CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper will leave his post with the state party at the end of 2020, marking a close to his five-year tenure overseeing the party.
Pepper’s time as chairman, which started in 2015, was sometimes rocky, marred by infighting and relatively few high-profile victories at the statewide level as Republicans continued to solidify their dominance over electoral politics in the state. In his resignation letter to the state party’s executive committee, Pepper said he took the blame for any shortcomings on behalf of Democrats’ performance in the state.
“Whatever criticism there may be of our efforts since 2014, chalk those flaws up to me, because the incredible team at ODP always went above and beyond the call to serve our mission and lift our candidates,” Pepper said. “We all owe them a debt of gratitude, and their talents will take them all very far.”
As the head of the state party, much of Democrats’ ire over failures at the statewide level have been directed at Pepper. That includes Republican President Donald Trump’s resounding victories in both 2016 and 2020, with national Democrats largely viewing the once bellwether state as firmly in the GOP corner.
During the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats failed to win a single partisan statewide office, save for Sen. Sherrod Brown’s re-election. And Democrats failed to capitalize on multiple statehouse scandals, including the FirstEnergy bribery scandal that saw Republican former Speaker of the House Larry Householder facing a federal racketeering charge, with the GOP still controlling a supermajority in both chambers.
Pepper said he saw several victories accomplished by ODP, despite the lack of high-profile offices currently held by Democrats. That includes capturing a majority of appellate judgeships and 3 state Supreme Court seats, including electing Melody Stewart, the court’s first Black woman justice. However, without the requisite 4 seats needed for a majority, Democrats will once again be relegated to the minority on the high court for the time being.
“Even in the recent presidential race, 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 said. “Ending the nightmare of Trump will go down as one the most important political moments of our lifetimes, and I will forever be proud of the role Ohio activists, staff, candidates and supporters played in the national team effort to save our democracy.”
Pepper said he also accomplished his goal of shoring up the state party’s finances by eliminating most of the debt and bolstered the party’s standing in local offices, including a massive shift in Hamilton County politics, which is now majority Democratic.
Pepper, a former Cincinnati city councilman who unsuccessfully ran for state auditor in 2010 and attorney general in 2014, has been a lightning rod for criticism within the Democratic Party.
Following the failure to capture any of the statewide constitutional offices in 2018, there was some call for his removal from the seat. Those calls renewed following the 2020 election as Trump cruised to victory for a second time in Ohio as neighboring industrial states like Michigan and Pennsylvania gave Democratic President-elect Joe Biden a victory.
Despite that, a favorite for a replacement has not come forward as of yet. Pepper said he would set aside time at the party’s meeting on Dec. 15 for prospective candidates to speak and proposed a special meeting for a final vote later in the month to solidify a chair.