Public schools lost some loyal advocates in the Indiana legislature last week with the defeat of Democratic Sen. Tim Skinner and Reps. Shelli VanDenburgh and Mara Candelaria Reardon.
Skinner, a former school teacher from Terre Haute, may have been the most outspoken supporter of public schools in the General Assembly. He lost his bid for a fourth term by more than 1,000 votes to Republican Jon Ford, a business owner.
VanDenburgh, from Crown Point, and Reardon, from Munster, were part of a northwestern Indiana Democratic delegation that advocated reliably in the House for public schools. VanDenburgh lost a close contest to Julie Olthoff, a Merrillville ad agency owner. Reardon’s narrow loss to Munster attorney Bill Fine means there is now only one Hispanic legislator in a state that is over 6 percent Hispanic. (That’s Rep. Christina Hale, an Indianapolis Democrat who is part Cuban-American).
Republicans expanded their super majorities in both the House and Senate with the election. They now control the House, 71-29, and the Senate, 40-10. On partisan issues – and there are a lot of them in education – Democrats will do well to get a word in edgewise.
Senate Republicans put more than $100,000 into Ford’s campaign. Skinner got some help from the Indiana State Teachers Association but it was too little, too late.
Olthoff’s campaign against VanDenburgh picked up nearly $75,000 in late, large contributions as her supporters apparently realized she could win. About half came from the House Republican campaign committee and the rest from the school-voucher advocacy group Hoosiers for Quality Education.
Democrats did add one education advocate to their thin ranks: Daleville teacher Melanie Wright defeated 23-year GOP lawmaker L. Jack Lutz, who blamed ISTA money and attack ads for his loss.
In southern Indiana, the ISTA and other public education supporters threw in big for Jeff Sparks, who challenged Republican incumbent Matt Ubelhor in District 62. But Sparks didn’t come close.
Overall it was a disappointing election for education-minded Indiana Democrats, just two years after Glenda Ritz shocked the nation by upsetting Superintendent of Public Instruction Bennett in what was widely seen as an affirmation of public education. Ritz campaigned this year for some of the Democratic legislative candidates, but her support didn’t seem to have much of an impact.