Indiana

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What Does Ritz’s Campaign Move Mean For The 2016 Election?

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced late Friday that she is taking her hat out of the race for Indiana governor in 2016, instead focusing on a run for reelection to her current post.

“Now is not the right time for me to run for governor,” Ritz said in a statement. “My work is not finished, and my passion is stronger than ever.  I am resolutely dedicated to educators, students, and families from Pre-K to graduation.”

The politician’s decision came as a disappointment to some, and a wise move to others:

…but the announcement did not particularly surprise most political experts:

“This was maybe a little sooner than it was expected to be,” agrees Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW. “The announcement seemed to be an abrupt change in direction, but one that some people figured was going to be coming eventually.”

Downs points to low attendance at Ritz’s campaign-related events, especially in comparison to the education-related events she held as part of her regular superintendent duties, as well as the fact that she was unable to raise much money as warning signs the superintendent would likely pull out of the governor’s race.

Following her announcement, both of Ritz’s now former Democratic challengers – former House speaker John Gregg and current state Senator Karen Tallian, D-Portage – expressed their support for her decision.

And Downs says Gregg in particular should be thanking Ritz for her exit.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg (left) and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS and Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg (left) and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS and Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“It actually makes [the governor’s race] a little bit easier for John Gregg,” Downs explains. “He still has a challenger in Karen Tallian, but he can begin to focus on his own campaign and what he needs to do to win with candidates who have lesser name recognition and at this point, a whole lot less money. He can begin to focus a little bit more on Mike Pence as the person he talks about, as opposed to needing to defeat another Democrat in the Democratic primary.”

In fact, Downs says, Ritz’s decision appears to bode well for her party in the superintendent’s race, as well.

“As far as the Superintendent of Public Instruction is concerned, it gives the Democrats an incumbent, and in Indiana, incumbents have a tendency to win. The Democrats really ought to be happy about that,” Downs says.

And we can expect that superintendent’s race to heat up a bit now that Ritz has declared her intent to run for reelection.

“Her clearly stating that she will run for Superintendent helps to solidify things in a way that will allow individuals who are contemplating this to solidify their own ideas about whether or not to run,” Downs says.

Sarah O'Brien currently serves as the State Board's vice chair, a position created through legislation passed this session to restructure the board. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Sarah O’Brien currently serves as the State Board’s vice chair, a position created through legislation passed this session to restructure the board. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The Republican party has yet to officially present any challengers to Ritz for the superintendent’s seat. Names some experts have put out as potential Republican candidates include state Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, as well as one of Ritz’s fellow State Board of Education members: Avon elementary school teacher Sarah O’Brien.

If O’Brien or any of the other board members decides to run, Downs predicts that could create a tense dynamic. This kind of friction (which is not foreign to state board members) contributes to a what Downs refers to “the silly season” – the year in the election cycle when candidates are more concerned with policy platforms than progress. This can often be seen at the local level when city council members run for mayor, and Downs says the state board could find itself in a similar position come 2016, should any members decide to run against Ritz.

As for the voting public, it remains to be seen whether Ritz’s venture into another race has affected their view of her.

The team at Chalkbeat Indiana spoke to Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, who seems to think teachers will remain behind Ritz:

“I would like to know a little bit more about the decision, but I think I know her well enough to know that she’s probably considered what the outcome could be in both the governor’s race and the superintendent’s race,” Meredith said. “I’m wondering what’s going on with (the superintendent’s) race in particular, if that’s had anything to do with her deciding to withdraw or if she’s just wanting to stay focused on what she’s doing.”

Perhaps it’s a case of unfinished business, Meredith said. There are policies in the works, especially around teacher training and pay, that are just getting off the ground, she said.

Either way, Meredith was confident ISTA teachers would stand behind her.

“Our members love her because she is a champion for the children they serve,” she said. “If this is what she thinks she needs to do to make sure they are served well, then they will support that.”

Ritz has said she intends to refocus her attention on issues including a rising childhood poverty rate and a major decrease in the numbers of college-level students pursuing majors that will lead to careers in teaching.

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