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Governor Mike Pence has been trying to take down State Superintendent of Education Glenda Ritz ever since they were both elected to office in 2012. Pence is a Republican, Ritz is a Democrat. In the election, Ritz won with a bipartisan coalition and beat incumbent Tony Bennett, whose campaign outspent Ritz’s by 10-1. Ritz won more votes than Pence in the general election. Under Tony Bennett, Indiana education policy favored for-profit charter schools, vouchers, high-stakes testing, and attacks on the teaching profession (he was chair of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change and adopted all of Bush’s favored policies). After he resigned, he was immediately hired to be State Superintendent in Florida, but then quickly resigned when AP reporter Tom LoBianco revealed that Bennett had altered the A-F grading system to protect the charter school of one of his major campaign donors.
Glenda Ritz’s victory would prove to be a thorn under Governor Pence’s saddle. Pence appoints the members of the State Board, which Ritz chairs. Over the past two years, Pence created a new state agency to deal with education and workforce issues, to reduce Ritz’s authority. The sniping has continued, because Pence won’t be content until Ritz has no authority at all.
Now members of the State Senate have introduced bills to allow the State Board of Education to elect its own chair, a position that under current law belongs to the elected State Superintendent.
What are the lessons for the rest of us?
One, Governor Pence and the members of the State Senate want to nullify the clear wishes of the public who overwhelmingly voted for Glenda Ritz. Pence and his allies apparently don’t believe in democracy.
Two, Superintendent Glenda Ritz is a brave woman with a strong stomach, who has stood up to this constant assault on her and her office with great dignity.