MULLINS, S.C. – The Democratic Party is preaching the Gospel of Bernie Sanders, according to the co-chair of his 2020 presidential campaign.

Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and Cleveland city councilor, spoke with the Morning News before a breakfast event hosted by the Marion County Democratic Party on Saturday morning at the Milton Troy Center Banquet Hall in Mullins.

Turner was named national co-chair of the Sanders campaign two days after Sanders announced his campaign on Feb. 19. There are currently four national co-chairs of the campaign.

“He [Sanders] definitely changed the game,” Turner said. “But for his courage to step out there in 2015, the Democratic Party would not be not only having these conversations but every single Democratic candidate — all 100 of them — are preaching the Gospel according to Bernie Sanders.”

Sanders ran for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2016, coming in second to Hillary Clinton.

There are 25 people running for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Turner said among the issues Sanders discussed in 2016 that the Democrats running in 2020 are talking about include MediCare for all, increasing the minimum wage and discussing the theory of man-made climate change.

“You may remember at one of the debates in 2016 when the question was asked, ‘What is the biggest threat to this country,’ and the senator said, ‘It’s climate change,’ and they almost laughed him off the stage,” Turner said.

During the 2016 Sanders campaign, Turner served as a surrogate for the campaign and made a stop in Florence. After the campaign ended, Turner became president of Our Revolution, a progressive political organization, which was spun out of the Sanders campaign.

Turner said the Pee Dee region especially understood the impact of climate change because of recent hurricanes.

In 2015, South Carolina was struck by the aftermath of Hurricane Joaquin, which led to record flooding. That was followed in 2016 by Hurricane Matthew and in 2018 by Hurricane Florence.

She mentioned the Marion County community of Nichols as being one of the hardest hit areas by the storms.

“This region thrives on tourism, so climate chaos has had a detrimental impact on the Pee Dee region,” Turner said. “So you have someone who didn’t just wait for the polls to tell them, didn’t just wait for this to become the popular thing. He has been the champion of saying we've got to do something to turn back the tide.”

Turner also mentioned a recent interview where Sanders said that climate change is not just an issue for the United States but an issue for the whole world.

“You can’t run as a Democrat and not talk about these issues,” Turner said. “So, yeah, Sen. Sanders changed the game, and the Democratic Party is running by the Gospel of Bernie Sanders.”

Turner said she knew Sanders was someone she should support in 2015 when she learned of Sanders’ decision to run for the nomination in 2016.

“It really was his heart/soul agreement,” Turner said. “In 2015, many Democrats didn’t think anyone would run. There would only be one person [Clinton] running, but then Sen. Sanders stepped up to the plate and said it is a rigged system and we can’t continue business as usual and I am going to challenge this system.”

Turner said her mother died at age 42 with her dreams deferred. That allowed Sanders’ message of MediCare for all and college for all to touch Turner.

“He was really speaking to those needs,” Turner said. “I instinctively knew from my heart that I couldn’t continue the natural course, which would have been to just stay in line, but really Sen. Bernie Sanders was the candidate for me.”

Turner said Sanders’ message of free education and raising the minimum wage would resonate with Pee Dee voters.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25. South Carolina officially has no minimum wage but is bound by the federal law.

“He forged a coalition with the Fight for 15 folks, for example,” Turner said. “Raising that minimum wage is going to help the residents here in the Pee Dee. But by example of how he can execute, it was the formation of that relationship with the Fight for 15 that he was able to get [everyone from] Jeff Bezos, for example, to Disney workers to increase the minimum wage.”

Bezos is the founder, chairman, chief executive officer and president of Amazon.

She said even now Sanders has gotten around 400,000 workers a pay increase.

“In 2016, as you may remember, while the other candidate [Clinton] was talking about $12 an hour, he kept saying $15 an hour. He would not relent from that,” Turner said. “That’s the kind of leader that the citizens of the Pee Dee region need. Somebody that will be relentless in their pursuit to raise the quality of life from education to jobs to criminal justice reform, and that’s what we have in Sen. Bernie Sanders.”

Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democratic Party, is the junior senator from Vermont. He was elected to the Senate in 2006 with more than 65 percent of the vote. Sanders was re-elected in 2012 and 2018. Before running for Senate, Sanders served as the representative for Vermont’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, beginning in 1990. He served as mayor of Vermont’s largest city, Burlington, for three terms in the 1980s.

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Sanders is a graduate of the University of Chicago. He settled in Vermont in the 1960s and ran several third-party campaigns from then until his election as mayor of Burlington.

Turner was scheduled to make a Saturday evening stop in Florence for a Bernie Block Party and a Sunday morning stop in Chesterfield for a Bernie Block Party.

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