Never Forget: Glenda Ritz and the Election that Lit My Political Fire

Never Forget: Glenda Ritz and the Election that Lit My Political Fire

Ten years ago, I could have never imagined that I would make a part of my living writing about politics and education. Yes, I was a teacher then, and yes, I was aware that public education was becoming more and more politicized, but I was pretty spineless when it came to joining the discussion. I tried to avoid politics. Life was simpler then ~sigh~. But during the administration of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, I began to become concerned with the direction he seemed to be taking my profession. Then, in 2009, a new Superintendent of Education was elected–enter Tony Bennett. With the arrival of Tony Bennett, the writing was clearly on the wall. Before Bennett, things seemed to smell fishy, after Bennett, things began to smell like a fleet of lobster boats. In the ensuing months and years, things rapidly changed for the worse in Indiana public education. A clear anti-public education agenda was aggressively pursued. Indiana was at the forefront of pushing for more public tax monies in the form of school choice vouchers that removed funding from public schools and funded a quickly growing number of charter schools as well as private–even religious–schools. In 2011, I joined a grassroots movement of educators and friends of public education to throw my support behind a then unknown educator who emerged to run against Tony Bennett–enter Glenda Ritz. In a highly publicized, contentious, and unprecedented campaign and election, the upstart Ritz toppled the far better-known and better-funded Bennett. It was incredible and inspirational to watch. Normally, the race for Superintendent of Education barely makes the news, but this time, it was bigger news than the election for Governor, in which Mike Pence was elected to replace the outgoing Daniels. Perhaps the most amazing statistic from that election is that Glenda Ritz garnered more votes in her race for Superintendent than Mike Pence did in his race for Governor! But the high from that election was quite short lived. The government of Indiana was–and still is–completely dominated by a Republican supermajority. In the months that followed the election, New Governor Mike Pence led a despicable effort to undermine the clear mandate of the voters of Indiana and began to circumvent the political power of Glenda Ritz. Like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, I was suddenly aware of my nakedness. I could no longer be silent. 

Before I go on, I think it’s important to point out what happened to Tony Bennett and Mitch Daniels after they left their public offices in Indiana. In short, their anti-public education agenda became even more exposed after they exited the Statehouse. Bennett went on to be named to a similar position under Governor Jeb Bush in Florida. While in that position, it was learned that Bennett, while in his previous position in Indiana, with Daniels support, had been guilty of corruption when he illegally helped one of his pet charter schools, Chrystal House, by changing the grade for the school when it did not perform as well as he would have liked. In the wake of this scandal, Bennett resigned his Florida post. Former Governor Mitch Daniels went on to become president of Purdue University, a position he still holds. Shortly thereafter, it was revealed through leaked emails that he had attempted to ban books by famed historian, Howard Zinn, from public schools in Indiana. Why, you may ask, did he object to Zinn? Because Zinn dared view history through the perspective of the defeated. That’s right, Mitch Daniels was trying to deny Indiana students the opportunity to view history from multiple perspectives. That, from my perspective as a history teacher, is an unpardonable crime.

Mike Pence entered the office vacated by Daniels on the heels of the shocking victory achieved by Glenda Ritz. He had an opportunity to step back and assess the clear message from the voters that we were not happy with the direction public education had taken. Instead of honoring the will of the voters of Indiana , Pence immediately began to look for ways to undermine the power of Ritz’s office. Pence, a proud and boisterous champion of small government, formed an entirely new state board of education. In doing so, Pence thumbed his nose at the will of the electorate and effectively stripped the people’s choice, Glenda Ritz, of much of her power. This was nothing less than a direct attack on the Democratic process that we all hold so dear. And what did we do about it? We rolled over and took it. What Pence did should have been enough to get him removed from office. What it actually did was catapult him into the second highest political office in the nation. Perhaps the Republican controlled U.S. Senate took a page out of Mike Pence’s Indiana playbook when they blocked President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, for almost a year until President Trump took office. These kinds of crimes against the Democratic process should never be forgotten. They are stepping stones to tyranny and dictatorship. 

I had my political naivete knocked right out of me during Mike Pence’s administration as governor of my state. Things have only gotten worse in his wake as he has taken his act to the world stage. One thing that has improved, however, is the fact that I’ve grown a spine. Since the shameful Glenda Ritz saga, I have been writing as aggressively as I know how to shine a light on the anti-public education agenda that is now so clearly visible to anyone willing to see it. I vow never to forget what happened then, and I vow to do everything in my power to never let it happen again.

By Shane Phipps: Inside Education with Shane Phipps

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