Most Interesting People 2014: Nina Turner

Nina Turner


Why she's interesting: Turner, who has represented Cleveland and several eastern suburbs in the state Senate for more than 5 years, has a national following thanks to her frequent and fiery appearances on MSNBC. Now she's running for Ohio secretary of state and trying to pass a law to extend Ohio's 20-year statute of limitations for rape cases. She's also a history professor at Cuyahoga Community College.

Dream deferred: She grew up the oldest of seven children. Turner's parents divorced when she was young. "Most of my life, my mother was on welfare. She died with her dreams deferred. I always keep her memory with me. That is why I fight so hard for poor people."

School first: After more than 5 years in the state Senate, Turner counts sponsoring the Cleveland school reform legislation as her most fulfilling achievement. "To me, that was worth putting my political capital on the line. I'm a product, my son is a product, my whole family is a product of the Cleveland school system."

Student becomes teacher: She teaches at Tri-C, where she got her first degree. "Had it not been for that institution, I would not have had the courage and the skills to go on and obtain that four-year degree and a master's degree."

Transformation tale: Turner's syllabus for her African-American history classes includes John Howard Griffin's 1960 memoir Black Like Me. "It's the story of a white man who takes medication to turn himself black. He travels throughout the South and tries to, in a very profound way, understand what it's like to be black." Turner says students respond strongly to Griffin's tale of ridicule and sacrifice.

The Nina Show: Since 2011, Turner has been a regular guest on MSNBC's The Ed Show, where she's sounded off on Ohio's battles over collective bargaining, women's issues and election laws.

Ballot battle: Now she's running for secretary of state against incumbent Jon Husted. "I want voters to have that unfettered access that they deserve, whether they're blue, red or purple, whether they're country or a little rock 'n' roll."

No limit: Turner has co-sponsored legislation to eliminate Ohio's 20-year statute of limitations on prosecuting rape cases. She wants it to apply whether DNA evidence surfaces or because someone has finally decided to defy the stigma attached to the crime. "This is for any survivor, any victim of rape, to know that any time they have that awakening, they can come forward and know that the law is on their side."

Mayoral material?: The Plain Dealer recently put Turner at the top of a list of possible successors to Mayor Frank Jackson if she doesn't win the secretary of state race. Would she want the job? "Never say never! I love the city of Cleveland. I'm a daughter of the city."

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