News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 24, 2013

EDITORIAL: Bills deserve ‘F’ for political retribution

Attempts to stifle Ritz’s authority need to be voted down in Legislature

The Tribune-Star

---- — Two bills proposed in the Indiana House of Representatives look, at best, childish.

Both pieces of legislation would diminish the job of state superintendent of public instruction, occupied presently by newly elected Glenda Ritz. Indiana voters overwhelmingly chose Ritz in November’s election over Tony Bennett, the face of the school reform movement championed by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and fellow Republicans in the Legislature. A political newcomer who switched parties — from Republican to Democrat — just to take on Bennett, Ritz scored a victory that shocked political pundits. It also angered Bennett’s most strident party supporters.

House Bills 1251 and 1309 reflect their lingering irritation. The proposals also amount to a disregard for Hoosiers who elected Ritz.

Representative Todd Huston, a Republican from Fishers and Bennett’s former chief of staff, sponsored HB 1251. It would strip the requirement that at least four of the 10 members of the State Board of Education be licensed educators actively employed in Indiana schools. (That is precisely Ritz’s background, a veteran of more than three decades as a classroom teacher at the high school, middle school and elementary levels.) The bill also would scrap the requirement that no more than six Board of Education members hail from the same political party. (Again, Ritz ran as a Democrat.)

For those of you scoring at home: voices of experience, gone; voices of dissent, gone.

Such changes to the Board of Education directly impact the traditional job Ritz fills. As of now, the superintendent of public instruction serves as the board’s chairperson, as well as chairperson of the Education Roundtable.

That, too, could change.

The chairman of the House Education Committee, Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, filed HB 1309. It would force the Board of Education to elect a “vice chairperson” empowered to “call meetings, set and amend agendas, arrange for witnesses, and carry out other administrative functions related to the meetings of the state board.” That’s not all. It would further usurp Ritz by slicing the supervision of the state Education Roundtable, now handled jointly by the governor and superintendent, into a trio. The “third co-chairperson” would be the commissioner for higher education, who is appointed by a governor’s panel. Such a diminishment would leave Ritz outnumbered 2-to-1 by the governor and his team.

Both bills would take effect July 1.

It would be hard to find a more overt political power play outside of Chicago.

The Republicans already hold super majorities in the Indiana House and Senate. They hold the governor’s seat. These two bills would effectively muscle Ritz — the legitimate recipient of more than 1.3 million votes — out of the way in an apparent quest to squelch the only threat to full GOP dominance. Or maybe the bills are just the result of good, old-fashioned political one-upsmanship and partisan retribution.

Either way, Ritz deserves to serve in the job Hoosiers chose her to do. Legislators should respect those votes and reject House Bills 1251 and 1309, and we urge our local lawmakers to vote that way.