Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper discusses his history, the 2016 elections and the future of the Democratic Party

“Becoming the Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party is not something the day of the election in 2014 I would have even thought of. We were starting from scratch as a party after 2014,” Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper told the National Battlegrounds Class.

Mr. Pepper’s personal history is unique. “I grew up around the world,” he told the class. “We lived in Rome for a while, then Brussels.” Following that Mr. Pepper attended college and law school on the East Coast, and traveled to Russia. He said, “No matter where I went, I never stopped bragging about Cincinnati.”

Following the Cincinnati riots of 2001, Mr. Pepper sought an at-large seat on the Cincinnati City Council. In 2006, Mr. Pepper was elected as one of three county commissioners for Hamilton County. He also ran for State Auditor in 2010 and Attorney General in 2014.

Following statewide Democratic losses in 2014, Mr. Pepper was elected to Chair of the Ohio Democratic Party, where he embarked on an expansive listening tour of the state.

“I took three months and did town-hall meetings all over Ohio. I listened to feedback and turned frustration into enthusiasm,” Mr. Pepper told the class. From these town-halls, Mr.Pepper developed the Main Street initiative. This initiative seeks to elect Democrats at state and local levels of government, acknowledging that there is a disparity between presidential election and off-year election turnouts.

Regarding the 2016 Democratic U.S. Senate primary in Ohio netween PG Sittendeld and Ted Strickland, Mr. Pepper said, “This state is enormous. When you get elected to City Hall, build a great record of service. It takes a while, it takes years to get down. What I said to PG [Sittenfeld] was take some time and be patient. We have a process of endorsements.”

On the 2014 election when Ed FitzGerald lost to John Kasich in a landslide, Mr.Pepper said, “Short-term we need to do a better job of vetting our candidates. We need to build a farm team. Katie Clyde, Emelia Sykes, Nan Whalen, they are candidates to watch for the future.”

Though Mr. Pepper is a Super Delegate in the Democratic Primary, he has pledged to stay neutral until the convention.

“We want to be able to unite this party, we want both [the Clinton and Sanders] campaigns to feel they were treated fairly, so that’s why I haven’t pledged,” Mr. Pepper said. He also noted the enthusiasm for Senator Bernie Sanders among young people. “Win or lose this November, there will be a very active candidate for Congress someday who was once a Bernie Sanders grassroots supporter.”

On the Republican side, Mr. Pepper empathized with supporters of Donald Trump: “The political system is so broken that people want someone that’s not a politician.”


James Hardy, Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Akron, discusses his personal background, challenges facing the city and his experience as a student

“For me, my political involvement, it starts coming here to the University of Akron. I took this class 12 years ago. I got a tremendous amount out of the Campaign Battleground class. Having that hands-on experience really helped me figure out whether or not I wanted to get involved [in politics],” James Hardy, Chief of Staff to Mayor Dan Horrigan, told the National Battleground’s class.

As an undergraduate at the Bliss Institute, Mr. Hardy was involved with the College Democrats, a role that allowed him to join John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004.

After college, Mr. Hardy was elected to the Akron School Board in 2005 and became the board president in 2009. In 2006, he was the regional director for the Jennifer Brunner for Secretary of State Campaign. Following that campaign Mr. Hardy became the special assistant to the President at Kent State University, where he also earned a Master’s in Public Health. This lead to a brief stint at Summa Health Systems before he joined the Summit County Department of Health. Following Mayor Horrigan’s election last fall, Mr. Hardy was appointed Chief of Staff.

“I didn’t ask to be Chief of Staff right off the bat,” Mr. Hardy told the class. Instead, Mr. Hardy led the transition team between the Fusco Administration and the Horrigan Administration. Mr. Hardy said in politics and governing, “you have got to know someone is going to have your back and tell you the truth.” He felt he could provide this to Mayor Horrigan.

The most pressing issue facing the city is clearly the Combined Sewer Overflows, remnants of a turn-of-the-20th century engineering practice resulting in storm water overflowing into sewage drains during heavy storms. The remedy  is estimated to cost $1-$2 billion.

The consent decree mandated by a federal judge requires the city, and therefore its residents, to foot that cost. However, Mr. Hardy noted, “the EPA allows for an ‘integrated plan,’ where the consent decree can be forgone if the city can do it for cheaper and make it more environmentally friendly.”

