Updated: Jan 8
“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of government…”[i]
That is the mandate, U.S. Const. art. IV, § 4, for the federal government to insure that state and local governments derive their authority from the people. The people are sovereign. James Madison in the Federalist Papers #39 said specifically “Power is derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable portion or a favored class of it.”[ii]
Madison foresaw that states are vulnerable to corruption and would create undemocratic institutions, motivated by sinister designs, by intrigue, and by corruption. The process is to first get the votes to be elected, and then to betray the interests of the people in pursuit of a an autocratic agenda. That corruption will inevitably spread to the Federal level: “[A]n unrepublican state government might tend to undermine the republican character of the federal government, whose own institutions would rest largely on state-law pillars. For example, a warped state government might corrupt the integrity of that state’s elections to the federal House, Senate, and electoral college.[iii] As Republican state legislators implement a multitude of restrictions on voting, it is happening today.
What would we say if leaders of a country, in a short time, did all of the following
Rigged rules so they could never lose elections;
engaged in rampant corruption;
changed public laws to make it harder for voters and parties who opposed them to win elections;
undermined other elected offices which are designed to play independent roles in elections;
undermined the independence of their courts;
directly defied the outcomes of referenda;
took steps to question the results of recent elections;
cracked down on protests;
censored the teaching of history to whitewash some of its worst elements,
relentlessly attacked independent media?
How would we react if groups of oligarchs drafted legislation in private and then handed it to politicians (who couldn’t lose elections) to enact, and they did so again and again?
We wouldn’t simply describe these steps narrowly, as attacks on various individual rights. We would say, far more loudly and with greater concern, that the country in question was abandoning democracy. That they were becoming an autocracy. And here we are.
The fight against spreading authoritarianism and autocracy.
So, we have to re-apply our pro-democracy mission throughout Ohio, and into state after state. We must call it what it is: a fight for democracy. We start by recognizing that Ohio’s statehouse and many others, no longer meet even the most generous definition of a “Republican Form” of government; that, to use Madison’s words, “aristocratic…innovations” have walled them off from accountability to “the great body of the society,” placing them at odds with the will of their own citizens on issue after issue, and achieving the multiple risks the Founders described. Not just to the states and their own citizens, but to the entire national endeavor. We must take steps to take back the democracy that Madison and the Founders constructed for us, so that even though “[t]he influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, it will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.” [iv]
The following is a summary of the steps described by former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. He necessarily points out that our fight for democracy must be carried out at the national, state and local levels. So…What To Do?
Reframe this effort as a battle to implement the constitutional guarantee of a Republican Form of government to every State in this Union. Because the people are sovereign, we must compel our representatives to pass and to enforce our right to vote.
Resist through Federal Legislation and Enforcement
a. Pass laws that provide the strongest protection of democratic governance possible, especially fair elections and equal opportunity to exercise voting rights.
b. Follow up with relentless enforcement of those laws. Specifically:
c. Pass the John Lewis Act.
d. Pass the For the People Act.
3. Don’t Let the Filibuster Stop You.
a. The filibuster is not a legitimate obstacle to either the For the People Act or the John Lewis Act.
b. Pass them both.
c. Then enforce them relentlessly.
4. Robust Federal Corruption Enforcement
a. in states awash in the corruption that accompanies these laboratories of autocracy, robust federal enforcement against corruption is the only path to cleaning it up.
b. In Ohio, the legislature and Attorney General are altering jurisdiction over corruption
c. changing the rules of judicial elections,
d. corrupt legislatures happily rig the rules of courts and the criminal justice system to evade accountability for misdeeds
e. They are fearless, knowing that gerrymandering protects them at the ballot box.
f. Robust federal enforcement against corruption is the only path to cleaning it up.
5. Legislation To Buttress Democracy on Other Fronts
a. Labor unions and the right to organize,
b. The fulsome teaching of history,
c. The right to protest,
6. Define the Teams Differently: Away from Never-Trump to Always-Democracy.
a. Are you for it or not?
b. Do you want to stop attacks on voters, or don’t you?
c. Do you want to win by rigging elections, or not?
d. Do you stand up against moves toward autocracy
But that genteel politician who posts nice photos marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge while voting against democracy at every opportunity (Senator Rob Portman and Frank LaRose)? Or writing op-eds bemoaning partisanship while rigging elections in backrooms (Husted). They are on the wrong team and the wrong side of history.
Infighting between progressives and moderates needs to take a back seat to fierce unity on democracy. Disagree, but not so rancorously that deep divisions open up opportunities for the other side.
Pepper, David. Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call from Behind the Lines (p. 285). St. Helena Press. Kindle Edition.
(to be continued)
[i] U.S. Const. art. IV, § 4 Pepper, David. Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call from Behind the Lines (p. 419). St. Helena Press. Kindle Edition. [ii] Madison, James. Federalist No. 39. Pepper, David. Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call from Behind the Lines (p. 419). St. Helena Press. Kindle Edition. [iii] Amar, Akhil Reed. America’s Constitution: A Biography, 1st Edition. (New York, New York: Random House, 2006), 280. Pepper, David. Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call from Behind the Lines (p. 420). St. Helena Press. Kindle Edition. [iv] Pepper, David. Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call from Behind the Lines (p. 273). St. Helena Press. Kindle Edition.
David Pepper is an American politician, former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, a former councilman for the city of Cincinnati, and former member of the Hamilton County, Ohio Board of Commissioners. He earned his B.A. at Yale University and his J.D. from Yale Law School.