Q&A with Ture Turnbull: Running for State Rep Against Longtime Incumbent Malia

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Jamaica Plain resident Ture Turnbull recently announced his candidacy for the 11th Suffolk District state rep seat. Turnbull answered questions about why he's running, what he'd like to accomplish if elected and more.

Ture Turnbull

Q: Why are you running to be the state rep for the 11th Suffolk District?

Turnbull: We are at a time when we need to move an inclusive progressive agenda forward for all the residents of the Commonwealth and lead the nation again as an exporter of great ideas and progressive public policy. I am running because I am that voice. As a healthcare expert, I have a clear vision about how we need to get healthcare costs finally under control so that we can provide universal and affordable coverage to all through a single payer system that works. We need bold ideas that will aggressively combat the opioid crisis, initiatives like the fair share amendment so that we can invest in economic prosperity for all, and a forward-looking investment in public education for the future of our city.

Our times demand that we take a new approach based on bold progressive values, and I believe this district deserves someone who will be organizing around these bold progressive agenda items as our state representative.

I’m running, in part, because I’m inspired by leaders like Ayanna Pressley, who knows that sometimes we need a change of pace in order to make progress on big ideas. To quote her, “Making progress on longstanding challenges requires a different lens and a new approach.” I believe that I am uniquely qualified to push forward a single payer healthcare agenda and to lead on so many additional issues that voters in our district care about.

Q: What do you feel are your qualifications for being elected to that position?

Turnbull: I worked as a public servant from 2006 to 2012 in the Massachusetts State House, serving both in the House and Senate, working side-by-side with constituents, community leaders, and elected officials fighting for social and economic justice. After that, I worked in Boston City Hall for nearly a year before becoming the Executive Director of the statewide advocacy non-profit, MassCare. For the last five years, I have been directing MassCare and leading the fight for healthcare justice and for the creation of a Medicare for All/Single Payer healthcare system.

I advocated for and secured $500,000 for youth suicide prevention when I served as a Commissioner on the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth. I coordinated efforts to increase funding for the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project (now named GLBTQ-DVP) and increases to the Mass Cultural Council's budget. I fought for marriage equality, the elimination of healthcare disparities, and increased funding for addiction treatment. I have been at the forefront of urban planning and have fought for comprehensive zoning reform to address our housing crisis.

I attended Northeastern University and received a B.S. in Public Administration followed by a M.S. in Urban and Regional Policy. I also earned a certificate of education in Shaping Healthcare Delivery Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. I have lived in Jamaica Plain for the past 14 years and became a homeowner here six years ago with my husband, Adam.

Q: Liz Malia is the current 11th Suffolk District state rep and has been since 1998. Is she not doing a good enough job for you?

Turnbull: I respect the 20+ years of public service that state Rep. Liz Malia has given to our neighborhoods, but I believe it’s time for the next generation of leaders to step up and be of service. At no point in my campaign will you ever hear me criticize her commitment to our district -- Liz cares deeply for the district, as many people who live here do. What you will hear from me are bold policy proposals -- proposals that speak to fixing the growth in income inequality that has grown over the last 20+ years to level the playing field for working families in our district.

I believe that 2018 is a defining moment in history and that the challenges we are facing demand a different style of bold, progressive leadership.

We need not settle for incremental progress when we can demonstrate bold leadership on issues like criminal justice reform, health care, transportation, and the plague of addiction that is rocking our communities. While our federal delegation is playing defense against the Trump Administration, I propose that we play offense here at home by making sure our elected officials are creating the kind of sweeping progress on issues for which Massachusetts has traditionally been known.

I’m running to change the culture on Beacon Hill. Income inequality has led to a Boston where we have the biggest disparity of rich and poor of any modern city in the U.S. Meanwhile, an explosion of housing costs, health care costs, transportation costs have created a class of people who can’t afford to live and thrive in our city. Our state legislators need to tackle these issues head on -- and not duck and cover when it comes to the big policy issues that people are demanding action on.

Gross inequality has led to the rise of so many ballot questions and initiatives over the years that exemplify the frustration of constituents across the state. In essence, we now legislate all of our biggest and boldest ideas through ballot initiatives so that our legislators can avoid tough votes. This is weakening our democratic system. From 1998 through this year’s proposed 2018 ballot questions, there have been 43 public policy issues put on the ballot including:

  • Voting by Incarcerated Felons
  • Public Campaign Financing
  • Permits for Low-or-Moderate-Income Housing
  • Expanding the Beverage Container Deposit Law (The Bottle Bill)
  • Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana
  • Earned Sick Time
  • Rolling Back the Sales Tax

In 2018 we may be looking at Paid Family and Medical Leave, $15 Minimum Wage, Safe Patient Staffing and the transgender discrimination ballot question (which must be defeated!).

Q: How are you different than her? What did you disagree with that she supported?

Turnbull: I respect the commitment Liz has shown to the community over her 20+ years of service, but I believe I will be different in my approach to the job of state representative, and on some key policy and procedural issues. On one major issue, if elected, I will not vote to re-elect Speaker DeLeo to his fifth consecutive term as speaker; it’s time for new leadership. I was disappointed in Liz’s vote to eliminate the term limits that allows this speaker and all others to stay indefinitely.

