By Jason Hart | Ohio Watchdog
Ohio Democratic Party leadership is changing hands in a way that could move the party further left following huge losses in last week’s election.
Leading candidates for ODP chair include Nina Turner, who lost by 25 points in the race for secretary of state, and David Pepper, who lost by 24 points in the attorney general race. Pepper told Ohio Public Radio he is interested in the position and is working in “partnership” with Turner, who said, “I am taking a role in making sure that our party is moving forward.”
Turner, a state senator and a favorite among the hosts at left-wing cable network MSNBC, is known for attacking her political opponents as racist and sexist. She has smeared Secretary of State Jon Husted as “secretary of suppression,” and wore a shirt reading “G.O.P. GET OUT OF MY PANTIES!!!” to an Ohio Statehouse press conference demanding taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.
Responding to an NBC 5 WLWT survey this year, Turner said the Second Amendment must be balanced with “the rights of people who feel safer in the absence of firearms” and called for an amendment to the Constitution to limit speech in political campaigns. She asserted job creation, college costs and health care are all problems to be addressed with more government spending.
THE DECIDER: U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is likely the most influential Democrat in Ohio
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown — the only elected Democrat serving in statewide office with the exception of one Ohio Supreme Court justice — will heavily influence ODP’s next chair. Brown fought to make Obamacare even more sweeping with inclusion of a “public option” and is consistently rated one of the nation’s most liberal senators.
Brown is a staunch ally of Big Labor, and unions have been key donors both to ODP and the party’s candidates. But with Republican Gov. John Kasich showing a Democrat’s affinity for entitlement and infrastructure spending, three major private-sector unions endorsed Kasich after Democrat Ed FitzGerald’s campaign imploded this year.
Many of the Republicans in the state Legislature are funded by unions, indicating less-than-complete support for Ohio Democrats among a shrinking demographic. Fewer than 13 percent of Ohio workers were union members in 2013, and many questions remain about what issues ODP candidates will run on in 2016 and beyond.
Will the party emphasize gun control, social issues, or even higher spending and taxes? Brown, Turner and Pepper did not respond to Ohio Watchdog inquiries about ODP’s future direction.
“They need to go back to basics and understand why Ohioans have rejected their policies for twenty years,” Matt Mayer, president of free-market think tank Opportunity Ohio, told Ohio Watchdog via email.
Republicans have held the Ohio governor’s mansion and supermajorities in the state House and Senate since 2011. Republican governors also served with Republican-controlled legislatures every year from 1995-2006.
Aside from FitzGerald, Pepper and Turner were the biggest losers on ODP’s 2014 statewide ticket. Democrats lost the race for governor by 31 points, lost the auditor of state race by 19 points and lost the state treasurer race by 13 points.
Unofficial election results show the Ohio Republican Party with a larger 65-34 majority in the House and a steady 23-10 majority in the Ohio Senate. Current ODP chairman Chris Redfern even lost his Ohio House seat in a Democrat-leaning district.
Redfern announced his resignation as ODP chair, effective mid-December, soon after polling places closed last week. In 2006, Redfern oversaw Ohio Democrats’ most successful election in years, winning the races for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer.
Brown helped Redfern stave off a 2012 leadership challenge from Anthony Giardini, who had backing from several powerful labor unions upset over 2010 losses. This summer, ODP’s central committee re-elected Redfern to lead the party for another four years.
ODP’s prospects were so dire this autumn, newspapers were reporting by late October that Brown had plans to replace Redfern after the election. First elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, Brown has been widely recognized as the state’s most powerful Democrat.
Former state legislator Denny Wojtanowski, Brown’s reported pick for ODP chair, announced he would not seek the position last week. Press reports cited Democrat concerns that Wojtanowski donated to Republicans while working as a lobbyist.