To: David Pepper, ODP Chairman and Nina Turner, ODP Leadership Team Chair:
Congratulations on being selected as leaders of the Ohio Democratic Party. Thanks for producing your document: “Turning The Tide: Our Vision.” It gives Democrats a lot to think about. I like the “five basic principles” you outline — that you indicate will be the foundation for a “Blueprint to Victory” document that will be published in early spring.
The principle that most stands out to me is:
“ENERGIZING OUR INFRASTRUCTURE: The Party needs to touch voters where they are, and do so with passion — not just in the weeks prior to an election, but on an ongoing basis. This means firing up and empowering the entire Democratic infrastructure so it’s not simply a long list of names in a database, but and ACTIVE, WORKING infrastructure, fueled by passion and energy at every level of the Party.
Screen shot of the cover of John Pepper’s book, “What really matters”
This principle is all about passion and motivation. Democratic candidates lose elections when Democrats are not motivated to pitch in and help — or, at least vote. John Kasich would not have been elected, if Democrats would have come out and voted. Without an actively engaged base, Democratic candidates will continue to lose. How to get Democrats motivated is a big question.
Every leader of an organization — church, school, club, business, or political party — asks himself or herself: What can I do to motivate individuals to make their maximum contribution to the success of this organization?
There are many books that deal with the question of how to make organizations successful. I looked up the book, “What Really Matters,” written by the former CEO of Procter & Gamble, John Pepper — David’s Dad — to read the advice John Pepper may be offering to his son, the new “CEO” of the ODP (according to the ODP Constitution). What I get from the snatches of the book I read on Amazon is that John Pepper has a lot of good advice. He emphasizes that the success depends a lot on whether, or not, an organization builds a sense of “community” within itself. He tells about the enduring loyalty and camaraderie of P&G employees and says, “This unique sense of community is P&G’s least tangible, yet most distinctive and difficult-to-match competitive advantage.”
The “Turning the Tide” quote presents a dreary view of the Democratic infrastructure as it looks right now — a “long list of names in a database.” Most people on this list have little or no meaningful connection with others on the list and certainly don’t think of themselves as being part of a Democratic community.
The ODP is a political institution consisting of only 148 voting members. This small group stands apart from the Democratic base. In the 2014 May Democratic Primary, there were 1,307,000 Democrats who voted. These active Democrats are the ODP “Infrastructure” and success for the party depends a lot on whether this group is “energized.” Very few of these Democrats feel they have any voice within the Democratic Party. To energize this base we need to expand opportunity. We need to reimagine the Ohio Democratic Party as an extended Roberts Rules online community of Democrats who commit to working together, to listening and communicating with each other, and to making positive impacts in their local communities. Even a participation of only 10% of those voting in the last Democratic Primary would bring 130,000 Democrats into community, but even a start of only 10,000 would be very energizing. I’d like to see changes in the ODP Constitution so that:
- Any Ohio citizen that votes in two Democratic primaries is invited to become a voting member of the ODP and a full participant in the ODP website.
- Every four years the state leadership, the state party chair, via an online convention, is elected directly by the entire expanded ODP membership.
- An “Executive Committee,” chosen through election, determines many issues but for some key questions, the entire expanded ODP membership is invited vote.
Chapter Three of John Pepper’s book is entitled “Going for the Big Win.” It begins with a quote from John Kennedy: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” David and Nina, we need dramatic and drastic change in the Ohio Democratic Party. Please take a risk. Buck the status quo. Dare to go for the big win. Use your talents and energy to transform the Ohio Democratic Party.
As part of a fund raising campaign, the new leader of the Democratic Party, Tom Perez, sent this email message to Democrats, “Over the last couple of months, I’ve talked with party leaders, local officials, and supporters like you all across the country. And like many of you, when it comes to how we build a Democratic Party for the future, I have as many questions as I have answers. That’s why I want to hear from you today, Mike: what do you think our priorities should be? What are the most urgent challenges we need to meet?“
Building a strong Democratic Party requires systems’ thinking.The success of every system depends on these two factors:
- a well defined mission and
- an organizational structure thoughtfully designed to best accomplish that mission.
