VINDY EXCLUSIVE | Betras calls for new state Democratic Party leadership

By David Skolnick


Two months after another Republican sweep of statewide executive races, David Betras, the Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, sent a letter to fellow county Democratic chairmen/women calling for new state party leadership.

The outspoken Betras is the first county Democratic leader to publicly call for such a change though he’s been outspoken on social media in his criticism of the party.

“It’s easy to see that the [Ohio Democratic Party] knew how to do one thing: put postage and an address on a lit[erature] piece,” Betras wrote to the other 87 county Democratic leaders Wednesday. “Here’s what they clearly did not know how to do: create a lit piece that convinced people to vote Democratic. But what does it mean when a flawlessly executed plan/strategy fails? We all know the answer: it means the plan was fatally flawed in 2018 just as it was in 2016. And it means that the people who crafted those incredibly flawed plans can’t be left at the helm.”

Betras also wrote: “We need leaders who bring innovative thinking and fresh perspective to the table. We need leaders who understand that mobilization without message is a formula for disaster. It’s no accident that [failed Democratic gubernatorial nominee] Rich Cordray won only one more county than Hillary Clinton. In the two years between those elections, we did nothing to bring blue-collar workers home and failed to motivate critical core constituencies.”

When asked if he was specifically calling for state Chairman David Pepper to resign, Betras said, “I’m calling for us to have a discussion and make hard decisions to embrace change.”

But he added: “Usually when you lose this much, you change coaches.”

Betras said, however, he has “no desire to be the state party chairman, zero.”

Pepper, who was first elected chairman in January 2015, can be removed only by a vote of the 66-member state central committee or by resignation. He was re-elected in June.

Pepper said Wednesday he has no plans to resign.

Kirstin Alvanitakis, Ohio Democratic Party spokeswoman, said: “We were all frustrated by the governor’s race results, and there is certainly added Democratic frustration in the [Mahoning] Valley because of the state House and state Senate losses there as we picked up seats in other parts of the state. We’ve been getting valuable feedback from stakeholders and party leaders since the election, and we welcome Dave’s thoughts as well.”

The only state House and Ohio Senate seats held by Democrats that went Republican in the November election were in Mahoning County, where Betras is chairman. Republican Don Manning won the Ohio House 59th District race in southern Mahoning County. Republican Michael Rulli lost by about 7,000 votes in Mahoning County for the Ohio Senate 33rd District race, but won by about 13,000 votes in Columbiana County.

Betras said Pepper and his supporters have tried to put a “positive spin” on the Nov. 6 election by pointing out U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, heavily favored to be re-elected, and the party’s two Ohio Supreme Court candidates, who run without party affiliation in the general election, won.

But, more importantly, Betras said Democrats lost every statewide executive office again.

Only in 2006 have Democrats won statewide executive office races dating back to 1990.

After the election, Betras told The Vindicator: “Ohio is no longer a purple state; this election seals it. The Republicans have the Legislature. They’ve run this state forever. In 2022, it will be even harder to run against incumbent Republicans.”

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