Will Klatt, an Ohio University graduate known for his extensive community activism, launched his bid this week to replace outgoing Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper, who is stepping down at the end of the year.
Klatt, part of the party’s more progressive wing, aims to make the Democrats more approachable for minorities. If elected chair, he also would work to shift the party’s focus toward retaining small donations from members, much like a union, rather than relying on big-dollar donations, he said in an interview.
“The reason I’m running is I believe that the Democratic Party needs to be inclusive, be democratic, and be kind to their own members,” Klatt said.
He’s one of five others who announced their bid for party chair, the winner of which will be voted on by the party’s central committee in mid-January.
The Ohio Democratic Party in recent years has struggled to win elections and flip Republican-held seats. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown remains the only Democrat to hold a statewide office. Republican President Donald Trump won Ohio by fairly wide margins in both 2020 and 2016, and Republicans continue to hold a supermajority in the General Assembly.
Klatt, now a Columbus-area resident, had two stints in Athens — one in the mid-2000s where he earned a media studies degree as an undergraduate and another between 2013 and 2015 when he returned to complete a master’s degree in public administration at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
“I have a lot of fond memories of Athens … people there care a lot about the city and the university, and frankly I just felt honored to work with folks there because it’s a really special place,” he said.
During his undergraduate years in the mid-to-late aughts, Klatt served on student government and was a prominent member of the now-defunct progressive organization Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) where he and others at OU raised awareness of several issues important to them at the time. Some of which may sound familiar to activists in the university community of today.
Klatt was featured in a 2007 article in liberal magazine The Nation that describes an OU campus protest where SDS members voiced opposition to increased tuition fees, the elimination of varsity sports programs, increased administrative bonuses, and the existence of “free speech” zones that relegated protest to specific spaces on campus.
According to an Athens NEWS report from the time, Klatt was at the forefront of opposing campus free speech zones.