Guest column: More than an elected office at stake in attack on Ritz

(Minor editing was done for readability. – Admin.)

John Gregg

John Gregg is a Democrat who served as speaker of the Indiana House and president of Vincennes University.

Special to The StatehouseFile.com
Guest Column
By John Gregg
2/10/15

On a cold January morning in 2001, I stood outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC with my two sons, then ages 8 and 7 to witness the inauguration of President George W. Bush.

As the ceremony began, my older son asked me “Dad why are we here, we’re Democrats?” As the crowd around us looked, then laughed, I told my sons we were there to witness the something uniquely American: the peaceful transfer of power. Americans may disagree with a candidate’s political philosophy, but we always respect the outcome of an election. It’s a bedrock principle of our great democracy.

In November of 2012, I experienced this up close and personal. After a long and hard fought election for governor, Hoosier voters chose Mike Pence over me. And while he certainly wasn’t my first choice, I accepted the decision and respected the will of the majority.

In that same election, Hoosiers made another choice. In very clear fashion, voters said they didn’t like what incumbent Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett was doing to public education in Indiana. They voted him out and voted Glenda Ritz in.

The governor and Republican majority in the Statehouse did not like, nor respect Superintendent Ritz’s hard earned victory. And, while they can’t undo the results of the actual election, through power grab after power grab they are doing essentially the same thing – and that’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous.

If the governor and the Republicans in the General Assembly want to make the superintendent an appointed position or make any other changes to the Department of Education, let’s have a public discussion about them that includes all the interested parties. Ramming these major changes through without public input just because you don’t like the voter’s choice is no way to make sound public policy or instill confidence in state government.

Our country and our system of government works because of that time honored idea of a peaceful transfer of power from one person to the next and, in some cases, one political party to another.  Unlike so many other countries, we don’t have riots, revolutions or violence. We hold faith in the process and the people’s vote.

And when you don’t like the policy or people in a particular office, you don’t attempt a coup or refuse to accept their legitimacy to hold office; you get ready for the next election and work to vote them out.

The tactics on display in the Indiana Statehouse to neuter a duly elected office holder on personal and political grounds are a gross subversion of our most basic democratic principles. And, regardless of your political party or your position on the issues facing Indiana schools, all Hoosiers should also be alarmed.

John Gregg is a Democrat and former speaker of the Indiana House. He’s also a former president of Vincennes University and ran for governor in 2012.

“…this has been at heart a high-stakes series of contentious policy debates for the past two years about the future of public education in Indiana.”

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Rep. Stutzman sends our message to feeble leadership

The Pharos-Tribune
Brian Howey
The Howey Report
1/11/15

INDIANAPOLIS — On the day after he was one of 25 Republicans to vote against the reelection of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, the Politico reported that “particular ire was directed at U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman,” who was a leading instigator of the attempted coup.

Many see Stutzman as a Republican on the Tea Party fringe, steadily working his way toward the back bench. Ultimately, this may be the case.

But what I see in Stutzman is someone who had the guts to make a declarative statement that the status quo in Congress is utterly unacceptable. It is something the American people have been telling pollsters for years now. If you take a recent best case scenario, NBC/Wall Street Journal put Congressional approval/disapproval at 16/78 percent last month. Fox News had it at 14/80 percent. The National Journal had it at 9/80 percent last autumn.

The 113th Congress passed only 234 laws, the lowest in history. Another count by Politico had 296 laws passing, with 212 of them described as “substantive” while 84 were categorized as ceremonial. This Congress shut down for 16 days, with Stutzman a leading proponent. The House was only in session 147 days, and the Senate 141 days, or about 40 percent of the time. Some 94.6 percent of incumbents were reelected on Nov. 4. Since 1964, it’s never dipped below 82 percent in the House, and only during the Reagan landslide of 1980 has it gone below 60 percent in the Senate.

Even though the states have been begging Congress to fulfill its duty and bring about comprehensive immigration reform, this Congress kicked that big, stinkin’ can down the road.

Stutzman explained his vote against Boehner, saying, “In my years of service as a state and federal legislator, I’ve been honored to consistently support the leadership of my party because of their commitment to conservative principles. The parliamentary procedures of the U.S. House of Representatives are a proven framework for respectful thought and dialogue as the best means to guide proposed laws through a meticulous legislative process.”