Other issues facing the city include the disproportionately high infant mortality rates in zip codes 44320 and 44327. These zip codes also have disproportionately high rates of obesity and diabetes and a 10-year difference in life expectancy from other zip codes in the Akron area.

On the merger of Huntington Bank and First Merit, Bank Mr. Hardy said somewhat sarcastically, “that was fun, definitely a learning experience.” The merger was problematic for the city given FirstMerrit’s commitment to provide jobs in the city in exchange for renovation of the plaza in front of the FirstMerrit building. There were questions on whether Huntington Bank, a bank out of Columbus, would honor that agreement. For the time being, it appears Huntington will honor the agreement and could bring 200 jobs into Akron.


Has American politics always been uncivil? Bliss Institute students discuss if civility is possible

At the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, students and faculty often discuss the need for civility in politics, especially given the current election climate. Graduate student Emily Maher and undergraduate student Connor Shaw recently had a conversation with the Campaign Battleground blog about the increased sense of incivility in political discussion in the United States.

Why is open political discussion among peers important?

Maher: I think being around other people who don’t think like you helps you. It helps you avoid groupthink. I think it’s good to surround yourself with people who don’t agree with everything you say. It makes you more conscious of yourself and your beliefs.

Shaw: But there’s definitely a lot of blending together. Like Emily said, aborting the whole groupthink mentality. At the Bliss Institute, we spread ideas and have civil conversations. The professors also feel the same way. It’s not just the students. We’re all here to learn or to apply our knowledge. It kind of defeats the purpose of the Institute if you’re trying to push one specific way of thinking.

That’s definitely a huge thing. Whether it’s here or even outside of the Bliss Institute, you definitely hear when you’re outside with some people who can’t see past the lies and see past political parties, but there definitely is a level of respect for the opposition or the other way of thinking.

Has there always been incivility in American politics?

Maher: I think there’s always been incivility in politics. I think the internet has made it easier to be uncivil because a lot of the times you’re anonymous. It’s easier to write some things than actually come out and say it. This current campaign atmosphere reflects the growing concerns of incivility. It’s just becoming more acceptable to be loud and proud about being uncivil.

Shaw: Seeing these presidential campaigns, there’s a lot of incivility. That’s sometimes kind of frightening. It shouldn’t be normal. I don’t think I’d say it’s always been like that. I’d like to think that there are some areas that have some decency even though it is politics we’re talking about.

Maher: And I think the loudest opinion sometimes gets the most attention, and we’re seeing that. Think about the political sound bites in our culture and media right now.

Shaw: Absolutely. The smallest opinions are the loudest. It’s a really weird mentality. You have your silent majority and now you have the vocal minority that’s starting to guide the way through a lot of politics.

How can society shift away from uncivil political conversations?

Maher: It needs to be a conscious effort on everybody’s part. It definitely takes effort to be thoughtful about what you say.

Shaw: Because we both work in politics and study politics, I think we’re a lot more likely to do it and I think our generation – millennials – is also a lot more likely. I think we’ve both seen that a lot of our friends and peers are a lot more open to talking about sharing ideas and not being angry with each other’s views. But it would definitely need to be a conscious effort. I don’t think it’s something we could start an ad campaign and end overnight or over a weekend. It’s a work in progress.




Finding the common ground: Bliss Institute students discuss how the 24/7 news cycle and social media have polarized the electorate

This presidential election season has placed an emphasis on the increasing importance of how much media and social media influence and polarize the electorate. Students at the Bliss Institute often discuss the growing sense of incivility in American politics.  Graduate student Alex Pavloff and undergraduate student David Matheny recently had a conversation with the Campaign Battleground blog about the lack of finding the common ground in the political discussion.

Unlike what is commonly seen in the press and online, how do Bliss Institute students set aside their political differences?

Matheny: Even during discussions, we have a civil conversation about the issues or what have you and find a common ground.

Pavloff: There’s an element of professionalism as well. I see this also in the professional campaign world. People that do this for a living and people that are even on the level that David and I are on, we get it.

