WASHINGTON -- Glenda Ritz, the Indiana state schools superintendent who has repeatedly gone up against Gov. Mike Pence (R) on education policy, announced Thursday that she will be running for governor in 2016.
“We need a leader that understands the connection between education and economy rather than simply having a partisan agenda to create more schools,” she said in her announcement.
Ritz is essentially the only person standing in the way of Republicans achieving complete control over Indiana politics. She is currently the sole statewide Democratic officeholder and has been fighting furiously since her upset electoral win in 2012 to maintain her agency's role in shaping state education policy.
Although Ritz didn't officially jump into the race until Thursday, her candidacy was widely expected. On Wednesday, she sent a letter to Indy Pride, welcoming visitors to Indianapolis for the Pride Festival this week. She did so on "Ritz for Governor 2016" letterhead.
She joins former state House Speaker John Gregg and state Sen. Karen Tallian in competing for the Democratic nomination to take on Pence in 2016. Gregg narrowly lost to Pence in 2012.
As superintendent, Ritz chairs the State Board of Education, which oversees education policymaking in Indiana. The other 10 members have been gubernatorial appointees, and there have been public clashes between Ritz and her board colleagues.
In the final hours of its session in April, the GOP-controlled Indiana General Assembly approved a bill allowing Board of Education members to pick their own chair; the superintendent would no longer automatically hold that position. In other words, Pence wouldn't have had to face Ritz so often under this setup.
Republicans originally wanted the change to happen this summer but backed off after complaints from Democrats. It will now take effect after the 2016 elections.
Under the new arrangement, the governor has only eight appointments on the board. The other two are named by the leaders of the Indiana House and Senate.
Pence has insisted that the changes have nothing to do with politics.
“I just think this is a common-sense reform,” he said in February, noting that state boards in dozens of other states elect their own chairs.
Pence has also taken a hit in his approval rating since he signed the state's "religious freedom" law in March. The measure would have allowed any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense if sued by a private party. Many opponents of the bill pointed out that because the legislation's language was so broad, it would have opened the door to widespread discrimination against LGBT individuals.
After significant backlash both nationally and within Indiana, Pence eventually signed a revised version of the measure that made it clear the law could not be used by businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“No candidate for this or any other office can ignore the disaster made by the current leadership to use religious rights as a divisive political issue during the last session of the General Assembly," Ritz said Thursday. "We must respect the personal and civil rights of all of Indiana’s citizens and bring forward legislation that respects the rights of all Hoosiers.”
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