“One month after winning the 2014 midterm elections, the current House leadership forced members to vote on the ‘CROmnibus’ legislation less than three days after it was introduced, a violation of the spirit of the House of Representatives ‘three-day rule’ before voting on bills,” Stutzman explained. “Legislation that contains almost 1,700 pages of legal language deserves the time and attention required to comprehend its content before bringing it to the floor for a vote. Recorded votes that break our own rules are no better than ‘passing a bill so we can find out what’s in it.’ It is a dangerous practice that consistently results in laws that are detrimental for the American people. This type of disregard for regular order and other similar actions will not do anything to build the trust of the American people. We can and must do better.”

Sometimes it’s worth noting that a member on the outlier can actually be absolved by history. Then U.S. Rep. Mike Pence was a lonely Republican vote against No Child Left Behind, a popular bill that was based on a ridiculous premise, as history as proven. Then U.S. Rep. John Hostettler was the lone Hoosier Republican to vote against the 2002 Iraq War Resolution, has none of the blood on his hands in what has proven to be nothing less than an American disaster.

Stutzman is not the only Hoosier member to publicly complain about this process. An exasperated U.S. Sen. Dan Coats explained last month, “One of Congress’ primary duties is to fund the federal government, but under the management of Harry Reid, the Senate has consistently ignored important spending decisions until literally the last minute. This forces senators to vote on large bills that fund the entire government, but inevitably include many items I do not support. The bill that the House sent to the Senate bill does, however, make positive changes for Hoosier families. Reforms include cutting the EPA budget by $60 million and the IRS budget by $345 million, prohibiting an EPA regulation opposed by Indiana farmers and blocking any new funding to implement Obamacare. Republicans will govern not only more conservatively, but also more responsibly, when we take control of the Senate in January.”

To Coats, the Reid era Senate was “dysfunctional.”

The question Hoosiers should keep in mind is with such a dismal performance record, why is Stutzman the only member to come to the conclusion that the problem lies at the top, with long-entrenched leadership, as opposed to the back bench? Since 1899, only one House Majority Leader (Eric Cantor) was defeated in a primary election and that came last spring. It isn’t a stretch to say that Cantor might be our little yellow canary.

Stutzman added, “The American system of government is based on the idea that ultimate power lies in the people, not the federal government. Our elected officers at all levels of government must be accountable to the rules and structures that have been established as a proven means of governing with integrity. Congress should not be the exception, but the example of such rule of law.”

Virtually all Hoosier House members sit in safe districts. They all have huge campaign war chests stored to discourage challengers. All breezed to reelection last November with comfortable to overwhelming pluralities.

But 2016 will be a vastly different beast than 2014. Six of the seven Republicans invested in leadership this week that has done virtually nothing to deserve the trust of the people. The people are consistently saying that they want lawmakers to work across the aisle, compromise, and deal with the nation’s many challenges. Hoosier members who voted for leadership would be wise to press them internally to get to work, and deal with the needs of the people. Within two years, complacency could be replaced with pikes and pitchforks.

Brian Howey, a Peru native, is the publisher of The Howey Political Report. He can be reached at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.

Long cuts short Pence’s chance to run for 2 offices

The Journal Gazette
Niki Kelly
1/6/15

INDIANAPOLIS – A legislative effort to allow Gov. Mike Pence to run for both governor and president in 2016 was short-lived, as Senate President Pro Tem David Long, on Tuesday “parked” the bill in Senate Rules Committee to die. “You need to make up your mind,” Long, of Fort Wayne said. “Choose the job you are going to run for.” Under current law, Pence would not be allowed to be on the ballot for two offices at once. Long said when he ran for State Senate he did not seek re-election to the Fort Wayne City Council because he felt the public had a right to pick who would serve. “I feel very strongly our laws are just fine the way they are,” he said. “Our leaders have chosen for years. If they want to run for an office it’s a decision they have to make. They’ll have to let somebody else take their place. I think that’s the best system.” Earlier in the day, Pence said he did not know of the bill – filed by Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel – until he read a newspaper account… (more)

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