Please reconsider your words about mission. You are quoted in The Blaze as saying, “The DNC’s mission has to be to elect people up and down the ballot — from the school board to the senate.” You would not consider it adequate for a GM spokesperson to say, “The GM mission is to make a lot of money for our stockholders.” The mission that the leaders of GM advertise is that the mission of GM is to produce high quality automobiles at a competitive price. The outcome of successfully advancing that mission is selling cars and making money. Electing Democrats should be the outcome of a successful mission — not the mission itself.
If “electing Democrats” is not an adequate mission, then what is? In the same Blaze article you state, “The message of economic opportunity — jobs, good jobs, retirement security — that’s a message that resonates in every zip code.” Yes, but Republican candidates have the same message — evidently delivered more effectively.
Here is a daring thought: Suppose the Democratic Party becomes dedicated to actually being the party of the people. Right now, the notion that we are the party of the people is contradicted by the fact that the Democratic Party is still organized like the Republican Party — as a “political boss,” oligarchic system. In Ohio our party chairmen, David Pepper, was elected by a committee of 148 insiders — only 66 members of the group were directly elected in a Democratic Primary — regardless that 1.3 million Ohio Democrats regularly vote in Primaries. It’s pretty laughable that the Ohio Democratic Party wants to send every Ohio Democrat who donates money to the ODP a “membership card,” but this card gives the holder no vote, no say-so, in the party organization.
Rather than saying, “The DNC’s mission has to be to elect people up and down the ballot,” I’d like the leader of the party to emphasize that the DNC’s mission is to strengthen the structure of our democratic republic. I’d like to hear our leader say that political parties have a big role to play in empowering citizens so that their government is truly of the people, for the people and that the Democratic Party is changing its organization structure so that ordinary Democrats are in charge of the party — not the insiders, not the big-money people.
Oligarchy was once defended as the only practical method of making decisions because difficult transportation and slow methods of communication hindered the effective use of large groups. But now, Ohio could have a Democratic Party of thousands or hundreds of thousands of individuals all connected through the internet and this party could function as an on-line deliberative democracy.
The party’s 2016 platform included these words, “Cooperation is better than conflict, unity is better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls. It’s a simple but powerful idea: We are stronger together.” Yes, but these are just words, words, words without an organizational structure that gives meaning to those words. Right now, the Democratic Party is an oligarchy, much like the Republican Party. It should be the party controlled by the people. The organizational structure of the Democratic Party that could accomplish that mission would be one that would empower many more people, one focused on the local level and focused on engaging and informing the public. My suggestion is that as chairman of the party that you find county organizations that are exemplary in empowering and engaging Democrats as voters and participants in the local organization and that you publicly praise such groups and encourage other county groups to emulate these exemplary counties.
The Democratic Party should be inspired by the vision and should rise to the challenge that its transcendental mission is to promote and empower democracy. If the Party could actually fulfill such a mission — by abandoning it oligarchic structure and by educating the public, and by facilitating opportunities for political participation — then, of course, Democrats would win elections in droves.
This morning I made the comment below on a two month old article posted on Plunderbund. This builds on my post yesterday addressed to David Pepper, ODP Chairman and Nina Turner, ODP Leadership Team Chair : Invite All Ohio Democrats Too Become Voting Members Of The ODP
Ohio Democrats need bold leadership and we will soon find out if Pepper and Turner have the right stuff. They have promised to deliver their “Blueprint to Victory” in early spring. I will be reading that document carefully to see if it addresses the big changes needed in the ODP organization itself. If they fail to address the accusations made by Sharen Neuhardt in her letter withdrawing herself from the ODP Chair election (see below) — then I’ll be worried.