David and I, we study the political process. We worship it. We are always following it and always engaged, which I think allows us to tolerate other opinions. In an increasingly polarized electorate, we’ve got political science that for the past 20 years has been saying the electorate is becoming more polarized for a number of reasons. People that don’t have those opportunities that we’ve been exposed to, I think it’s very easy for them to default to the knee-jerk reactions, the instinctual political reactions of, “This candidate is good; this candidate is bad,” and, “Anything this website says is good; anything this website says is bad.”

How has the rise of social media and the 24/7 news cycle played a role in the increased polarization of political views in the country?

Pavloff: The primary political news source for millennials is Facebook. It’s very easy for an individual to shape their news feed into an echo chamber where you’re only seeing the information you want to see.

Matheny: The polarization has just been getting worse over the years for a number of reasons, and I think definitely the media plays a role in that heavily and social media is starting to play an even bigger role in it.

Pavloff: And if Donald Trump is the barometer of civility of politics…. Clearly, nationally we’re in trouble and there’s a number of factors.

Turns out people click on those Trump stories a lot. The media, much like the political process and the political institutions, are reactive bodies. They react to what the electorate wants to see and wants to hear and wants to read. And so if there is a problem with civility in politics, it is also a problem with the electorate.

How is it a problem with the electorate, and how do you try to overcome that problem yourselves?

Pavloff: So we’ve got political science which shows that even highly educated individuals – advanced degrees, masters, PhDs, law degrees, what have you – when presented with clear scientific evidence to the contrary of one of their own opinions, will disregard the evidence.

It is human nature, when presented with something that does not fit within our own cognitive paradigm, to throw it out. This does not fit with my beliefs; therefore, it must not be true. Can we fault the electorate for subscribing to their own human nature? Maybe, maybe not. Something I try to do is humanize the opposition. That’s important. People don’t do that enough.

Matheny: For me as far as trying to get people to have more civil conversations and whatnot, I do try to not ask derogatory questions or pointed questions that would stir the pot and make the discussion go sour. Even when other people do ask those types of questions, I try to rebut it with, “Why are you asking me that?” There’s a more important question we need to discuss here, the actual issue, and not why I believe what I believe and you believe what you believe. You need to always make sure you come back to the middle and find that common ground, what we so desperately need again in politics.




Speaker of the Ohio House Cliff Rosenberger on his history, governing and crafting policy in Ohio


 “I’d never in a million years thought I’d be elected to the house, let alone elected Speaker,” Speaker of the Ohio House Cliff Rosenberger told the Campaign Battlegrounds class.

At 35-years-old, Speaker Rosenberger is the third-youngest Speaker in the history of the Ohio House and is currently the youngest Speaker in the country. Having just returned from a trip to China with other Speakers from around the country, Ohio House Speaker Rosenberger put his career trajectory into context describing his humble political beginnings in Clarksville, Ohio, a town with a population of 450.

“My grandfather always told me, it’s important to give back to the community. He made me run a town parade in Clarksville, and I thought ‘How could anyone be against anything you do in a parade?”  he told the class. Speaker Rosenberger learned quickly that even innocent exercises in civic engagement like parades become a discussion of resource allocation.

Speaker Rosenberger spent 12 years in the Air National Guard, interned with Karl Rove in the Bush White House and graduated from Wright State University. He was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 2010, representing Wilmington, Hillsboro and Waverly in southern Ohio. He assumed the office of Speaker in 2015 having been unanimously elected.

“You, as Speaker, are not only the head of the party for the House, but you also become a father, a wedding counselor and a lot of other things. You don’t choose who you serve within the Legislature,” he told the class. “However, 65 to 70 percent of my time is spent doing things administratively.”

Speaker Rosenberger suggested consensus and coalition building were of particular importance to his governing style. “You can go out and fight like heck with somebody, but it’s important to sit down with people too,” he said.

On the question of legislative redistricting reform, the Speaker said, “I think [Issue 1] makes the districts fairer. You’ve got an angry electorate – part of the reason is people don’t see their representatives enough.”

On the eve of Gov. Kasich’s State of the State address, where he called for redistricting reform for congressional districts, Speaker Rosenberger told the class, “We are looking at congressional redistricting now. We were waiting for the Supreme Court to make a decision in the Arizona case, and they did. However, comparing state redistricting to federal redistricting is like comparing apples to oranges.”

