Thursday, March 5, 2015

Party Leaders Want a Pence Challenger--Soon!

State Democratic leaders would like to have a Democrat step up as a candidate for governor, in part to serve as a spokesperson for the party who can make Gov. Pence pay some political price for his actions during this legislative session.

“I want someone to step up and take the thing,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath. “We are dedicated to driving message for the middle class here in our legislative caucus. In order to most effectively do that, we need a clear statewide leader. And I want somebody to look at that goal and tackle it.”

Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody agrees: “Time is tight. Everyone who has expressed an interest in running knows that.”

Names being suggested include 2012 gubernatorial nominee John Gregg, former congressman Baron Hill, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, and State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, but none has indicated an intention to run. Pelath says he will not be a candidate.

Read more from the Statehouse File here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Editorial: Pence's Claims of Ignorance on Policy Outcomes Don't Cut It

Yesterday the Kokomo Perspective published a tough assessment of Gov. Pence's leadership. The gist of the editors' argument is that Pence makes policy decisions and when the unpleasant effects of those decisions start to be felt, he claims ignorance. Whether the ignorance is genuine or politically expedient deception is perhaps debatable. Case in point, the longer ISTEP tests:
The latest headline grabber was the enormous length of this year’s ISTEP standardized test. School children were facing 12 hours of examination. The reason for this increase is rooted in Pence’s decision last spring to move Indiana out of the federal Common Core standards in order to develop his own plan.

The results of Indiana’s new standards are yet to be realized, but there is one thing that is remarkably clear. Pence is blissfully unaware of the impact his decisions have on Hoosiers. When the length of the test was revealed, Pence claimed ignorance, stating he learned about it from Indianapolis media. Then, he scrambled to pass the buck to State Superintendent of Education Glenda Ritz.

What about this says “leadership?” Pence doesn’t know what’s going on with ISTEP despite his intense meddling in public education? Are we supposed to believe that?
Based on this and several other examples of alleged ignorance, the editorial concludes as follows: "The people of Indiana shouldn’t accept Pence’s claims of ignorance. They are dishonest at worst, and indicative of inept leadership at best. We deserve better."

You can read the whole editorial here.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Senate Passes Bill to Deny Ritz Board Leadership

The Indiana Senate passed a bill that strips the Superintendent of Public Instruction of her automatic role as chair of the state's Board of Education. (The bill was Senate Bill 1, which gives you an idea of the priority it was given by the governor and his supermajority.) The Senate bill, however, makes some significant changes in the Board's make up. It shrinks the board from 10 to 9, of which only four would be appointed by the governor; other members would be the Superintendent and one appointee each from the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. Needless to say, the Governor is less than thrilled that his appointments to the board will shrink from 10 to 4.

The bill passed by the House has no such structural changes to the Board, so the two bills will have to be reconciled and a compromise bill voted on before the session ends. You can be sure that at the end of that process the superintendent's office will have lost the chairmanship of the Board of education that it has held for more than a century.

Buck Creek Senator Brandt Hershman, one of the Senate bill's authors, claimed the bill does not significantly strip power from Ritz: "Hoosiers have an innate sense of fairness. And many of them have been badly and purposely misled about what Senate Bill 1 does. The superintendent remains the superintendent." If Hershman thinks folks with a sense of fairness will think this shameless power play is fair, he probably has another think coming. And who's being misleading when Hershman suggests that SB 1 does not significantly alter the office of Superintendent?

Read more from the J&C here and from the Fort Wayne News Sentinel here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ritz Supporters Rally at Statehouse!

Superintendent Glenda Ritz surprised more than 1,000 of her supporters by speaking at today's rally on her behalf in the statehouse. "I am an educator, and I know what we need in our schools," she declared. The crowd agreed, enthusiastically. The Indianapolis Star coverage of the event is here.



Saturday, February 14, 2015

West Lafayette Democrats Field Strong Slate for Municipal Elections

Democrats will compete for all West Lafayette city council seats in the upcoming municipal election. Incumbents Nick DeBoer (District 1), Peter Bunder (District 2) and Gerald Thomas (At-large) will seek re-election. Purdue student Joelle Jones (District 3), Purdue professor Larry Leverenz (District 4), Kathy Parker (District 5), former kindergarten teacher Lois Haueisen (District 6) and Purdue professor and former U.S. Representative candidate David Sanders (At-large) will also run for City Council seats.

Also, incumbent Judge Lori Stein Sabol has filed for re-election, and Sana Booker will run for the new office of city clerk.

You can see video of the candidates' announcement here.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pence Issues Order to Shorten ISTEP Test, Ritz Plans to Ignore It

Apparently Gov. Mike Pence wanted to clarify who really runs education in Indiana by issuing an "executive order" demanding that the expanded ISTEP tests be shortened. Then a spokesperson for Superintendent for Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said that there are no plans to make any changes in the new ISTEP. As reported in Chalkbeat Indiana, "Danielle Shockey, Ritz’s deputy superintendent, said the order would likely have no effect and that the test could not be significantly cut down unless the legislature changes requirements in state law or the U.S. Department of Education offered special freedom from its rules that it has so far denied. 'There is nothing in that order that would cause us to pause,' she said."

