimulus law, the American Rescue Plan, as another major victory delivered by Democrats in Congress, Turner noted that the tax credit has since expired. 

“Democrats can take great pride in having put forward a child tax credit by way of example, but we let it expire. And so the same children that were pulled out of poverty are now pushed back in poverty at the very moment that their parents and people in their community need this money to not even thrive at this point, to just be able to survive. And so the clock is ticking,” said Turner.

In this February photo, Sen. Nina Turner addresses a rally crowd in Durham, North Carolina before the event’s focus, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, takes the stage. (Photo by Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images)

“When you go to the grocery store and the cost of eggs or gallon of milk is much higher than it was six to eight months ago, that pain is being felt in real-time. And my party has a magnificent opportunity to allay that suffering to really change material conditions. We can do that by increasing the federal minimum wage.”

While Turner has picked up an endorsement from Sen. Sanders, Brown has secured endorsements from major party leadership, including House Majority Whip James Clyburn, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and most recently, President Joe Biden.

In an interview with theGrio, Whip Clyburn said, “I think the American public is demonstrating more and more that they are looking for results. They’re looking for people who are interested in moving an agenda forward,” adding, “Shontel made it very clear when she first ran for this seat that she would be a supporter of Joe Biden and his agenda. She has demonstrated that with her votes.”

Clyburn also noted that Congresswoman Brown has “acquainted herself very well as a member of Congress” and “has made a lot of friends,” so much so that she earned the endorsement from the progressive caucus.

Senate Democrats Hold News Conference On Medicaid And Reconciliation Package
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-GA) speaks on medicare expansion and the reconciliation package during a press conference with fellow lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol on September 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

But Turner has been very vocal about what she described to theGrio as “big moneyed interests” in this race, referring to money donated to Brown’s campaign and super PAC political ads aimed at her candidacy.

“Over the last two weeks, multibillionaires and millionaires have poured millions of dollars into this race. We have an oil baroness who made a donation to the Democratic majority for Israel. They poured a million of that money into this particular race. We have a cryptocurrency billionaire who poured in a million of his dollars into this race, and there are other countless other super PACs,” Turner told theGrio

“The question becomes, why would people pour in and invest that kind of money into this race, which is a solidly Democratic seat, if, in fact, they did not want something back for their investment? The people of the greater Cleveland area are going to lose if those people, in fact, win.”

Turner added, “the people of this district actually deserve a fighter, someone that is not going to sell out to big-money interests. My only interest are the people who are in this district and especially those who are suffering the most under the weight of poverty.”

Nina Turner and Shontel Brown,
Left to right: Nina Turner and Shontel Brown (Photo: Getty Images)

Referencing the famous presidential campaign slogan of the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Turner said she is “unbought” and “unbossed.”

In response to Turner’s comments, Congresswoman Brown scoffed at the suggestion that she is “bought” by big corporate money.  

“When my challenger talks about labels or thinking that I’m in a position that I can be bought, nothing could be further from the truth. The reason I’ve been elected and reelected to every office that I’ve run for, and she certainly can’t say the same thing, is because I’ve been delivering results and working for the people, and that’s what they appreciate,” said Brown, who served on the Cuyahoga County Council for nine years and is the current chair of the county’s Democratic Party (she will not be seeking reelection for the chairmanship).

Turner has attempted to put Brown on the defense for her leadership position as a member of the Cuyahoga County Council, including criticisms over Brown’s decision to vote alongside other council members to give themselves a pay raise from $45,000 a year to $52,000 a year. 

A Turner attack ad also criticized Brown for voting to approve a “corrupt” contract worth millions of dollars to a company connected to her romantic partner to fix the city’s roads. The city council’s vote was unanimous. Turner’s campaign claimed that Brown was investigated for an ethics violation. However, the Newsweek article cited by the campaign ad reported that Brown faced a “potential” investigation. 

Brown told theGrio she was never actually investigated and that “my ethics have never been in question.” 

Democratic candidate Shontel Brown waves to voters at the Bedford community Center, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Bedford Heights, Ohio. Brown is running for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

“The things that have been alleged about me are desperate attacks on her part. This is a person who has stooped to an incredible low and one that I actually once had some respect for,” said Brown. “But the tactics that she has resorted to out of desperation to try to disparage me and attack my character, I just can’t sit back and continue to let that go unchallenged or unchecked. So I want people to know I am the one that has been working for you.”

She added, “For the people who want someone who is going to deliver results and not insults—again, sound solutions, not sound bites and make headway, not headlines, then I am your candidate. I am not one to cut with confrontation. I’m about collaboration.” Turner, for her part, believes she can win against Brown this time around, saying by electing her, “We can send a message to the oligarchs of this nation that the greater Cleveland area is not for sale and that people power is going to have the final say.”

Whatever the outcome of the election, the decision will most certainly be in the hands of Ohio’s 11th Congressional District residents. The polls will be open in Ohio from 6:30 a.m. to 7: 30 p.m. local time.

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