Election is over, and it’s payback time

The week after an election is probably a good time to recall the immortal words of Henry Adams, the American historian and diarist: “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”

In other words, if you backed the wrong side last week, get ready to duck.

Take a look at the money disbursed this election season by the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education, the political arm of the Indiana State Teachers Association. It spent close to $1 million by Oct. 9, most of it in contributions of as much as $50,000 to Democratic legislative candidates.

But most of those candidates lost. Republicans won control of the Indiana House by a 59-41 margin. In the state Senate, the margin is so lopsided that the handful of Democrats don’t even need to show up for Republicans to do business.

Conveniently enough, any hypothetical payback of the ISTA would align nicely with the Republican agenda of weakening the ability of teachers’ unions to block reforms such as merit pay and the gutting of tenure protections.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels says education reform will be a top priority for his final two years in office, and he will have a solid Republican legislative majority to help him achieve it. He’s vowing to “put students first and strengthen local flexibility,” a goal that includes:

— Paying teachers on the basis of improvement in student test scores.
— Holding schools accountable for student learning while giving them more flexibility – it’s not yet clear exactly what that means.
— Providing more “quality options” for parents and students; i.e., more charter schools and maybe more state support for private education.

Reforming schools, modernizing local government and balancing the budget without a tax increase might sound like a nice legacy for Daniels, regardless of whether he runs for president in 2012. But the Indianapolis Star reports that some in the Republican legislative caucuses have other priorities, like cracking down on illegal immigration, restricting abortion and putting a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

There are only so many days in a legislative session.

Star columnist Matt Tully writes that expanding charter schools, promoting merit pay and taking on teacher tenure offer Daniels his best chance for leaving a mark on the state. But Tully wonders if the big GOP majorities present a risk. “Will the GOP overreach?” he writes. “Will Republicans use their huge majorities to score ideological or partisan points? Will they be inclined to rush through legislation without trying to work with the other side?”

The situation recalls 1995, when a national Republican wave gave the GOP control of the Indiana House as well as the Senate. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say the party’s agenda then was: 1) punish the teachers’ unions; 2) punish the construction unions; 3) punish the trial lawyers – all of which had supported Democrats politically.

That’s what the Republicans set about doing. But as a result, they didn’t hold the majority for long.

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