GOP-linked state school board member stays 'independent'

2013-09-29T23:15:00Z 2013-10-05T17:22:12Z GOP-linked state school board member stays 'independent'Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
September 29, 2013 11:15 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | The governor's office is standing by its claim a State Board of Education member with longstanding ties to the Republican Party is an independent, even though another member's recent resignation would permit him to serve openly as a Republican.

Daniel Elsener, of Indianapolis, was first appointed in 2005 to the state's school governing board by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. At the time, he was identified by the governor as a Republican.

Voting records show Elsener cast a ballot in Republican primary elections nine out of 10 times since 1994, and has donated $10,575 to Republican candidates and business groups supporting Republicans since 2001.

His son, Joe, is special assistant to Tim Berry, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party. Joe and Daniel Elsener were spotted palling around with Gov. Mike Pence and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, both Republicans, at a Oct. 7, 2012, Pence campaign fundraiser in Indianapolis.

However, when Pence reappointed Elsener, who is president of Marian University, to the state school board in June, Elsener was identified as an independent.

Indiana law requires the 11-member State Board of Education have no more than six members of one political party.

Elsener's status an independent gave the board six Republicans, two independents and three Democrats, including Glenda Ritz, the board chairwoman and elected state superintendent of public instruction, with whom Elsener frequently has clashed.

When questioned recently about whether his appointment as an independent was illegal or actions taken by the unbalanced board impermissible, including the controversial approval of an Elsener-led strategic planning process, Elsener insisted -- without denying he's a Republican -- that he is "an independent thinker."

He could now come out as a Republican, if he wanted to.

Earlier this month, Indianapolis Republican David Shane resigned from the State Board of Education to lead one of Pence's regional works councils. Pence appointed Indianapolis Democrat Gordon Hendry last week to fill the vacancy.

When the state board meets Wednesday it will have five Republicans, four Democrats and two independents, including Elsener, who did not return a request for additional comment on his party status.

"Dan Elsener will continue to serve on the State Board of Education as an independent," Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said.

Indiana law does not clearly indicate how a state board member's political party should be determined or the consequences of ignoring the party limit.

For local boards and commissions, state law declares if a position is conditioned on political-party affiliation, a person is considered to belong to the party he or she most recently voted for in a primary election.

Under that rule, which does not apply to state boards and commissions, Elsener would be considered a Republican for voting in the 2012 GOP primary.

Regardless of Elsener's party identity, Ritz spokesman Daniel Altman reiterated the first-year state schools chief is willing to partner with anyone to boost educational achievement.

"Superintendent Ritz remains focused on working with Hoosiers of all political stripes to improve education for all Indiana students," Altman said.

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