The ODP, according to its current constitution, is structured to be a “political boss” organization. The ODP needs to be re-structured via a new constitution. In her letter Neuhardt claims that the Executive Committee, that according to the ODP is supposed to act as the ODP governing body, in fact has “little or no power or authority.” This revelation is shocking. I feel like Bob Dole: “Where is the outrage?” But even if the ODP Executive Committee had been fully engaged, in a larger sense it wouldn’t have mattered. The ODP is a tiny organization of only 148 voting members. Only 66 of these members are chosen through an election process where every Ohio Democrat can participate — a man and a women elected from each of the 33 senatorial districts — the rest are appointed.
We need to remember what the only Democratic member of Ohio’s Supreme Court, William O’Neil, said about this group of 148: “As a matter of honor, all ‘appointed’, not elected, members of the ODP Executive Committee who approved the debacle known as candidate selection in 2012 need to quietly, politely, stand up and resign. Remember folks, is was the ‘appointed’ Executive Committee who ran my lawyer Jennifer Brunner off when she expressed an interest in running for Governor, and it was the Executive Committee who endorsed in my primary. They need to follow their leader out the door.”
The biggest impediment to the success of the ODP is the structure of the ODP itself. The ODP needs to be transformed from a oligarchic structure to a democratic structure. The political boss system harkens back to a horse-and-buggy era when members from around the state had to make their way to Columbus in order to participate in the ODP Executive Committee. In this internet era, if the party chose to do so, all Ohio Democrats could be connected and voting members of the ODP.
We will know if Pepper and Turner will provide the leadership that Ohio Democrats need, if they address the charges in Neuhardt’s letter and if they outline a proposal for transformational constitutional changes to the ODP organizational structure.
Sharen Neuhardt’s Withdrawal Letter:
Dear Fellow Democrat:
Since November 4, Democrats around this state have been engaging in spirited conversations about the future of our party and how best to move us forward and take the Ohio Democratic Party to the next level. I have been proud to be part of that conversation, along with David Pepper, Janet Carson, Antoinette Wilson, and Bob Hagan, the four other fine candidates who expressed an interest in being the next Chair of the party. We have participated in listening tour meetings held throughout the state, including two held yesterday in Dayton and Cincinnati, and there have been countless personal conversations and emails about the best way forward for our party.
Each of the five candidates for party Chair has written about his or her vision for the party, and our statements are in large part perfectly consistent with what we have been hearing on the listening tours and from fellow Democrats, including each of you on the Executive Committee. Just yesterday, David Pepper and Nina Turner released a statement of their vision, which I thought was an extraordinary document.
Apart from our vision, however, I have also wanted to discuss why the party desperately needs to adopt good governance policies – the kind of governance policies that any well-respected business or nonprofit entity would have had in place for years, but which the ODP has neglected to adopt. As a result, we hear again and again about situations like these:
Over the last several years, contracts for consulting, campaign, and other services worth hundreds of thousands of dollars being entered into between the party and companies owned directly or indirectly by party officials or members of the Executive Committee.
The party being burdened with nearly $2.0 million of debt that few, if any, Executive Committee members even knew exists.
Salaries and other benefits being paid to party officials without prior authorization or approval by any governing body, including questions about what financial arrangements will be put in place for any past Chair, our new Chair, and any other leadership team members.
Referral fees, commissions, or other payments being made to employees or officials of the party or their affiliates by vendors who provide services to the party or to candidates of the party.
No annual audit or oversight of the party’s books and records despite the requirements of the Constitution and Bylaws of the party.
An Executive Committee with little or no power or authority and who fails to receive any important information as to the actual operations of the party.
Many of us might agree that there was nothing improper about any of the situations described above if we knew of the facts surrounding them. The simple truth is that we don’t and that the culprit here is the party’s failure to have an ethics and conflicts of interest policy, procurement policies, and financial controls that are commonplace in virtually every other respected entity in this state. It’s also concerns like these that are partially responsible for the fact that significant parts of organized labor, as well as major donors to the party, have been reluctant to invest further in our party.
