ATHENS – In Ohio’s 2018 election, everything’s at stake, Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper told Plunderbund in an exclusive interview earlier this month.

After seven years under the administration of John Kasich as governor and a Republican-controlled General Assembly, Ohio has suffered another long lesson in the failure of trickle-down economics, Pepper said.

“Take from local, raise taxes on those who can afford it least, and do that to give money to people on the high end,” he said. “It’s absolutely failing.”

This is proved by all the metrics, he noted, from 57 months of lagging job growth, wages stagnated to where they were 30 years ago, the ongoing opioid crisis where the state leads the nation in overdose deaths, or Ohio schools going from No. 5 in the country in 2010 to No. 22 in the country this year.

“We’ve been taking money from schools to give out tax breaks. We’ve been giving a lot of the money to for-profit charter scams,” he said. “No surprise, the results are in and it’s not working.”

The opioid crisis can be tied to the state taking money from local counties and cities that help fund opioid treatment to once again fund tax cuts for those who are already well-off.

“This great state is going in the wrong direction quickly. No happy talk about Ohio miracles changes that,” Pepper said. “People know it. People are frustrated. In 2018, I think Democrats can say if you’re not happy about the direction of the state, you can change it with us, or we can do more of the same with Mike DeWine or Mary Taylor or someone else.”

Rural Or Urban, Ohioans Are Frustrated

Pepper said that he has travelled across Ohio, from the plains of western Ohio to the hills of southeast Ohio, from the urban centers to the rural hollers, and no matter where he goes, people are frustrated and they share the same frustrations.

“I can go to parts of urban and Ohio and say, ‘Are you frustrated about the lack of jobs? Are you frustrated they’ve been taking from your schools? Are you frustrated about this terrible drug crisis and the failure of the system to deal with it?’ And they’ll say yes,” Pepper said. “And then I can go to a rural town and make the same talk, and they’ll say yes.”

All 88 counties in Ohio have these same bedrock issues in their communities, he said. More than that, they all have in common that the Ohio Statehouse has not only failed to solve these problems, but have been making the challenges bigger by taking local money.

“In 2018, our message is very clear: All around this state communities are literally still living in a recession because the state government has imposed one on them by the way they’ve made these tax and spending decisions,” Pepper said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rural or urban, red or blue, this state has let you down.”

Pepper had kitchen-table conversations across Ohio after the 2016 election, in places like New Philadelphia and Steubenville, and he heard the same things there that he’s heard in Democratic strongholds in the cities.

“The failures of the state are affecting these places more or less in the same way,” he said.

The Importance Of 2018

Every statewide office is up for election with open contests in 2018, and in two years, the 2020 U.S. Census will lead to another round of redistricting that will decide state legislative and U.S. Congressional district lines for a decade.

“Whoever wins the redistricting committee will determine whether we live with another 10 more years of gerrymandering,” Pepper said. “If we win, we’ll have fair districts. If they win, they’ll do what they’ve done before. They’ll do everything they can to make it so the districts are basically guaranteeing outcomes.”

Ohio has been stuck with that since 2010 and it’s led to attacks on collective bargaining, the raiding of local government funding, and an unaccountable Republican-controlled state legislature.

“In 2018, we have a chance to re-elect (Ohio Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown). We have a chance to win the governor’s office. We have a chance to win up and down the ballot. And we have a chance to end gerrymandering so that for the next 10 years citizens actually have a voice in who leads their state and who they send to Congress,” Pepper said.

In the last 50 years, when Democrats have held the White House, Ohio Democrats haven’t been able to win statewide, he noted. But when Republicans have held the White House, Democrats have gone on to win statewide in Ohio during every administration except the one term of George H.W. Bush, from 1989 to 1993.

“If you’re going to pick a year to have a comeback – with what history suggests – 2018 is a heckuva year to have a comeback year,” Pepper said. “Everything is on the ballot with consequences that last a whole decade.”

Pepper said Ohio Democrats have good candidates, and praised Brown as a phenomenal person to have at the top of the ticket. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is overreaching in a way that has activists and young people paying attention.

Ohio Students Struggling With Debt

Ohio leads the nation in student loan debt.

Speaking before an appearance with the Ohio University Democrats, Pepper said that Ohio Democrats have to do a good job reaching young people, especially in 2018 because voter turnout by young people falls off particularly during mid-term elections.

“We’re doing a lot of college outreach,” Pepper said. “The OU Democrats are kind of famous for being as active as they are so it’s great to be here.”

Pepper pointed out that Ohio leads the nation in student loan debt, saying that his is no accident and comes directly from state policy from Republican leadership that fails to prioritize public education and affordable higher education.

“Young people say, ‘We leave with that debt, and then we can’t find as many good jobs like in other states,'” he said. “That’s a really compelling reason for young people to get involved – college kids and others – in these statewide races. Frankly they’re paying the price for a lot of the bad leadership.”

Swing State

Pepper said that he thinks that Ohio can send a real message in 2018 as a referendum on the Trump Administration.

“If you’re appalled by Donald Trump and you think what he’s doing is fundamentally un-American and it sends a signal to the world that we’re not who we were, one of the opportunities Ohio has is to send another signal to the world that the American people don’t like it,” he said. “They’re not into it. They think it doesn’t reflect their values.”

Pepper said he wants politicians to get that message too, like Ohio Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, so maybe he’ll stop voting in support of Trump.

“The best chance we have to send that message is by voting blue in 2018,” he said. “People expect Virginia to be blue. They expect Michigan to be blue. But based on what happened in 2016, they probably don’t expect Ohio to be blue. If we win, if Sherrod wins, and we win some other seats and we break through in a Congressional race – Ohio being blue in 2018 is a signal way beyond Ohio.”

That kind of rejection from Ohio in 2018 can send a message to the world, he said. If Ohio is the heart of it all, which Trump won by eight points, and two years later the voters go blue, people across the world will see the rejection of Trumpism.

“It’s a historic role that we can play,” Pepper said.