Thursday, February 3, 2022 • 7:00 pm
State governments are the place where the real battle for democracy is taking place, according to Professor David Pepper in his book Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call from Behind the Lines.
His title comes from a telling twist in a phrase coined in 1932 by Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who called state governments “laboratories for democracy.” While news media focuses on the national government, few reporters and commentators are left to pay attention to the corruption and divisiveness in state governments that is leading toward autocracy and one-party rule.
Laboratories of Autocracy shows that far more than the high-profile antics of politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Jim Jordan—and yes, even bigger than Donald Trump’s "Big Lie”—it’s anonymous, often corrupt politicians in statehouses across the country who pose the greatest dangers to American democracy.
Because these statehouses no longer operate as functioning democracies, these unknown politicians have all the incentive to keep doing greater damage, and can not be held accountable however extreme they get. This has driven steep declines in states like Ohio and others across the country. And collectively, it’s placed American democracy in its greatest peril since the dawn of the Jim Crow era.
David Pepper is a writer, lawyer, former elected official, and served as the Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party between 2015 and 2021. Born and raised in Cincinnati, David is a fifth-generation Cincinnatian. David earned his B.A. from Yale University and his J.D. from Yale Law School. Between his undergraduate and law school years, David spent three years with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, serving as a research intern for Zbigniew Brzezinski before providing technical assistance on economic and governance issues in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Returning to Ohio, David was first elected to public office in 2001 when he served on the Cincinnati City Council. In 2006, David was elected to the three-member Hamilton County Commission. He served as the Commission President from 2009-2010. David was nominated by Ohio Democrats to run in statewide elections twice, in 2010 for Ohio Auditor, and in 2014 for Attorney General.
David also teaches election and voting rights law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. David has written four novels: The People's House (2016), The Wingman (2018), The Voter File (2020), and A Simple Choice (forthcoming, 2022, Putnam).
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