David Pepper, author and former head of the Ohio Democratic Party, has a new book in which he urges citizens to shift focus to their statehouses -- where Republicans extremists are building their power.
The book is called "Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wakeup Call From Behind The Lines," and he'll be here tomorrow at 1 pm EST to talk about it with C&L readers. Don't miss it!
If you think Washington is broken, David Pepper is here to tell you things are worse in Columbus. And Tallahassee. And Atlanta. And Austin. Pepper, a recent chairman of the Ohio state Democratic Party, has a new book out this week, Laboratories of Autocracy. The title plays off a phrase coined by U.S. Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis, who called the states—optimistically—America’s laboratories of democracy.
Pepper’s take is considerably darker. He describes not simply old-fashioned corruption in state legislatures, but a decades-long campaign, orchestrated by Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, and the Republican Party, to use them to subvert democracy. The strategy is now paying off in everything from rigged election districts to voter suppression to anti-abortion vigilantes. But Pepper’s alarming book also includes smart ideas for fighting back. He spoke to Vanity Fair about both problems and solutions while visiting the Ohio birthplace of President Ulysses S. Grant, just south of his own Cincinnati hometown.
Vanity Fair: Your book opens with a bizarre scene: the miles-long traffic jam of voters trying to reach the single drop box location for one of Ohio’s largest counties in October 2020, a mess worsened by the Republican secretary of state. Was this the spark to write the book?
David Pepper: One of the sparks. Every few weeks we all react to a crazy new law in some state, like voting restrictions in Texas. There’s a lawsuit or a boycott—and then we go back to debating something else that’s happening in Washington. People never stop and think, ‘Why does this keep happening in the states? Is anyone going to actually do something?’ The problem is you say the word ‘statehouse’ and people immediately go to sleep. But they are an Achilles heel of American governance: easily corruptible, unknown to most people, and with a lot of power to do damage.
Join us for this discussion tomorrow, 1 pm EST.