KRULL: Voters spoke, but is the GOP listening?

November 17, 2012

John KrullOh, what strange things partisanship and ideology can be.

The day after the votes had been counted in the 2012 election, Republican leaders new and old in state government declared that nothing—not even a pesky upset—was going to stop them from implementing their education agenda.

That pesky upset, of course, came in the person of Glenda Ritz, the Democrat who defeated incumbent state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. Ritz won by six points, despite the fact that Bennett outspent her by a sum equal to the gross national product of many small countries.

No matter, said Gov. Mitch Daniels, Gov.-elect Mike Pence and Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

Daniels pretty much spoke for the group.

“The consensus and the momentum for reform and change in Indiana is rock solid,” Daniels said.

“Not one word of those laws is going to be changed,” he added. “There’s a board of education I appointed that the new superintendent reports to. Every one of them is pro-reform…and we have a very idealist pro-reform [governor’s] administration coming in.”

In short, what Daniels, Pence and Bosma argued was that the voters really didn’t say anything by electing Ritz—and, even if the voters did say something, other elected officials really aren’t obligated to listen to it.

I remember a time a couple of decades ago when Gov. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, and his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly argued that they should be able to shape education policy because they had won the most recent election and made education one of their top priorities.

“No, no, no,” Republicans said at that time.

The stalwarts of the GOP argued then that the voice of the people in regard to education only could be heard in the election of the person directly responsible for education in Indiana, the superintendent of public instruction.

The superintendent of public instruction in those days was a Republican—the late H. Dean Evans.

Discovering hypocrisy in politicians, of course, is about as revolutionary a revelation as proclaiming that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

That said, there are a couple of things we should note here.

The first is that Daniels, Pence and Bosma are, in the main, correct. Republicans control the governor’s office and they have supermajorities in both the Indiana House and Senate.

Ritz’s election does nothing to change that. She may be able to slow implementation here and there, but she won’t be able to change the direction of the state’s policy.

But another thing needs to be said.

The fact that Ritz overcame a better funded and more prominent opponent who had made the GOP’s education program the heart of his campaign indicates that the citizens of Indiana have serious concerns about Republicans’ education reform plans.

Republicans dismiss Ritz’s victory as a product of the efforts of the teachers unions or the hubris of Bennett.

It was more than that.

People voted against Bennett because no one had explained to them in any sort of detail how giving grades to schools or creating a voucher program without testing it really would help their children and grandchildren. What they saw was a lot of change—and a lot of public officials saying, “We don’t have to listen to you and we don’t have to explain anything to you because we have the votes we need to do what we want.”

That’s pretty much the message the GOP delivered again right after the election.

That arrogance bit the GOP by taking down Bennett. It could come back to bite Republicans again.•

Krull directs Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, hosts the weekly news program “No Limits” on WFYI-FM 90.1, and is executive director of The Statehouse File. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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