In my career running a statewide coalition and organization, I have been able to bring individuals and organizations together to stand with one voice for progressive change in healthcare policy. In October of 2017, I was able to include landmark single payer language into the Massachusetts Senate’s healthcare omnibus bill with a 35-3 vote, which is currently waiting to be brought up by the House. This highlights another issue where I disagree with Liz, which is on support for a Medicare for All healthcare option. While I have been working to build a coalition to bring Medicare for All from an obscure issue to a viable public policy solution, too many legislators who represent communities like ours have not joined the movement and have prevented bold ideas like this from coming to fruition.

Q: You're the executive director of Mass-Care, which is a single-payer advocacy organization. Why is having a single-payer healthcare system so important to you?

Turnbull: The status quo is killing people. One in four people know someone who has died from an opioid overdose, one in five people cannot afford their medication and one in three bankruptcies in MA are still due to medical debt. Thirty percent of every healthcare dollar is taken right off the top to fund, maintain and create profitable private insurance companies. Our healthcare system is broken, and it is only getting worse and more costly.

I have seen what our system is doing to our loved ones and it is truly heartbreaking. But that is why I fight. I fight for the mother I met who can’t find a treatment bed for her son, or the grandfather who makes the weekly choice on paying for lifesaving medication or food. Or my brother who survived cancer, but only with crushing debt at the end. We all must fight for healthcare justice and lead the nation again with an improved Medicare for All system.

Over 43% of our state’s budget goes to healthcare! If we are going to invest in addiction treatments, invest in education and the MBTA, if we are going to invest in people, we need to fix our broken healthcare system that is currently sapping Massachusetts’ future.

Q: On your website you say that the Massachusetts House of Representatives is traditionally conservative. How is it conservative and how will you change it?

Turnbull: I’ve had the privilege of serving in both the Massachusetts House and the Senate as a staff member for a number of great legislators. I’ve seen the work up close, and I will enter the legislature with my eyes wide open about how legislation is passed and how change is created. Often, change comes from electing bold progressives who are not afraid to stand up for progressive values and bring the fight on every single issue. I intend to build a coalition of progressives that demands a change in house leadership and house priorities.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives, right now, is conservative in both its approach to governing, and as it relates to the public policy that is released. As a governing body, the House is run with concentrated leadership that often is designed to limit debate and participation from all 160 of its members -- each of whom was elected with the same mandate as any other. One recent example included members of house leadership refusing to end the practice, initiated by Speaker DeLeo, where victims of sexual assault are required to sign nondisclosure agreements in order to receive severance pay. Absolute power corrupts, and I believe that the amazing power of government needs to be shared amongst all of the House’s members.

And, to repeat what I said above, if the state legislature was digging in and passing meaningful reforms like earned sick time, paid family leave, and marijuana legalization, we would not see so many ballot questions like we’ve seen in recent years. We legislate all of our biggest and boldest ideas now through ballot initiatives so that our legislators can avoid tough votes. This weakens our democratic system.

Our state legislature has helped create the most popular governor in the nation by following his lead, rather than stepping into the leadership void he has created and passing bold reforms that people are looking for. Governor Charlie Baker has not had to stand up for his Republican values and veto anything, making him even more popular and impeding any path forward toward a more progressive platform.

Q: You would like to provide more affordable housing options. How would you accomplish that goal?

Turnbull: Over the course of my campaign, I’m going to be releasing bold proposals that will address each of the critical issues we’re facing right here in our neighborhoods. The housing crisis has now come to a point where we are not just displacing families, we are changing the very character of whole neighborhoods. I support the creation of strong tools to build a better future together in comprehensive zoning reform. I support making sure that developers are partnering with neighborhoods and the city to not just pay a fee to get out of creating affordable housing, but are in fact required to make our neighborhoods better through development projects. The current legislation that is stalled in the House, an act promoting housing and sustainable development, would start to address real smart growth in Boston and surrounding areas that create downward pressure on our neighborhood. From there, we need to work to expand the JP/Rox Plan so that we are not just reacting to changes, but planning our future together.

Q: You'd like to stop what you refer to as "the privatization of public education." What does that mean and how will you stop it?

Turnbull: Right now, the Trump administration through its Department of Education is leading an assault on public education, and we cannot afford to go along and privatize education locally. The best way to protect public education is to invest and improve it. The stronger and healthier our public education is, the safer it will be from privatization to charter schools.

But why is BPS in such a vulnerable place? It is because of our antiquated funding mechanism in Chapter 70. Last year alone, there was a $25.9 million-dollar shortfall for Boston Public Schools and we expect that BPS will have an underfunding total of $100M over five years. The House of Representatives proposed a 2.2% increase over FY13-FY19 and revenue statewide for chapter 70 increased 16.3%; however, when you factor in that the BPS budget increased by 25.8% you can quickly see that the math does not add up for our students or teachers.

Charter schools see our children as “backpacks full of cash” as charter school tuition is $14,000 per pupil. Students are not and should not be looked at as a commodity off of which to make a profit. This 25-year-old formula needs to be rewritten and then we can make BPS the best it can be.

I also support all high school graduates having the option to pay in-state tuition, regardless of immigration status, not just expanding to DACA students but to all students. Education is a right.

Q: What else would you like to let people know?

Turnbull: I have spent the last 14 years in Jamaica Plain and come from a large, modern family with eight sisters and two brothers (14 nieces and nephews) and have made Boston my home with my husband of five years, Adam Smith. I am an avid runner and will be running my fifth Boston Marathon on April 16th. I am an artist, outdoorsmen, and a policy wonk. I am a fighter and won’t back down from something that I believe in.