Ever since Governor Mike Pence was elected in 2012, he has steadily chipped away at the power of Glenda Ritz, the state commissioner of education who was also elected in 2012 but on the Democratic line. In this solid red state, Ritz got more votes than Pence.
Ritz is an experienced educator, and she has worked to improve public schools and the teaching profession, whereas the Governor and Legislature prefer to gut both of them.
Pence created an alternate education agency to take away Ritz’s authority. Now he has a plan to finally crush her office altogether.
According to the Indiana Economic Digest, citing an editorial in the Tribune-Star:
“Unless some virtuous political maverick at the top levels of Indiana government appears this winter, the dynasty running Hoosier government will finally complete its two-year-long crusade to wither its last obstacle to full dominance. Gov. Mike Pence announced the check-mate move Thursday as he laid out his goals for the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
“The governor wants legislators to give the Indiana State Board of Education members the power to pick their own chairperson. Under existing Indiana law, the state superintendent of public instruction automatically serves as the board’s chairperson. In other words, the voters decide who chairs the Board of Education. In 2012, they emphatically chose Glenda Ritz, a school-teacher Democrat, as their state superintendent over Republican school-reform star Tony Bennett. The defeat galled Republicans. They never accepted the people’s choice.
“So, with every tool possible, they’ve relentlessly circumvented Ritz, usurping the authority attached to her job. Republican legislators suddenly embraced an idea tossed around for decades — making the superintendent a governor-appointed position, rather than an elected one. With the GOP holding super majorities in the state Senate and House, the only thing preventing it from following through with that tactic was its blatantly obvious political motivation.
“Pence’s proposal injects a new twist. Instead of ousting Ritz, the change drains a huge amount of her remaining power. The other 10 members of the Board of Education — all appointed by Republican governors — would select their chairperson to set the agenda for education policy in Indiana. Ritz would be reduced to just another member, because the others would certainly not choose her.
“Disappointingly, the Republican leaders of the Legislature endorsed Pence’s plan last week. House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long expressed their frustration with the embarrassing dysfunction between the governor’s board and Ritz, calling it a “sideshow” and framing Pence’s proposal as a solution. Ritz is not the problem. The problem is the power party’s refusal to tolerate a rejection of their ballyhooed education reforms by the same voters who simultaneously approved of the Republicans’ efforts in other aspects of governing.”