Ohio Democratic Party chairman to resign

Decision made one week after former area party leader shares criticism

Ohio’s Democratic Party chairman is stepping down after six years during which Republicans, including Donald Trump, dominated statewide elections.

David Pepper, a former Hamilton County commissioner and Cincinnati City Council member, sent a letter Monday to party officials saying he will resign at year’s end. He suggested those interested in succeeding him could speak at the Dec. 15 executive committee meeting, with a special meeting later in December to choose.

David Betras, the former Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman who publicly criticized Pepper and other state party officials a week ago, said he thinks Pepper’s resignation is “the right thing to do.”

Betras, a lawyer, said his remarks about Pepper were not “personal” because Pepper is “a very nice man, but we need to have someone in there that can put together a team that can win elections. I just didn’t think he had the right sauce for Ohio.”

Betras said he doesn’t know if his criticism played any role in Pepper’s decision.

“I take credit for being a megaphone for saying things that a lot of people wouldn’t say, so that I will take credit for,” Betras said.

“I felt after this (month’s) election, nobody should have had to say anything. He should have just said on his own, ‘I’m going to find something else to do.'” But after the election, Pepper sent out Tweets suggesting he wanted to stay in power.

That’s when Betras decided to speak up, he said

“We (Ohio Democrats) have to win elections. All of the states around us are winning elections, and we’re not. We’ve lost our ability to talk to voters. We need to get the right person there to talk to rural Ohio voters,” he said.

“We’ve had great messages for the people in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, but that doesn’t win you the state.”

Once considered a bellwether and swing state, Ohio has swung to the GOP, which won the last three elections for governor and nearly all other statewide offices. Trump carried it twice, by some 8 percentage points each time. Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown won re-election in 2018, but Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman handily won 2016 re-election, and Republicans swept state Cabinet races in 2018.

Pepper pointed with pride to the way Democrats showed enough support in the state for former Vice President Joe Biden to make Trump divert time and resources from other battleground states.

“Our effort here in Ohio, where we battled Trump to the final days, forcing him to return again and again, contributed to the historic national victory that ensured Trump would be a one-term president,” Pepper wrote.

He also pointed to gains on the state Supreme Court, including the election of Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, in November, and the “Main Street” program that for five years has provided training, guidance and support to candidates for local offices across the state.

Pepper also expressed hope that Democrats will be able to undo GOP gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts.

Staff writer Ed Runyan contributed to this story.


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