Ohio House Speaker Rosenberger also noted the similarities and differences of Ohio’s regions.

“In Southeast Ohio, there is a lot of rural poverty. They have a lot of food deserts. For instance, there is no grocery store in Vinton County. In Southwest Ohio, there are infrastructure concerns. Upwards of 150,000 vehicles a day travel across the bridge between Ohio and Kentucky – so there are infrastructure concerns and national security concerns as well. Northeast Ohio has a strong labor tradition with both Democratic leaning and Republican leaning unions. In Northwest Ohio, you have a similar dynamic with labor, but there are also questions on renewable energy out there with the wind farms. Central Ohio, the Columbus area, is a growing and modernizing town. LGBT issues and acceptance are important to the citizens there,” Speaker Rosenberger said.


Akron Beacon Journal Managing Editor Doug Oplinger discusses journalism with Campaign Battleground


Doug Oplinger of the Akron Beacon Journal visited our class on February 9, 2016. Specializing in public policy and community engagement reporting, Mr. Oplinger has been involved in editing and contributing to three Pulitzer Prize-winning pieces and has won several national awards for his directive role in the Beacon’s The American Dream: Hanging by a Thread series, which examined the difficult economic forces causing anxiety in the middle class during the recent recession.

“Before we get started, I want you to give me one word that describes a journalist,” Akron Beacon Journal Editor Doug Oplinger asked the Campaign Battleground Class. Mr. Oplinger then began to move about the room with a tape recorder and students gave their responses, “story…nagging…educated…embellishers…facts.” “I have very thick skin,” Mr. Oplinger suggested, “so if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask.”

Mr. Oplinger told the class he wanted to go into politics as a kid. He began attending city council meetings and started asking questions in the hope of getting involved. Eventually, Bill Hershey, a journalist for the Akron Beacon Journal had a young Mr. Oplinger attend a city council meeting and record the proceedings. Mr. Oplinger did so and reported back to Mr. Hershey. In doing so, Mr. Oplinger earned his first byline.

Mr. Oplinger explained the journalistic process, “You finish your story, put your feet up, eat some cold pizza, then you walk down three flights of stairs. You watch them put the plates on the press and start the presses, and there your story is reporting on Democracy in Action- it works again! And you were a part of it.”

Mr. Oplinger noted the two Pulitzers the Beacon Journal had won during his time there, as well as the four total the paper had won over its history. He noted that one, earned for the Beacon’s coverage of an attempted takeover of Goodyear Tire and Rubber in the 1980’s. He suggested, “The trucks would pull up to the factories after work and sell out of papers on the spot.”

Mr. Oplinger also discussed the changing business model of print media. He noted that advertisers have moved to the internet. The current reach of the Beacon Journal, he contends, is about 500,000. For comparison, they sell about 70,000 print copies of a given paper. Demand has also shifted for free audio and free video content. These business model changes are preceded by changes in consumption of news. “Confirmation bias is a tremendous problem for journalism and Democracy,” contended Mr. Oplinger. He pointed to Breitbart as an example of aggressive journalist quick to the scoop but often slanted in their view.

Asked if the days of quality journalism are over, Mr. Oplinger replied, “I sure hope not.” However, he did note that “The Beacon Journal is no longer the best paper in the state.”

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Ethics and Public Policy Senior Fellow Henry Olsen to discuss Election Returns and Polling on Feb. 2

Henry Olsen will speak to Campaign Battleground on February 2, 2016. Mr. Olsen is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center as well an elections analyst and political essayist, studying conservative politics in America and abroad. His writings have been published in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, and The Washington Post, among other prominent publications.

In his work, Mr. Olsen studies election returns and poll data to understand why people are voting in certain ways. He also analyzes how conservative politicians can best promote their ideas.

Mr. Olsen’s book, coauthored with University of New Hampshire professor Dante Scala, Four Faces of the Republican Party: The Fight for the 2016 Presidential Nomination is expected to be published this fall. Mr. Olsen is currently writing a second book, which focuses on President Reagan’s legacy for the conservatives.

