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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, October 15, 2016 10:01 pm

State chamber backs Ritz challenger

Niki Kelly and Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce on Monday announced its support of Jennifer McCormick in the race for state superintendent of public instruction over incumbent Glenda Ritz.

The organization has rarely stepped into statewide races, and this marks the first time ever it has endorsed a challenger. McCormick, the Yorktown Community Schools superintendent, is a Republican.

Ritz, a Democrat, has served for four years.

"Our volunteer leadership voted to take this unusual step because we can’t have four more years of divisiveness and dysfunction from the Department of Education. It’s time to hit the reset button," Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said.

"We need a state superintendent who understands the importance of having a productive working relationship with the stakeholders engaged in the state’s education policy. Glenda Ritz has proven she’s incapable of doing that and has over-politicized the system."

In contrast, the Indiana Chamber notes McCormick’s "positive relationships with both educators and the business community. She will be the constructive, get-things-done type of a superintendent that we need in today’s climate."

The Indiana Chamber has long been involved in education policy because businesses need good, qualified talent to thrive.

"Maintaining the education policies that have improved student outcomes in recent years is at risk," he states. "Whether that’s our assessments, school and teacher accountability, or parental choice of which school is best for their children. Ritz is in favor of none of that."

One of the Indiana Chamber’s objectives for the 2017 legislative session will be expansion of state-supported pre-K to more students from low-income families.

"Jennifer McCormick realizes that the at-risk group needs to be the focus, and she will make effective use of the state’s scarce resources," Brinegar said.

Ritz supports a universal prekindergarten option for all children.

Chamber mum on governor

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce won’t be making an endorsement in the governor’s race between Democrat John Gregg, GOP Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb and Libertarian Rex Bell.

Chamber spokeswoman Rebecca Patrick said the chamber has made only three endorsements ever for statewide office.

Those included second terms for then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, who won, and then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who lost. McCormick’s race is the third.

"In each of the three, we took the step because we felt the actions of the incumbent – positively or negatively – warranted getting involved. And obviously, we have no incumbent in the gubernatorial race," Patrick said.

All endorsement decisions are made by the Indiana Chamber’s volunteer committees of business leaders from throughout the state.

Right to Life PAC endorses 8

The political action committee for Allen County Right to Life endorsed eight candidates for seats on four local school boards on Thursday.

"Our endorsed candidates oppose school-based clinics that offer abortion counseling and Planned Parenthood offering sex education in schools," Cathie Humbarger, communications director of the Allen County Right to Life PAC, said in a statement. "We must elect pro-life candidates up and down the ballot, including at the school board level."

Officials for the four public school districts in Allen County – East Allen County Schools, Fort Wayne Community Schools, Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools – said their schools do not have clinics that offer abortion counseling nor does Planned Parenthood offer sex education in their schools.

Officials at Fort Wayne and Northwest Allen schools pointed out that Indiana law requires that their schools teach abstinence as the only way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

"Our PAC and our voters want to ensure our local school board members are willing to fight against these things, if they emerge in our area," Humbarger said in an email.

School board candidates in the Nov. 8 election who were endorsed by the Right to Life PAC include Todd Buckmaster, District 6R, and Terry Jo Lightfoot, District 7E, East Allen County Schools; Glenna Jehl, District 2, and Thomas Smith, District 3, Fort Wayne Community Schools; Chanda Kay Lubbenhusen, District 1, and Eric Ellingson, District 2, Northwest Allen County Schools; and Bradley Mills, District 1, and Mark Gilpin, District 2, Southwest Allen County Schools.

The PAC said its endorsements were based in part on a survey sent to each candidate and that candidates who did not respond were not considered for endorsements. Seven of the 19 candidates for school board seats did not respond to the seven-question survey.

The PAC recognized FWCS District 2 candidate Jared Bradley as a pro-life candidate, although it did not endorse him.

The Allen County Right to Life PAC said its mission "is to protect and promote innocent human life, from fertilization to natural death."

Barranda: Shelter doesn’t fit city plan

In a statement at the end of Tuesday’s Fort Wayne City Council meeting, Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, expressed frustration over the council’s approval of a zoning change for the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission’s new location on East Washington Boulevard.

Barranda said the change goes against the city’s existing plans for the downtown area, which were put in place in 2005 under former Mayor Graham Richard and have not been formally updated since.

"I’m a bit frustrated by the Rescue Mission’s exception to the zoning ordinance. Not because it’s not a great project – it is. But it completely violates the last administration’s downtown blueprint," Barranda said.

"That section, that corridor from the art museum down to the Botanical, is identified as our arts and cultural district. What we had proposed to us last week ... is a recommendation or a suggestion that has now been changed from an arts district to a cultural care center where homeless and other folks can receive care."

Barranda said the zoning change for the Rescue Mission represents "a fundamental change in the way we’ve designated that area of our community." Barranda said he wants to see Mayor Tom Henry’s administration bring a formal update to the downtown blueprint before the council for approval, and he wants the administration to stick to that plan.

"Why is that important? I think because planning tells the community what our city is, where we’re headed," Barranda said. "It tells property owners where we’re headed as a community."

Dave Gong of The Journal Gazette contributed to this column.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Brian Francisco at or Niki Kelly at An expanded Political Notebook can also be found as a daily blog at