Q&A With David Pepper

Attorney general candidate on his background, hometown and the run for the state's top lawyer post

Oct 29, 2014 at 8:11 am

A year after failing to unseat Dave Yost as Ohio’s auditor, David Pepper returns to the ballot this year opposite incumbent Attorney General Mike DeWine. Pepper’s campaign has hammered the Republican DeWine on multiple fronts, including his response to Ohio’s heroin epidemic, his refusal to allow local jurisdictions to analyze a backlog of the state’s rape evidence kits and for his defense of same-sex marriage bans in other states. CityBeat caught up with the former Cincinnati city councilman and Hamilton County commissioner to discuss his campaign. 

CityBeat: First off, what drew you into public service? Your dad, former P&G CEO John Pepper, is a very active guy here in town. Did he influence your path?

David Pepper:

I grew up in a family that was very public minded, but the choice to do something political was new to the family.

I’ve always been very proud of Cincinnati. When I moved back here in 1999, the city was doing terribly. We had terrible police-community relations, and we ultimately had riots on the streets for the whole country to watch. What got me involved was seeing the city that I loved doing poorly at the time and wanting to help. 

CB: You got your undergraduate and law degrees from Yale. What sticks out most for you about your time there, and what made you decide to come back to Ohio/Cincinnati?


I was voted most likely to be president of the Cincinnati Tourism Board when I was in undergrad. But to be honest, I wasn’t sure where I would end up. When I came back and worked as a law clerk here, I knew I wanted to stay.

Initially, I wanted to do foreign affairs. I was an International Studies major, I worked in Russia for three years. From a young age, I’ve always been interested in foreign affairs. I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in St. Petersburg. The most interesting piece, in hindsight, was working on a project with the vice mayor of St. Petersburg, who at the time was Vladimir Putin. It was one of those Forrest Gump moments when you’re hanging out with this guy who would go on to be the leader of Russia, and now clearly infamous on the world stage.

CB: You ran for state auditor in 2010. Why not go for that office again? What made you decide you wanted to run for AG?


The truth is, governor Strickland approached me to run for state auditor. If I’d won it, we could have avoided the gerrymandering that’s happened in this state, which is just poisoning politics in Ohio and beyond. But if you sum total up all my experiences and interests … my time on Council, as commissioner, I’ve been a lawyer since 1999, all that is much more relevant and appropriate for AG. It very much matches my experiences. 

CB: You’ve hit Mike DeWine over his defense of Ohio’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. DeWine says he’s simply protecting Ohio’s constitution. You’re a vocal proponent for marriage equality. As AG, you’re charged with defending the laws of the state — what could you do differently? 


Of course the job involves defending laws of the state of Ohio. But the job is not to defend laws that your legal judgment and that legal precedent say are unconstitutional. And everything points to this being one of those cases. A Cincinnati couple is having their rights to be recognized as married violated. Of course I’ll defend many laws I don’t agree with. But if something is unconstitutional, you owe a duty to go to court and explain that to a judge. This is not a new idea. Attorneys general are doing this across the country. 

CB: The state of Ohio recently cited Cincinnati’s last abortion facility for not having admitting privileges at an area hospital, and it might be forced to close. Recently, states like Texas have seen their restrictions on clinics challenged in the Supreme Court. What would you do as AG if you found yourself in a position where you had to defend Ohio’s restrictions?


You defend the law, even if you don’t agree with it. But when you start seeing, and you may see it in this Texas case, the laws cutting off a constitutional right, you have to say something. And if it gets to a point where there’s no choice, as Roe v. Wade requires, the attorney general has to go before the court and say that. If women in the state can’t exercise rights they’re guaranteed, I think an attorney general has a responsibility to say that. It’s not about personal beliefs; it’s not about viewpoint. 

CB: You’ve talked a lot about Ohio’s heroin epidemic and say DeWine hasn’t done enough to combat it. What’s your plan, and how might it help the Greater Cincinnati area specifically?


We need more treatment. We need more funding. The reality is, the current AG has nothing. No plan. They do a little here, a little there, but the longer I’m in this race, the more alarmed I am about the lack of response. He doesn’t even have a page for strategies on his website. He has a page for recipes, but not a page for strategies. There was a cut for a federal grant for treatment in July. He didn’t say anything. This is an enormous problem that’s going to take an enormous amount of work, and it’s painful to watch such an inadequate response. 

CB: You’re in Anderson Township these days, right? What would you miss most about the Cincinnati area if you had to pack up for Columbus to be AG?


I’m not sure I would leave. I like Columbus as a city, but I find it a little bit like Washington in that I don’t think the political culture is a very healthy one. I think the culture in Columbus is too insular, too disconnected. The response to the heroin crisis is a great example of that. I think DeWine’s in that bubble. I think I’d be a lot closer to Cincinnati than Columbus if I was elected. I was there this morning, I’m already back. ©