David Pepper was the Democratic nominee for State Auditor in 2010.  He was a former County Commissioner.  And if he isn’t on the Democratic ballot in 2014, I’ll be surprised.

Regardless, last week Joseph and I were invited to a Junior League of Cincinnati forum on Issue 2 with David Pepper representing the “We Are Ohio” campaign and Ohio Liberty Council attorney Gary Greenberg.

Greenberg started the debate with the premise that elected officials should decide how taxpayer dollars should be spent or public services delivered.  Pepper revisited this issue later pointing out that many of the union employees impacted by Issue 2 don’t work under elected officials, but unelected political appointees, such as the case in Ohio’s universities or in public safety.

Greenberg often stated the Issue 2 was needed because there was “no recourse for taxpayers” under the present system.  But that ignores the biggest fallacy of Issue 2.  The supporters claims Issue 2 is “fair” and won’t result in unfair collective bargaining agreements because the people behind them will elected officials subject to voter approval.  Issue 2 doesn’t create democracy in Ohio.  All of those elected officials viewed as saints by Issue 2 supporters are the same ones Greenberg hypocritically blasted as “bought” by labor later in the debate.  A point David Pepper was quick to point out.

Pepper was on the offensive and pointed out that Issue 2 is about economic rights being stripped away and public employees being muzzled on matters of public interests, like classroom sizes.  He opened with quotes from Republicans, many of whom voted FOR SB 5, talking about how the bill was rushed through the process and deeply flawed.  Greenberg dismissed Republican opposition to SB 5, calling those Republicans beholdened to public safety uni0ns.  Pepper mocked the idea that ALEC conservative Bill Seitz is beholden to unions.  Pepper then went into quoting Senator Grendell’s comment that Issue 2 turns collective bargaining into collective begging and how you can’t have a system in which the management is both advocate and judge under Issue 2.

Greenberg made perhaps the most honest comment about Issue 2 I’ve heard from a supporter of it when he admitted the SERB and the courts are going to hear legal challenges to Issue 2 even if it does survive the referendum, especially on issues like how the bill prohibits college faculty members who are involved in Faculty Senate and other university committees from being able to engage in collective bargaining at all.  Pepper used that opportunity to talk about a portion of Issue 2 that has gotten little attention: how SB 5 strips all collective bargaining rights to public employees like Lieutenants in fire departments and sergeants police forces.

Pepper then pivoted to how instead of giving local government “tools” to better manage employees, Issue 2 instead takes away local control and imposes a Columbus-kn0ws-best policy.  One of the examples Pepper made was of the merit pay provisions in Issue 2.  Cincinnati Public Schools already has a merit pay.  Many other schools do in part due to Governor Strickland’s “Race to the Top” program.  SB 5 throws those programs to the side for a program even Greenberg admits hasn’t been thought out, and as Pepper (and we) pointed out, rewards teachers for getting degrees… that all teachers are required to obtain. 

Greenberg called the ban on strikes the “most important” provision of Issue 2, which if it is defeated should be a component of a follow up bill.  Unfortunately for Greenberg, it’s the most unpopular provision of the bill as it shows roughly 56% of Ohioans oppose it.  Pepper pointed out that he was in the management position that Issue 2 is supposedly to help, but he can’t believe that in a county where 10% of the employees at the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services are themselves income-eligible for “food stamps” that employee compensation is the problem.

That’s when Pepper really hit his stride.  He pointed out that politicians in the Cincinnati were the ones who gave a sweetheart deal to the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals for new stadiums, deals that have been cited nationally as examples of the most one-sided generous terms for professional sports teams.  It’s the politicians that are spending millions in taxpayer dollars to get companies like OmniCare to ping-pong back and forth across the Ohio River. 

Pepper went on to point out that the provision banning “fair share” fees shows what a “red herring” the arguments for this bill really are, and then pointed out how the Tea Party leadership in Ohio is supporting Issue 2 because it is about bankrupting the unions and weakening the political opposition to the Ohio Republican Party’s radical agenda. 

Greenberg, after saying he has no problem with unions participating in the political process, then criticized collective bargaining because… it allows labor to participation in the political process.  At one point, Greenberg said that the right of free speech is equal to the right of collective bargaining, meaning we didn’t need collective bargaining at all so long as employees were free to speak to  their elected officials as taxpayers and citizens.  A curious argument since Issue 2 makes so many topics of conversation between management and employee forbidden. 

Pepper’s background as a former county commissioner and his command of the facts of the bill, and his debating style make his a strong advocate for We Are Ohio.  At one point, Pepper used the coin flip that started the debate as an analogy about how unfair Issue 2 could be by saying it would be like allowing him to decide whether the flip actually counted or not, just as Issue 2 allows the government to be both advocate and final judge in the collective bargaining process.