David Hoppe

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:: Is this Glenda Ritzís time?

by David Hoppe

As I write this, Indiana’s political world is wondering whether Glenda Ritz, the state’s embattled Superintendent of Public Instruction, will give it a spin.

Ritz dropped word on Facebook that she’ll be making “a special campaign announcement” at Ben Davis High School this Wednesday. This, in Hoosier politease, suggests Ritz intends to run for governor.

Throwing her hat into the proverbial ring would make Ritz the third Democrat seeking that party’s nomination to run against Mike Pence in 2016. John Gregg, who came within a well-publicized whisker of beating Pence in 2012, and Karen Tallian, a state senator from Portage, are the other strivers.

Scott Pelath of Michigan City, the Democratic House minority leader, may have seen Ritz coming when he took himself out of possible gubernatorial consideration last week. He said he didn’t want to be part of “a free for all.” Too bad: while it might have taken Pelath a little while to imprint his Northwest Indiana mug on the minds of the state’s southerners, whose take on folks from “d’Region” tends to be suspicious, he looks like a bonafide contender, a Democrat who can speak to Hoosier practicality without throwing principles of social and economic justice under the bus.

Ritz, on the other hand, probably has reason to think this is her moment. First, she scored a remarkable upset over a Republican incumbent during a Republican landslide. Second, as head of the state’s school system, she holds what is arguably Indiana’s most important job. The governor, as we have seen, can (quite literally) mess with lots of things, but until Indiana get its education act together, nothing, repeat, nothing here will ever truly change.

Which brings us to the likeliest reason Ritz may run: Conflict.

If Glenda Ritz runs for governor, you can chalk up yet another gaffe to Mike Pence. Pence has tried everything he can think of, including jerry-rigging an alternative, extra-constitutional, education shadow cabinet, to render Ritz irrelevant. It’s been a running battle that Ritz, though outnumbered and outgunned, has managed to survive.

Most Indiana pols are all but anonymous. We have no viable statewide media; our various regions are almost stupefyingly self-contained. This makes political image-building of the kind necessary for a statewide campaign grindingly tough and very expensive. Thanks to Mike Pence’s increasingly obvious obsession with getting rid of her, Glenda Ritz has become the closest thing Indiana Democrats have to a star. She is the face of resistance to one-party Republican rule.

It would be nice if Ritz could run on a record of accomplishment as Superintendant of schools. But Indiana’s wholly political dysfunction when it comes to kids and learning makes that impossible. Prior to getting into electoral politics, Ritz served on the board of the state teachers’ union, ISTA — a favorite Republican demon. She was also employed as a school librarian.

Ordinarily, this resume would fall short of a ticket to the governor’s mansion. But this time is not ordinary. One-party overreach by Republicans has become Indiana’s biggest issue. No one knows more about this than Glenda Ritz.