During our discussion, the Campaign Battleground and Mr. Olsen will talk about his career, the Ethics and Public Policy Center and perhaps, the Iowa Caucus results and the upcoming New Hampshire Primary.


Source: Ethics & Public Policy Center


Clerk of Council Bob Keith discusses Akron City Council, his life in public service, and the future of Akron’s legislative body

On Tuesday, December 1, Clerk of Akron City Council Bob Keith joined Battleground for a discussion on local government and public service.

Mr. Keith began his career in the private sector, running a local restaurant and then a tailoring business. During that time, Mr. Keith was elected to City Council representing Akron’s Eighth Ward, encompassing the West Side of Akron. The Eighth Ward is the only Republican-leaning ward in the city. Mr. Keith suggested he strove for bi-partisan support and consensus in governing, saying, “I could not have been elected without the Republicans.”

Mr. Keith was not afraid to discuss some of the more contentious aspects of the legislative body, noting factionalism and the city’s precarious financial situation. Though Mr. Keith likes to joke, telling young people to “stay off the Third Floor of City Hall,” where the council offices are located he was optimistic about the future of the city. He noted the coming election of a new council president as well as the gradual incorporation of millennials into local politics as bright spots for the city’s future.

Watch the full conversation below or by visiting the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics YouTube channel.


Dave Yost, Auditor of the State of Ohio, – discusses functions of the Auditor’s Office, campaigning for public office – and his unique campaign commercials

On Tuesday, November 24, Dave Yost, Auditor of the State of Ohio, joined Battleground for a candid and enlightening discussion.

Auditor Yost began his career as a journalist, writing for the Columbus Citizen-Journal. Answering the call to serve his community and state, Mr. Yost entered public service through the administrations of Columbus Mayor Buck Rinehart and Governor George Voinovich.

After earning his Juris Doctor from Capital University Law School, Mr. Yost spent several years in private practice. He later returned to public service and was elected Delaware County auditor in 1999, prosecutor in 2003, and Auditor of the State of Ohio in 2011.

Mr. Yost shared the background of his “Yo Yost!” campaign commercials, revealing his wife originated the idea. The discussion then turned to functions of the Auditor’s office, an often overlooked yet critically important office tasked with ensuring fiscal responsibility among municipal governments, functions of state government and institutions receiving state support. Auditor Yost also answered questions about the difference among the various regions of Ohio, which he described as one of the state’s great strengths.

Watch the full conversation below or by visiting the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics YouTube channel.


National Battleground class travels to New Hampshire


National Battleground—a combined section, selected topic course in political science, taught by Dr. John Green and Gerald Austin—examines contemporary campaigning and electioneering going on across the United States. The class overall is a hands on, first look approach to campaigns and elections.

Offered each fall and spring semester, National Battleground takes a class trip to follow and engage in politics of the moment—such as Mayoral, Governor, and Presidential races. Past class trips have included Louisville, New York City, and Washington D.C.

Most recently, National Battleground traveled to New Hampshire, where students both learned about the historical nature of New Hampshire primary politics and were given a crash course in all things New Hampshire.

New Hampshire is a litmus test for Presidential candidates. The first in the nation to hold a primary, New Hampshire serves as an early indicator of the political winds of the entire country. This being said, New Hampshire voters take great pride in this and therefore do not take this lightly. In fact, the average voter there doesn’t make up their mind on a candidate until about four or five times of being polled and canvassed. Moreover, it is not uncommon for Presidential candidates to visit homes and have a one on one conversation with a voter—as this is a traditional expectation of candidates traveling through the state. Overall, it can be said that candidates who do not fare well there will not win the White House.

Over the course of the trip, students met with various experts in all things New Hampshire politics, including both the Democratic and Republican chairman’s, an alumnus of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics MAP program who consults currently in the state, and a professor of political science at Saint Anselm College. Additionally, students were able to canvass and contribute to campaign efforts with the campaign of their liking.

This upcoming spring semester National Battleground is taking a class trip to South Carolina to observe the primary. For more information on upcoming trips students are advised to contact Janet Bolois at the Ray C. Bliss Institute, located in Olin Hall 325.

NH Anselm College New Hampshire Democratic Headquarters Concord NH


Hillary Clinton Canvassing Concord NH Democratic Chairman Concord NH