Could Pence leaving the governor’s race actually hurt Ritz’s chances?

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Gov. Mike Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz battled over education policy for years, but they agreed on dumping Common Core and PARCC.

As odd as it might sound, perhaps nobody in Indiana will miss Gov. Mike Pence more than John Gregg and Glenda Ritz.

Now that Donald Trump has announced on Twitter that Pence will be his vice presidential running mate, that means Pence will drop his re-election bid, and the state’s political class appears poised to descend into turmoil, forcing candidates like Gregg and Ritz to rethink their campaigns.

Gregg, the Democratic former Indiana House Speaker who Pence defeated by a slim 3 percentage points in 2012, has been aching for a rematch with a governor many view as significantly weakened by four years of political battles over conservative policies he pushed that irked more moderate Hoosiers.

With Pence off the local ballot, Gregg’s entire campaign storyline will need an instant rewrite.

And Ritz will lose one of her best arguments for re-election.

READ: Find more on this year's races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.
READ: Find more on this year’s races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.

Ritz, a Democrat in a Republican-dominated state, scored one of the great upsets in Indiana political history in 2012 when she vanquished her underfunded, upstart campaign vanquished her heavily favored predecessor, Tony Bennett. With strong support from then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, Bennett had pushed hard for education reforms that measured success primarily with standardized testing. The pair also expanded school choice and stiffened the consequences for schools and teachers whose students performed poorly on state exams.

Ritz successfully argued to voters that the effort had gone too far and that she was needed as a check and balance. But Pence didn’t interpret her victory as a signal to change course. He continued to push an education agenda that built on the work of his fellow Republicans, Bennett and Daniels.

The clashes that followed between Ritz and her Indiana Department of Education team with Pence and his appointees on the Indiana State Board of Education were epic. In 2016, if there is one thing Hoosiers knew when they heard Pence and Ritz mentioned in the same breath it’s that they were at war over education.

For the Democrats, that tension was to be a central theme in both the governor’s race and the state superintendent’s race.

Ritz’s opponent this time, Yorktown Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, has outlined views that largely comport with Pence’s when it comes to education reform. But she is not well known in the state.

That’s why Ritz was expected to frame her run as more a campaign against Pence than against McCormick. She again likely needs to win over the moderate, suburban Republicans who voted for her against Bennett last time, and getting them to buy into the idea that she resisted the changes they were concerned about seems like a good strategy. But is that argument is less persuasive with Pence out of the picture?

The Republican front runners in line to take Pence’s spot on the Indiana ballot in the race for governor are Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, a long time political operative appointed by Pence in March, and U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, a former federal prosecutor from Carmel serving in her second term in Congress.

Neither have long track records when it comes to the issues of K-12 education.

Will Ritz still be able to win over the voters she needs if she can’t argue that she is needed as a bulwark against more Pence-backed education reforms?

Starting next week, that will be the challenge facing her.

Indiana 2016 Election

The biggest donation in the IPS school board race came from an unexpected source

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

In the battle for control of the Indianapolis Public School board, the largest single campaign contribution came from an unexpected source: the teachers’ union. But the donation didn’t help the union-backed candidate.

In recent years, IPS board races have been dominated by pro-school reform candidates who have attracted large contributions from deep-pocketed donors. But in other elections — at other times, in other places — it’s common for teachers’ unions to spend big.

That’s what happened this time in Indianapolis.

Critics of the current administration made their first organized bid to unseat incumbent board members in 2016 when they formed the group OurIPS. The group didn’t donate to candidates, but the district-wide candidate the group supported, Jim Grim, did win a $15,000 contribution from the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Despite that cash, all four candidates backed by OurIPS lost on Election Day.

The contribution to Grim’s campaign was revealed in final campaign finance reports due to the Marion County Election Board last week. The disclosures detail fundraising and spending for each school board campaign, but they don’t include groups such as Stand for Children, which sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses but is not required to disclose all of its political activity.