Chalkbeat explains the regulatory constraints under which Ritz's staff determined that the tests would have to be longer this year. (In part it has to do with the state's decision to replace the national Common Core standard with a unique Indiana standard.) Meanwhile, Pence has engaged a Michigan State professor and the company that makes the ISTEP to explore ways to shorten the test. Any changes to the test will have to be implemented by February 28. Looks like things will be heating up even more as long as petulant Republicans insist on having everything their way.

Monday, February 9, 2015

House Passes Bill to Oust Ritz from Board of Education Chair

Today the Indiana House of Representatives ignored the collective will of 1.3 million Hoosier voters (more than voted for Mike Pence), ignored thousands of tweets with the hashtag #IStandWithRitz, and voted for a bill that would effectively remove Glenda Ritz from the superintendent's century-old role as chair of the Indiana Board of Education. The bill will allow the Governor's Board of Education appointees to elect their own chair with the elected Superintendent reduced to just another voter. This change will be effective not after the next election but as early as July 1. Twelve Republican representatives felt bad enough about the bullying tactics of the supermajority that they voted against the bill. The bill will now cross over to the Senate for a vote; if successful there (as there is no doubt it will be), it will become law.

Said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, "This is an example of what happens when somebody runs afoul of the politburo. Superintendent Ritz was independently elected; she got more votes than Governor Pence. The people who put her in office expected that she would slow down the runaway train of education experiments that came straight out of Washington, D.C."

You can read more from the Indy Star here.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Senate Committee Votes to Remove Ritz as Chair of Education Board

The Senate Rules Committee has passed a a bill that, like the just-passed House bill, would deny the elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction the chair of the state's Board of Education. The Senate bill goes even further than the House bill in that it changes the make up of the Board itself. Read more from WBAA here.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

House Education Committee Approves Bills to Gut Ritz's Powers as Superintendent

The lead in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette says it all: "Two bills gutting Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz’s power passed the House Education Committee on Thursday." The first (HB 1609) said the chair of the state's Board of Education would be decided by a vote of the Board members rather than automatically going to the Superintendent; the second (HB 1486)stripped the Department of Education, run by the Superintendent, of many of its powers and assigned them to the governor-appointed Board. The vote was strictly partisan.

Glenda Ritz said, "The Indiana superintendent of public instruction has held the position of chair of the State Board of Education for over 100 years. Indiana chose to have its highest-ranking elected authority on education be the chair, and the 2012 elected superintendent should be afforded this role." Read more from the Journal Gazette here.

Speaking to reporters last Friday, the Times of Northwest Indiana reported that Democratic House Minority Leader Scott Pelath called the action a slap in the face of the 1.3 million voters who elected Ritz to lead state educational policy as it is currently defined in law. Pelath said, "It just amazes me that those who have been given so many opportunities to govern Indiana and to shape policy are so paranoid about the presence of this one lone dissenter in their midst. Let her do her job and let the voters be the judge; it's not that complicated."

The Journal and Courier's Dave Bangert called the attack on Ritz an attack on voters, and considers the attempt to marginalize Ritz a mistake: "There’s a reason why Ritz was elected. Perfect or not, . . . Ritz means something in the debate over education policy, even if a Republican supermajority would rather ignore it." Read Bangert's column here.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Democrats and Federal Acceptance of HIP 2

The New York Times reports that advocates of the Affordable Care Act view the agreement on an expanded Healthy Indiana in lieu of expanded Medicare as a win for the Obama administration, because it could "give other conservative states cover" to participate in the ACA's Medicare expansion.

WANE.com reports that Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane called the HIP 2 approval a “victory for working Hoosiers” but says he’s concerned that Pence left thousands of people without health care coverage who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little for insurance subsidies. Lanane says the plan will drive down premiums for insured Indiana residents and eliminate use of emergency rooms for primary care.

House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath said he is thankful low-income Hoosiers no longer will be forced to rely on expensive emergency room care for their health needs, though the resolution took longer than it should have. Pelath said, "While there are countless disagreements over the means to achieve health care affordability, when President Obama and Mike Pence agree, we ought to feel some modest satisfaction, take stock of our future and move forward. Now come the nitty-gritty details of making this work."

Pence also cited the efforts of two Democrats Rep. Pete Visclosky of Merrillville and Sen. Joe Donnelly in helping to persuade the Obama administration to accept HIP 2 as a substitute for Medicare expansion.

Read more from the Northwest Indiana Times here. The best explanation of the ins-and-outs of the agreement is the New York Times article here.