Thursday, June 11, 2015

Glenda Ritz and the lesson of David and Goliath

Posted By on Thu, Jun 11, 2015 at 1:00 PM


In a different life, the team I worked with developed a strategy for dealing with bigger and better-funded opponents.

In those days, I was the executive director of what was then the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, now the ACLU of Indiana. Our mission was to defend the principles set forth in the U.S. and Indiana constitutions – principles almost everyone supports in theory but that a lot of people dislike in practice.

Particularly when they discover that other people they don't like might have those rights, too.

Our budget was meager and our staffing small. We were always outnumbered, always outgunned. So we had to be creative when it came to political battles. Our strategy was a simple one. We'd let the other side assume the expense of building the stage and bringing in the crowd. Then we'd rush forward and take control of the microphone.

We'd make their supposed advantages – their money, their staffing, the size of their organization – work against them. At least part of the lesson from the story of David and Goliath is that the rock doesn't have to be thrown all that hard if it hits the right spot. When something's that big and that clumsy, the hard fall that follows a stumble will do more damage than a stone ever could.

We had a lot of fights in my six years at the ICLU – and we won a lot of them. We got pretty good at the art of political jujitsu.

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Good as we were, though, we were nothing compared to Glenda Ritz.

When Ritz, a Democrat, was elected less than three years ago, she was largely unknown. She became the target of every angry conservative, every power-mad Republican and every frustrated (and self-proclaimed) education reform advocate in the state.

They had money on their side. They had a strong organization on their side. They had political power — two Republican governors who'd vowed to break her and a Republican-dominated legislature eager to help with the breaking — on their side.

Ritz had enough savvy to turn those advantages against them.

When the State Board of Education anointed from above by Republican governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence tried to shut her out of their discussions – and circumvent open records laws in the process – she filed suit. The suit went nowhere, but it focused a spotlight on the fact that her opponents weren't exactly fans of open government or listening to voters.

That set the pattern.

Time and time again, Ritz turned criticisms her opponents directed at her around and forced them to have the discussion she wanted, rather than the inquisition they wanted.

When, after much skirmishing, Ritz's opponents worked to strip her of any authority to shape education policy by changing Indiana law, she slipped out of their grasp and announced she was running for governor.

That means she'll drag all the voters who feel they weren't heard in 2012 when they voted for her as superintendent into the governor's race against an already vulnerable GOP candidate, Gov. Mike Pence.

Ritz's opponents now have started a drumbeat that she's not qualified to be governor – that she lacks the requisite administrative experience to be the state's chief executive officer.


In addition to leaving themselves vulnerable to charges that they're arrogant and intolerant – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act's continuing gift to the Indiana GOP – these new arguments about Ritz's "inexperience" will leave Republicans open to accusations that they're sexist.

Unless I miss my guess, Ritz is going to be smart enough to point out that Mike Pence's resume wasn't exactly weighted down with executive experience when he ran for governor in 2012 – and that didn't seem to bother any of the folks who now are so concerned about Ritz's qualifications.

I don't know if Glenda Ritz can or will win the governor's race in 2016. I also don't know if she would be a good governor should she be elected.But she does seem to have at least one thing going for her.

The people battling her are slow on the uptake.

Really slow.

John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of "No Limits" WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of

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John Krull

John Krull

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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