DOUG ROSS: In this race, voters looked for union label

2012-11-06T21:45:00Z DOUG ROSS: In this race, voters looked for union label
November 06, 2012 9:45 pm  • 

Indiana isn't a completely red state. Look at races down the ballot, and you'd call it purple.

One of the notable exceptions is the superintendent of public instruction race. In that race, Republican incumbent Tony Bennett received significantly fewer votes than Mitt Romney, the guy at the top of the GOP ticket.

This looks to me like an example of the "look for the union label" slogan coming into play.

Democrat Glenda Ritz defeated incumbent Tony Bennett. He conceded about 9:30 p.m. Region time.

Ritz is an Indianapolis-area teacher, endorsed by teacher unions, and mobilized her base well. Teachers, superintendents and other school employees were strongly opposed to the education reforms put in place by Bennett over the past four years.

Think of the many changes in that time. Roosevelt High School in Gary and several Indianapolis schools were taken over by the state for being consistently lousy schools. Roosevelt is now operated by a private company under contract with the state.

School vouchers were put in place, using public dollars to educate children in private schools.

School accountability measures increased, and teacher accountability measures were put in place. Teachers who aren't up to par on their performance evaluations won't receive raises.

With teachers and schools now being held accountable to a greater degree, is it any wonder that school employees would resent the state intervention? And don't forget that the state is now picking up the tab for school operations.

Business interests have backed Bennett's reforms because they want high school graduates better prepared for college or career. Bennett had a major funding advantage going in to Tuesday's election.

Ritz had the power of grassroots support.

Don't forget that schools are a big business, with a lot of employees. They gobble up the lion's share of the state's budget.

That amounts to tens of thousands of school employees, most of them worried about what the rapid pace of change might mean for themselves and for their colleagues. Factor in friends and family, and you've got a major voting bloc.

The final totals aren't in, but the superintendent of public instruction race says a lot about the power of grassroots support, union support and resistance to change. Together, they can make a big difference.

It's a big win for the teachers, but not so much for the cause of education reform in Indiana. That's too bad. We'll see what Ritz does when she takes office.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Follow him at and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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