Pepper unanimous choice for Ohio Democratic Party chair

Dec 17, 2014

David Pepper at Ohio Democratic executive committee meeting
Credit Jo Ingles / Ohio Public Radio

It wasn’t a surprise.  David Pepper received unanimous backing from executive committee members Tuesday night to become the new chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.

The party’s executive committee met Tuesday night in Columbus. In the end, it was a sweep for Pepper, after his opponent, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt of Dayton, dropped out of the race Monday.

Pepper says he thinks the party needs to more clearly define its core message of supporting working Ohioans.

“People are frustrated,” said Pepper, a former Cincinnati council member and Hamilton County commissioner. “There are jobs coming back but wages have been stagnant for decades.  And I think they want to see people fighting so that people aren’t working twice as hard for the same or less amount.” 

Pepper said he thinks “Democrats have to be very clearly for that from day one.  And long before they are candidates, we have to make that our agenda, we need to fight for it at every level we are in control.  And if we aren’t, we need to keep talking about it.  So it’s that kind of issue that Ohioans remain frustrated by and this is something I think the party should be leading on.”

Pepper, who ran for Ohio attorney general this year and lost, says he wants to bring the party together.  And he’s enlisted the help of a state senator from Cleveland. Nina Turner, who ran for Secretary of State this year and lost to incumbent Republican Jon Husted. Turner is looking forward to being a key part of the new Democratic leadership in Ohio.

“Pepper and I have been forging a partnership all along and we are going to keep that going,” Turner said.  “And to build and grow together, to lead this party together, is the best thing.  We are going to build on the successes that this party has had so team Pepper Turner is in full effect.”

Turner has not been named to a position yet but Pepper says he wants her to serve as a vice chair.  He says the party needs to bring together all of its constituencies in the future to be successful.  And he says that shouldn’t just happen at Election time.

“We have all of these positions – precinct committee members and all of these other positions- and too often those positions are on paper or people come to a meeting and vote,” Pepper said.  “But in the olden days, all of those jobs used to work the precinct.  They get to know their neighbors.  They talk to them long before the campaign started so people knew who they were.  And what we are going to do is try to activate that again so we have a working infrastructure.”

Pepper said the Democrats have won in presidential years “because there is some natural excitement. But that infrastructure is very important. If it is working well in the non-presidential years, that’s how you will build your stable results as opposed to what we are seeing where you have a falloff.”

Ohio Republican Party Spokesman Chris Schrimpf issued a statement shortly after Pepper’s election, saying as long as Ohio Democrats continue to push for bigger government, more spending, and higher taxes, it doesn’t matter who their Chairman is.

And Schrimpf also says Ohioans know they can trust Republicans to focus on the issues that matter like job creation, better education and lower taxes.  Outgoing Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern, who announced his resignation on election night, will stay in that post until the end of this year.  Redfern lost his seat in the Ohio House, and says he plans to make a total career switch - he’s the new owner of the Red Fern Inn and Rocky Point Winery in Catawba. But he didn’t rule out a return to politics at some point - possibly as early as 2016, since he’s a strong supporter of likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.