Meeting David Pepper


Last night, I attended a house party to meet our state auditor candidate David Pepper, who is from Cincinnati and not known up here in Northeast Ohio. A local Democratic activist/ fundraiser invited people to meet him and get to know a little more about him. (This was not a fundraiser, although little envelopes were helpfully provided for those who liked what they heard.)

I was especially interested to meet and hear from Pepper because we’re virtually certain to lose the secretary of state office if we don’t find a candidate more acceptable to the core Democratic voters most likely to turn out in an off-year election. And the three key offices to control of the apportionment board are governor (I think Strickland will be re-elected), secretary of state and auditor. We have to hold two of those.

Because this is on peoples’ mind given the extreme gerrymandering of the state, which has produced Republican majorities in our legislature and congressional delegation even in years when most Ohio voters voted for a Democrat, Pepper spoke at length about his thoughts on state apportionment. He feels that the idea that Democrats, if in charge, should cut up the state in equally ridiculous fashion to benefit themselves, is counterproductive — and that fair, balanced, competitive districts will benefit Democrats regardless. (We have already managed to achieve a congressional delegation that is a 10-8 Democratic majority, despite our meandering, GOP-favoring districts).

He also pointed out the value on having more competitive races, as far as electing more responsive officials who will work together. If an elected official is never threatened in a general election, given that primaries attract voters who are farther to the left or the right, such districts will often yield more extreme candidates. Pepper points out that state Senate districts have been drawn so that only a single seat is in question next year — and Republicans hold a 2-1 majority in a state nearly equally divided. One wonders how much more would be accomplished if our legislature were nearly equally divided, and both parties needed to consider the possibility of being voted out. Pepper, a former Cincinnati city council member and Hamilton county commissioner, said he felt that competitive races made him a better officeholder.

Pepper admitted this sort of stuff is “insider baseball,” but he was speaking to a crowd of committed Democrats who were hungry to learn about him. He went on to talk about the auditor’s office — not one perceived as exciting by most people, a majority of whom probably don’t even know what the auditor does. The main job of the auditor is to perform audits on the finances of all levels and branches of government in the state and make sure no one’s investing the money in rare coins and George Bush wall clocks. Obviously, past auditors haven’t been all that alert (Lookin’ at YOU, Betty Montgomery — the woman who so famously told the Toledo Blade, “If I’m guilty of anything, I’m guilty of doing nothing.” Apparently, that’s JUST what she did, on the taxpayers’ dime).

I had not been following the work of current auditor Mary Taylor (currently the only non-judicial statewide elected Republican), but according to Pepper, she has been using her office as a political weapon and has become an active teabagger. I’ll have to look into this more.

I was most interested in his thoughts on what the auditor could do to help move Ohio and its economy ahead. They’re very much in line with the creative ideas Richard Cordray and Jennifer Brunner came up with to go beyond the minimal required functions of their offices to provide services and programs that help Ohioans improve their economic situations. Brunner’s quality of life index offers ways for communities to gauge where they stand in a variety of measures and what they need to work on. Even as treasurer — a really unexciting office — Cordray was doing more than collecting and dispersing checks. He was developing low-interest loan programs for family farms and small business, offering savings programs for citizens and working with other state officials on foreclosure remediation.

Pepper suggested that an auditor can do more than just audit the books. He can also work with governmental bodies to look for efficiencies and ways to deploy their resources more effectively, producing savings without diminishing essential services. In a time of budget crunches on all levels of government, this work could have a big impact. Ultimately, that points out a key difference between Democrats and Republicans. The former think government should work to improve peoples’ lives; the latter think government doesn’t work (but oddly, still want to be part of it!) and should just butt out, no matter how much collateral damage is left behind.

Hopefully, we’ll get David Pepper to do an interview with us soon, so you can hear his thoughts in his own words.