Democracy in Indiana Has Taken a Hit

Vic's Statehouse Notes #297 - April 29, 2017
Vic Smith, Indiana Coalition for Public Education

The 120th General Assembly reduced the powers of voters. Democracy in Indiana has taken a hit.

In the historic final vote on Tuesday April 18th, the power of voters to elect the State Superintendent of Public Instruction was ended after 166 years. The power taken away from the voters was given to the Governor.

Starting in 2025, the Governor will appoint a Secretary of Education. The Governor is not required to appoint someone with K-12 experience. The illusory language of the bill leaves the impression that K-12 experience is required but when the words are examined closely, K-12 is not mentioned.

With this vote, democracy in Indiana was diminished.

For 166 years, voters could pick a State Superintendent who had an independent mandate from the electorate as the education leader in Indiana. Now, more power has been handed to the Governor. Voters who want to influence the direction of education policy in Indiana had better focus on the race for Governor.

If the privatization of public education in Indiana is to be reversed, voters will need to find a candidate for Governor who will be a champion for public education. After 2020, voters will no longer be able send a message to change the direction of education in Indiana by voting for a State Superintendent as they did in 2012.

House Bill 1005 - From Decisive Defeat to the Governor's Desk

House Bill 1005 took a nearly unprecedented path to reach the final vote:

House Bill 1005 passed the House 68-29.

SB 179, identical to HB 1005, failed in the Senate 23-26. Many thought defeating the bill would end the proposal for this session.

Senate rules say that when a bill is defeated "that exact language or substantially similar language shall be considered decisively defeated and shall not be considered again during the session."

In a Senate Rules Committee meeting in which Democrats pointedly argued that the rules say "shall not be considered again during the session," the Republican leadership claimed that they were making the bill "substantially different." Republicans had the votes to win the argument.

The "substantial differences" were found in three changes:

1) The date of the first appointment by the Governor was changed from 2021 to 2025.
2) A requirement of two years residency in Indiana was reinstated.
3) Qualifications were stated which give the illusion that experience in K-12 education is required to be appointed. In fact, K-12 experience is not mandated, a conclusion confirmed in a statement on the floor of the Senate by the bill's sponsor Senator Buck while speaking against a proposed amendment: "While we are trying to consider the availability to the Governor of somebody that would be the administrator of our department of ed, I hope we realize that someone with the depth of experience of executive leadership and in higher ed such as former Governor Mitch Daniels would be excluded from that category . I think it gives the Governor a great deal of latitude in looking to somebody that has executive experience in the field of education."

Read carefully the new slippery language on qualifications:

"(2) has demonstrated personal and professional leadership success, preferably in the administration of public education;"

"(3) possesses an earned advanced degree , preferably in education or educational administration, awarded from a regionally or nationally accredited college or university; and"

"(4) either:
at the time of taking office is licensed or otherwise employed as a teacher, principal, or superintendent;

has held a license as a teacher, superintendent, or principal, or any combination of these licenses, for at least five (5) years at any time before taking office; or

has a total of at least five (5) years of work experience as any of the following, or any combination of the following, before taking office:
(i) Teacher.
(ii) Superintendent.
(iii) Principal.
(iv) Executive in the field of education.

The word "preferably" has no meaning under the law. It can obviously be ignored. It is surprising that such a word is used in the bill. Using "preferably" means that it is not necessary to appoint a public education administrator to be State Superintendent. Similarly it is not necessary to appoint someone with a degree in education or educational administration.

This "preferably" language and the phrase "Executive in the field of education" open the door to appointing a business leader with executive experience in an education field such as testing or technology. Superintendents in Indiana are no longer required to have a superintendent's license.

Another concern is whether it was written for a higher education official to be appointed. No reference to K-12 experience or degrees is included in the amendment. It is not clear that those who wrote this legislation wanted a leader with K-12 experience.

After the Senate Rules Committee added these amendments, the full Senate passed the historic bill 28-20.

At this point, Speaker Bosma as bill sponsor had a choice. He could take the bill to a conference committee to restore the House's bill language or he could ask the House to concur with the Senate language. After several days, he decided to opt for a concurrence vote in the House which passed 66-31 on April 18th.

For all the discussion of past Democratic leaders wanting this change, the final votes in both the House (66-31)and the Senate (28-20) on HB 1005 showed bi-partisan opposition and, except for one vote, partisan support.

In the House, the yes votes were cast by 65 Republicans and one Democrat, Representative Goodin.

In the House, the no votes were cast by 28 Democrats and 3 Republicans, Representatives Judy, Nisly and Pressel.

In the Senate, all 28 yes votes were cast by Republicans.

In the Senate, the no votes were cast by all 9 Democrats and 11 Republicans, Senators Becker, Bohacek, Crane, Glick, Grooms, Head, Kenley, Koch, Kruse, Leising and Tomes.

Will Voters React?

If voters are offended about losing the powers they have had for 166 years, they have only one way to react and that is at the polls in the next election if candidates make this an issue for voters to respond to. It is now up to the candidates.

Speaker Bosma made it clear that he is confident that there will be no voter backlash when he told the IndyStar "they could potentially present bills moving up the implementation date in future legislative sessions." (April 19, 2017, p. 10A)

No polling has been done to my knowledge about how Hoosier votes feel about losing their power to elect the State Superintendent after 166 years. Some legislators reported that their constituent surveys showed opposition by wide margins to the loss of the power to elect the State Superintendent.

If voters are strongly offended by this power grab by the Governor and the leadership of the supermajority, candidates in the next primary or general election may try to hammer this issue home with voters. If voters are willing to give up this power without a fight, not much will be heard. Whether the action becomes a controversy among voters is now up to the voters and the candidates. Candidates may decide that undermining the power of voters after 166 years is a bipartisan issue that would attract the attention of voters in the 2018 elections.

The case that HB 1005 has undermined democracy in Indiana is clear:

The Governor and the State Superintendent, both duly elected by the people, strongly disagreed. Instead of letting the voters settle the disagreement at the next election, which is what elections and democracy are all about, the Governor and the Republican leadership have suppressed future disagreement by ending the independent mandate from voters held by the State Superintendent since 1851, 166 years ago.

Since Governors are elected on many issues and education is a minor issue in gubernatorial campaigns, voters have lost their direct power to correct the course of education when they are motivated to do so, as they were in 2012. Removing public dissent on education in this manner aligns with Milton Friedman's plan to gradually deconstruct public education and fund a marketplace of private schools with public tax dollars.

Will this mean that the days of electing the Attorney General, the Auditor and the Treasurer are now numbered to avoid conflict and to give more power to the Governor? Are we on a slippery slope to a weaker and weaker democracy where the power of the ballot box is diminished?

Are Voters Angry?

Time will tell if voters are angry enough about this issue to bring it to the next election. If you as a voter feel strongly about losing your power to elect the Indiana State Superintendent, you should talk with candidates or potential candidates who might carry your message in the next election. As we have all seen nationally, calls to repeal laws can become potent campaign issues.

Vic Smith, Indiana Coalition for Public Education, vic790@aol.com