David and Nina’s vision for our party includes what they refer to as “Organizational Integrity.” However we describe it, the situations highlighted above need to be addressed. Speaking for myself and the parts of organized labor and the many Democrats who have steadfastly supported me in this endeavor, we trust that David and Nina will do the right thing and address these matters.
We have much to accomplish in a short time and we need to unite our party. I am so grateful to all my supporters who have advocated on my behalf and fought this good fight; however, on this day before the election, we need to accept that the majority of members of the Executive Committee believe that David Pepper is the right person to lead our party. The most important thing is not who leads our party, but what they believe.
Because we need to unite our party, get on with the business of winning the Democratic convention for Columbus, and implementing our shared vision for moving the party forward and winning elections, I want each of you to know that I am withdrawing my name as a candidate for election as our next party Chair.
Let’s get ready for 2016 and 2018, my friends!
In Ohio’s Attorney General Contest, challenger David Pepper is accusing the incumbent Mike DeWine of unfairly rewarding contributors with valuable contracts. In her DDN article this morning — Charges fly in spirited AG race — Laura Bischoff reports about Pepper’s “pay to play” accusation and cites a great article that she wrote in July that somehow I had missed.
Bischoff’s July article — Vendors gave big to DeWine, GOP — deserves a lot of attention and discussion. The article obviously was the result of many hours of research and outlines a strong a strong case that Mike Dewine, Ohio’s current Attorney General, used his office inappropriately.
Bischoff summarizes her research in the first paragraphs of the article:
In doling out lucrative collections contracts, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine passed over more experienced vendors in favor of a friend’s new collections agency.
His campaign and the state Republican Party received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from collectors as they sought work from the state.
And DeWine involved his former fundraiser and other politically connected people in a process that is supposed to independent from political influence.
Debt collection generates a lot of money for the state and a lot of money for the collectors. The Attorney General decides who to hire to do the collection and the work pays very well. The article reports, “The DeWine administration hires between six and eight third party vendors and between 74 and 118 attorneys each year to handle debt collection work. The state paid those agencies and attorneys a total of $137.9 million between 2011 and 2013.”
The right to hand out contracts worth millions of dollars provides a big opportunity for corruption. We can be thankful that Bischoff spent the effort to do the research which involved “reviewing hundreds of pages of state documents, campaign finance reports and other records relating to the attorney general’s role in picking outside attorneys and collections agencies that go after back taxes, defaulted student loans and other money owed to state government and public universities.”
Bischoff reports, “Of the 30 collections attorneys who contributed more than $10,000 to that total, the average annual earnings on debt collection work was $796,500 between 2011 and 2013. Of the 89 who contributed less than $10,000, the average earnings during that time period were $192,000.”
The article focuses on Dewine’s friend, Pete Spitalieri, who landed a contract to collect debt worth millions regardless that his brand new company had no experience in doing the work. Bischoff shows that Spitalieri gave money to the Republican party — $35,000 to the Ohio Republican Party, plus $23,000 to the Summit County GOP — which has sent Mike DeWine’s campaign $405,500 since 2010.
Spitalieri formed CELCO Ltd. on April 11, 2012 — just two days before DeWine’s office put out a request for proposals from collections agencies for the upcoming fiscal year. Three weeks later, CELCO turned in a proposal that acknowledged the company had no experience handling collections accounts.
Nonetheless, CELCO beat out several bigger, more established bidders, including ones that had a national footprint and licensing.
“We were absolutely flabbergasted,” said Barry H. Fromm, chief executive of Columbus-based Value Recovery Group, or VRG, which was founded in 1993 and had worked for the past five attorneys general. His firm got edged out by CELCO.
Matt Heck, Montgomery County Prosecutor, is being conisder by Gov. Strickland for the appointment to the Ohio AG post vacated by Marc Dann.
Heck is among others being considered including Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper and State Treasurer Richard Cordray.