State Superintendent Glenda Ritz today launched a run for governor, saying only by replacing Gov. Mike Pence can she give schools the support they need and build the kind of education system that will bring a stronger economy.

“In order to move Indiana forward, I am announcing my candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor of Indiana,” Ritz said, standing in front of the career center and a small group of supporters at Ben Davis High School.

Pence, she said, is not focused enough on the state’s needs that she believes are most important. Ritz plans to make appearances today in Terre Haute, Evansville and New Albany, and has stops scheduled Friday in South Bend and Hammond.

“We need a governor who will focus on those needs: education, jobs, economic revival and community revitalization,” Ritz said.

(For the full back story on Glenda Ritz’s rise to power in Indiana, read Chalkbeat’s The Basics of Glenda Ritz.)

After more than two years of conflict with Pence and his appointees on the Indiana State Board of Education, Ritz said she’s had enough. It was the just completed legislative session, which saw Republican bills expand that state board’s power over the Indiana Department of Education and remove the guarantee in state law that she lead the board, that Ritz said convinced her to run.

She spoke mostly about education while declaring her candidacy.

Supporters cheer as Ritz makes her run for governor official.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Supporters cheer as Ritz makes her run for governor official.

“Indiana needs an education system that provides quality early learning opportunities for all children as well as college and career pathways for all students, she said. “Education is a catalyst for the advancement and improvement of our economy. We need an education system of equity and high quality throughout the state that will produce a well-educated and well-paid workforce.”

Ritz’s defeat of her predecessor Tony Bennett, who was a national figure in the movement to expand school choice and school accountability, was one of the most shocking upsets in Indiana’s recent political history. Bennett spent more than $1.5 million while Ritz spent only about $350,000. But Ritz skillfully rallied support on social media and through grassroots networks of teachers.

If she can win the Democratic nomination — so far former House Speaker John Gregg and state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, are her opponents — Ritz will be able to test a theory among her supporters that she has broader public support than Pence. They often cite the fact that the 1.3 million votes Ritz received while defeating Tony Bennett in 2012 is more than Pence received in his victory over Gregg.

Tension between Ritz and Pence began to rise after Pence created the Center for Education and Career Innovation in the summer of 2013. CECI hired a staff to support the state Board of Education separate from the state education officials who reported to Ritz.

Ritz and her team often clashed with CECI and state board members, sometimes resulting in both sides calling their lawyers to providing dueling, and frequently opposing, advice about which side was right in their debates.

Ritz made her announcement in front of the Career Center at Ben Davis High School in Wayne Township.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Ritz made her announcement in front of the Career Center at Ben Davis High School in Wayne Township.

In her announcement, Ritz was critical of Pence for his creation of CECI, even though he closed it down earlier this year.

“As someone who has seen politics drive the creation of an entirely new government agency just to take away the authority from the Department of Education, I am well aware of the need to use tax dollars wisely so that Hoosiers get the government that they deserve,” she said.

Ritz also cited Pence’s support for an expansion of school choice programs like charter schools, which use public money but operate independently, as a reason to vote for her.

“We need a leader that understands the connection between education and the economy rather than simply having a partisan agenda to create more schools,” Ritz said.

Pence’s allies were quick to raise concerns they have expressed all along about Ritz’s management skills.

Pence and state board members have complained, for example, that Ritz’s poor oversight put at risk Indiana’s “waiver” agreement with the U.S. Department of Education that released the state from some sanctions of the federal No Child Left Behind law and blamed her for problems assigning A to F grades to schools the past two years.

Pence in February persuaded the legislature to pass an emergency bill to shorten the state ISTEP test, blaming Ritz and the education department for allowing it to balloon to twice as long as last year’s exam.

“Glenda Ritz does not have a successful track record of leading those in her own department, let alone managing contracts or implementing effective policies,” Indiana Republican Party Chairman Jeff Cardwell said in a statement. “Hoosiers have time to decide who will be Indiana’s next leader, and I’m confident they will vote to keep our state on the right track of growth, opportunity and fiscal health.”

Ritz’s announcement attracted a handful of educators, who were the core of her support in 2012.

The small crowd for Ritz's announcement included reporters, educators and other supporters.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
The small crowd for Ritz’s announcement included reporters, educators and other supporters.

Phillip Arnold, a second grade teacher in Johnson County, said he attended the announcement with his partner and sons because he wanted to give his kids a glimpse into state politics. He supports Ritz because of her positions on education but also thinks she’d be better on other issues, like the recent debate over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and legal protections for gay Hoosiers.

“Too many Hoosiers are moving out of the state because of what has been done to it,” said Arnold, who lives in Decatur Township. “I think it’s time we have a candidate and a governor who’s going to be for everyone and support everyone across the state as we move forward.”

He said he supports Ritz because she tried to revive the education department despite GOP attacks, and he believes she can do the same for the whole state.

“She’s not just an education candidate,” he said. “She’s making it very clear that she supports all Hoosiers, and I think that’s something that we definitely need with the RFRA fiasco and the continued attacks on public schools around the state.”