How Mike Pence defied Hoosiers and stripped Glenda Ritz of power


Everything you've heard about Mike Pence, regarding his terrible record on social justice issues, is true. It is, however, his willingness to abuse power that makes his contempt for marginalized people even scarier.

Following two Republican governors — privatization champion Mitch Daniels and his successor Mike Pence, aided by the Republican-controlled Indiana legislature — my home state of Indiana has lots of problems.

Among them is the sorry state of the public school system, which has suffered from budget cuts, privatization efforts which have predictably led to charter schools turning away students from marginalized populations, qualified teacher shortages, and attempts to address that shortage with shortcut teacher certifications.

Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, was elected in 2012 to be Indiana's Superintendent of Public Instruction. She was a huge underdog — but defeated the incumbent because a majority of Hoosiers, both progressive and conservative, supported her willingness to challenge Republican proposals that would destroy public education in Indiana.

Ritz was the first Democrat to serve as Superintendent in 40 years.

Governor Mike Pence was elected during the same election. One of his first acts as governor was to remove Ritz from the union-centered Educational Employment Relations Board. The Republican-controlled House Education Committee then proposed a bill to "strip the superintendent's position as chair of the State Board of Education. ...The bill would allow Republican Gov. Mike Pence's 10 appointees to the 11-member board to elect their own chair."

In other words, as soon as a Democrat was elected to an influential state position (with 53% of the vote, higher than Pence received), the Republican governor and legislature set to rendering her office utterly without power and empowering themselves to oust her and prevent the reforms she was elected to champion.

The Republicans claimed their power grab, with Pence leading the charge, was merely intended to "clarify control of education policy."

Which is quite an extraordinary euphemism for seize unilateral control of education policy, in direct contravention of the will of the voters.

This is how Pence does business. The much-derided "religious freedom" bill Pence signed into law — in a private ceremony, shut away from any criticism or dissent — was enacted despite the fact there was already a state law restricting same-sex marriage and in flagrant disregard for the will of the people, a majority of whom did not support the proposed legislation and actually wanted the existing ban repealed.

At the time Pence signed the anti-LGBTx law, only 28 percent of Hoosiers believed there should be no legal recognition or rights accorded to same-sex couples in Indiana. He was nonetheless content to do the bidding of less than one-third of the entire state, because meaningful democracy seems to be of no interest to him.

As you would expect, Pence — who has bragged “I was Tea Party before it was cool”— holds odious positions on an entire raft of issues: He signed "a sweeping new anti-abortion law that combines some of the harshest attacks on reproductive rights into one piece of legislation." He tried to block Syrian refugees from settling in Indiana. He opposed campaign finance reform as “unconstitutional” and Medicare Part D as an “unfunded entitlement program.” He is anti-union, and naturally gets an A-rating from the NRA.

His positions are both contemptible and extreme, and his posture mixes the self-aggrandizing swagger of Donald Trump with the sanctimonious moralizing of Ted Cruz (whom he endorsed during the primary). In 2003, he responded to then-President George W. Bush’s proposal to send $15 billion to Africa to fight the AIDS epidemic thus: “The timeless values of abstinence and marital faithfulness before condom distribution are the cure for what ails the families of Africa. It is important that we not just send them money, but we must send them values that work.”

Under Pence's "values," Indiana has become a state in which the small town of Austin, with a population of 4,200, now has a higher rate of HIV than "any country in sub-Saharan Africa."

In fact, part of the $2 billion surplus in Indiana about which Pence often brags, as supposed evidence of his fiscal responsibility, was $1.9 million from the State Department of Health — held in reserve even as the Health Department was struggling to address the HIV outbreak in Austin.

Which is one tip on many icebergs: Indiana's roads are crumbling; it needs deep infrastructure investments; social workers are overloaded with high caseloads; schools needs funding. Indiana has become a place where 1 out of 6 Hoosiers (over a million people) now have to rely on food pantries and/or meal service programs to get enough to eat.

And yet Pence boasts about a surplus that exists at the cost of the people of the state, whose desperate need is buried beneath Pence's desire for a good soundbite as he builds his national profile.

It's easy to see why Trump likes Pence. But let me be perfectly clear: Mike Pence has not been good for Indiana, and would not be good for the nation.