In the middle of the president’s second term in office, the opposition usually wins the election. This year appears to be no different. The constant drumbeat of attacks by so-called conservatives, though many of them were clearly absurd, has succeeded in the pulling down Obama’s approval rating despite the relatively healthy economy and the success of the heath insurance overhaul. Thus, the Republicans might win, even with inferior candidates.
The hope for the Democrats is that people will get out and vote. Wanting to help, I looked for a Democrat to work for. I chose David Pepper, candidate for Attorney General for the state of Ohio. He has actual substantive proposals, the ads he runs on TV are mostly true, and he has the endorsement of the the Fraternal Order of Police.
Like many Americans, I am tired of the food fight that breaks out whenever a campaign is close. Part of the problem with the dueling attack ads is that it becomes difficult for an ordinary citizen to wade through the muck to find anything that resembles truth. Mike Dewine’s major attack is that Pepper is “Unqualified”, to which he adds a number of other misrepresentations. Though the Pepper campaign had to respond, this ad is best ignored. Most of Pepper’s attacks are directed at what he calls “Pay to Play”. As far as I can tell, he has a pretty clear case that Dewine rewards campaign contributors with lucrative contracts. Pepper has pledged to bring more integrity into the process of awarding contracts, in particular, by creating an “independent review board to screen bids.” Unfortunately, one of Pepper’s ads implies that the money from the donors ended up in Dewine’s pockets. Although there is a grain of truth in this, the reality is the the Dewine lent his campaign a lot of money, which has been repaid as the coffers filled. There does not seem to be anything illegal going on. As a result, Pepper’s legitimate issue gets muddied by his own overreach, and newspapers, trying to be impartial, end up saying that each side is smearing his opponent with unsubstantiated innuendo.
Though barely mentioned in the television ads, the two candidates have stark differences in how to address the heroin epidemic. David Pepper proposes a four pronged approach: 1) treat it as a public health crisis, 2) reduce demand, 3) prevent overdose deaths, and 4) crack down on dealers. Note that he lists the traditional law enforcement response last. In contrast to the wishful thinking and pep talks that Republicans typically fall back on, Pepper lists concrete actions to reduce demand: increase treatment programs both inside and outside the justice system, fund school resource officers, and litigate against drug companies responsible for oversupplying and over-marketing opioids. To prevent deaths from overdoses, he wants to get Narcan into the hands of first responders. None of the proposals are radical: he points to programs that have shown success in other states.
Typical of a clueless politician, the incumbent Mike Dewine, responded to this crisis, long after it was clear that heroin had become a significant problem, by appointing a task force. We know that he spent a million dollars setting this up, but we don’t yet know what it has accomplished after being in operation for almost a year, “because of security reasons”. Dewine followed up on this bold dithering by traveling around the state, holding town meetings and law enforcement round tables. It seems that he was wandering around aimlessly, hoping to be told what to do.
I usually think of police as law and order types who would lean Republican, so when the Fraternal Order of Police endorses a Democrat, especially for Attorney General, I thought it was worth finding out why. The reason is simple: the FOP is a union, and the Republicans have been trying to gut the power of unions. The FOP was particularly galled by Senate Bill 5, which would have limited the bargaining rights of public sector unions. The bill was passed by the Republican legislature in 2011 and was promptly repealed by voter referendum that same year. In their endorsement of David Pepper for Attorney General, the first thing they mention was how he stood by them in opposing SB 5. Only secondarily do they mention his plan to confront the heroine epidemic. So, the FOP endorsement of Pepper is more a union endorsement of a Democrat than a policeman’s endorsement of a man with a plan.
However, David Pepper is the man with a plan. He is running a strong campaign and has a good chance to buck the Republican trend. If you care about what government does in response to the upsurge in heroin abuse, if you want state contracts to go to competent suppliers rather than political supporters, or if you simply want to avoid giving the union busting Republicans full reign in the state of Ohio, then vote to replace Dewine with Pepper.