RICH JAMES: Pence is paying a lot to undermine Ritz

2013-11-24T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Pence is paying a lot to undermine RitzBy Rich James nwitimes.com
November 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence seems to have thrown transparency and conservatism out the window just 10 months into office.

But I guess you have to do that when it comes to stripping Glenda Ritz of the powers entrusted to her by Hoosier voters.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Pence has been sniping at Ritz since the day she took office as the state superintendent of public instruction in January.

You see, Ritz, a Democrat, did the unthinkable by beating Republican schools boss Tony Bennett. He had attacked teacher unions and funneled education money into charter schools that essentially are owned and run by Republicans.

Since he didn’t want to look like the bad guy, Pence needed a vehicle to go after Ritz.

So, under the cover of darkness one muggy night in August, Pence created the Center for Education and Career Innovation.

He just did it. Poof. One day it was suddenly there. While most state agencies are created by the Legislature, this one was all Pence. Kind of like the magician who pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

The CECI provides support staff to the State Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor.

CECI’s prime mission in life appears to be to make Ritz wish she never had run for state superintendent.

And if you have doubts about what Pence wants to do to Ritz, consider what House Speaker Brian Bosma said last week.

Bosma suggested a long-standing law designating the superintendent as chairman of the State Board of Education may be headed for extinction by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“We don’t want to take any actions that appear to be unfair to anyone, but we have to have a system that works as well,” Bosma said. “We’re doing what we can behind the scenes to try to calm everything down and bring people together, and if we have to be out in front, we’ll do that, too.”

The system worked well for decades. Now it doesn’t? Things were fine when Republican Sue Ellen Reed was superintendent and Democrats were in control.

Worse than the covert operation is what some of the 15 CECI staffers are being paid to help make life miserable for Ritz.

Claire Fiddian-Green, who heads the CECI, is being paid $120,000 a year.

That’s not exactly chump change. You could hire a few teachers with that kind of money.

If you are a bit bothered by what Fiddian-Green is being paid, consider that six of the 15 CECI staffers are being paid more than $100,000 annually.

It’s obvious that taking control of education in Indiana is pretty important to Pence and his Republican brethren. The cost – politically or financially – apparently doesn’t matter.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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