Twenty years ago this month, I wrote a post-election editorial for another Indiana newspaper urging the governor to take note of voters' choice for state superintendent of public instruction.
"(The superintendent-elect) won because Hoosiers believe that education is too important to be left to politicians," I wrote. "She campaigned on that theme and it paid off with voters, who rejected the governor's hand-picked candidate."
The governor, in this case, was Democrat Evan Bayh and the superintendent-elect was Republican Suellen Reed. Today, the same applies to Republican Gov.-elect Mike Pence and Democrat Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz.
More from the 1992 editorial:
Reed's election marks the second time that Indiana voters have bucked a Democratic tide to send a Republican to the Statehouse as state superintendent. They did it in 1988 when they chose H. Dean Evans … an innovative and independent leader. His effectiveness was limited by a Democratic-controlled State Board of Education, but he never wavered in his quest to improve Indiana schools.
We hope Reed will follow in Evans' footsteps, but more important, we hope that Bayh will work with the new superintendent. If, as most political pundits believe, the young governor has aspirations beyond the state's borders, he should realize that Indiana's education record during his tenure will be scrutinized. We all will be best served if politics are set aside and true progress is achieved.
We congratulate Bayh on his resounding win, but he should realize that the voters' rejection of (Stan) Jones means that the mandate does not extend to his education policy. The next time we see one of those many classroom photos of the governor hovering over a young student, we hope Suellen Reed will be in the picture as well.
So how did that all turn out? Quite well, thank you. Bayh appointed Stan Jones as commissioner of higher education and, remarkably, Jones and Reed forged a friendly and productive working relationship over the next 16 years. Reed's task wasn't quite as tough as Ritz's – Democrats controlled the House by a 55-45 seat margin; Republicans controlled the Senate by a 28-22 seat margin.
Reed and Bayh did, in fact, find some common ground. When the governor was elected to the U.S. Senate and succeeded by Frank O'Bannon, the state might have enjoyed the most collaborative and productive period in public education in its history. Reed and O'Bannon were true partners – co-chairing an Education Roundtable that was far more than the worthless rubberstamp it represents today. Parents, educators, union and business leaders held substantive policy discussions that increased accountability and raised academic standards to level that is among the highest in the nation.
Here's a prediction: The education policies advanced during Reed's tenure, created under compromise and collaboration, will have far longer lasting value for Indiana students than any of the unproven and one-sided measures pushed through the GOP-controlled legislature by Tony Bennett and Mitch Daniels.
Pence, who most likely has his own aspirations beyond the state's borders, can build a stronger education record by working with Ritz than against her. Once again, it's the message Indiana voters delivered to the governor's office.