By Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson)
The performance Statehouse Republicans put on surrounding the removal of Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz was one for the ages. One by one, they approached the microphone and avowed their actions weren’t in any way about wrestling control from the only statewide-elected Democrat. Dissect the precarious argument they constructed to justify her removal and it’s glaringly obvious what her ouster is truly about: politics.
First, Republicans are confusing debate with dysfunction. State Board of Education meetings chaired by Superintendent Ritz are often impassioned, complete with discussion between board members and public testimony from concerned Hoosiers. Why? Because education policy matters. Because half the state budget is earmarked for education and it impacts more than one million Hoosier students across the state. Frankly, we ought to expect a thorough vetting of these issues. Debate makes our democracy stronger, by removing Ritz, Republicans are moving to silence it.
Second, Republicans claim Ritz’s inability to lead puts the educational progress of Indiana students in jeopardy. Well, the facts don’t lie. More schools are rated A, fewer are failing and more students are graduating. Her leadership guided us successfully through the No Child Left Behind waiver process and defused the situation concerning the length of ISTEP testing. You want the culprit for tumult over education policy in our state? It’s the endless meddling of self-styled education policy wonks in the legislature and in the governor’s office. It’s burdening our teachers and burying our students.
Third, they contend removing Ritz as chair aligns the State Board of Education with board governance best practices. The chief executive officer rarely serves as chair of the board in the corporate world they say. Yet no effort has been made to align the Indiana Economic Development Corporation Board with supposed best practices even as the state’s CEO, Governor Mike Pence, also serves as that board’s chairman.
So why then are Republicans relentlessly pursuing Ritz’s removal even when their reasoning fails to hold water? It boils down to unbridled arrogance. Two years on, Republicans still can’t stomach an electoral defeat at the hands of a Democrat.
Republicans hold supermajorities in both the Indiana Senate and House. The governor is a Republican. Every statewide-elected office is occupied by a Republican but one: the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Six amendments that would have removed political appointments and directed the issue a thorough study were offered. All six were voted down on strict party line votes.
But no matter how “super” the Republicans majorities are, Hoosiers voted in 2012 for Glenda Ritz and her policies, rejecting former Superintendent Tony Bennett and his divisive reforms. Most egregious is that Republicans have opted to strip Superintendent Ritz of her authority in the middle of her term. The results of that election must be respected.
This is about a political power grab. To achieve it, Republicans are willing to erode democratic principles and invalidate the voices of 1.3 million Hoosiers who voted for Ritz to assume the full duties ascribed to her as the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Sen. Lanane represents Indiana Senate District 25 which includes portions of Madison and Delaware counties, including the City of Muncie and the southeastern portion of the City of Anderson.