Although the union donation was easily the largest single contribution any candidate received, other candidates did raise more in total. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce spent more overall but gave to four candidates.

Here are the totals for each race:


Grim raised $20,930 during the election. His opponents were incumbent Sam Odle, who raised $31,893, and challenger Elizabeth Gore, who won a surprise victory in the raise. Gore has not filed a finance report, but she told Chalkbeat after the election that she raised about $1,200.

District 1

Incumbent Michael O’Connor vastly out fundraised his opponent in the race, raising $23,543, according to his disclosure. Challenger Christine Prince raised $100.

District 2

Venita Moore, a newcomer who won the seat with support from Stand for Children, raised $25,712. Ramon Batts, who had the support of OurIPS, raised $3,550. Nanci Lacy did not file a report.

District 4

Long-time board member Diane Arnold raised $16,696. Challenger Larry Vaughn did not file a report.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect a new fundraising total for Michael O’Connor, who submitted a corrected disclosure.

day one

Three new members join IPS board, Sullivan elected president

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Five IPS board members were sworn in. Left to right: Elizabeth Gore, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Diane Arnold, Venita Moore and Michael O'Connor.

Mary Ann Sullivan will lead the Indianapolis Public School board for the second year in a row, bringing a dose of consistency to a board that begins the term with three new members.

At the first meeting of 2017, the seven-member board swore in three new members, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Elizabeth Gore and Venita Moore, and two returning members, Diane Arnold and Michael O’Connor. In a clear sign of the growing collaboration between the city — which oversees dozens of charter schools — and the school district, the members were sworn in by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

“The decisions you make here profoundly impact not only the students that attend IPS today but … the future of this great city,” Hogsett said. “As our city strives to always better our schools, your individual rules in that effort are critically important to the long-term health and well-being of this city.”

The new board unanimously elected Sullivan as president, O’Connor as vice-president and Gore as secretary. Sullivan, who was also president in 2016, joined the board two years ago as part of a wave of members who support dramatic changes aimed at improving the lowest performing schools.

“I will do my best to maintain the progress that we are making on so many fronts and to keep our sense of urgency,” Sullivan said. “I am very, very confident that this board is ready to provide the leadership needed to transform lives.”

Two of the new board members won spots following a bruising election fight for control of the board between advocates for radically overhauling the district by embracing policies such as partnerships with charter schools and critics who favor more traditional management. The third new member was chosen by the board to replace LaNier Echols, who resigned following the election.

The three newest board members bring a wide range of experience to the board. Here’s a little about each:

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops is the most mysterious new board member because she was chosen by the board to fill a vacancy, rather than going through the election process. She represents District 5, which covers the northwest section of IPS. Although her positions on many of the biggest issues facing the district are not clearly fleshed out, her personal background gives her a unique perspective on many of the issues facing IPS families. A first-generation Mexican American and fluent Spanish speaker, Hoops is the only Latina board member. She also is the only current parent on the board, with a son enrolled at Center for Inquiry School 27. Her son has special needs, and she said her work advocating for his education renewed her commitment to ensuring educational access.

Elizabeth Gore defeated Sam Odle for an at-large seat representing the entire district. Although she is newly elected, this is not her first time on the board. Gore served a term on the board before losing a reelection bid in 2012, when a wave of critics of former-superintendent Eugene White captured control. In her bid for reelection, Gore was not backed by school-reform supporters or the organized opposition, and her victory was something of a surprise. She is a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School and her three children graduated from Arsenal Technical High School, where she led the parent teacher association.

Venita Moore won a three-way race to replace former board member Gayle Cosby, a frequent critic of the administration. She represents District 2, which covers the northeast section of IPS. A business consultant with experience running a state agency, Moore was endorsed by pro-reform groups including Stand for Children. But she does not have a significant record of political work on education, so her approach to the school board is still something of an unknown. Moore is also an IPS graduate, and her daughter graduated from Crispus Attucks High School.