― Will Rogers
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz is, as most of you know, the only Democrat in a state-level executive office. She represents not only schools, students, and teachers, but she also must realize that she represents the Democratic Party now as the highest-ranking state officeholder for the D's.
That's why the rest of this post is going to get a little hard. I don't like to criticize our own, but I will if I think the politician deserves it. Glenda Ritz, you deserve it today.
Ritz, who took office in January, redesigned her office space to the tune of $86,000, according to WISH-TV. Ritz's office said that the money for the redesign came from savings generated by Tony Bennett's Administration.
Does Ritz understand how bad this looks?
There seems to be a bit of a "bunker mentality" from people I talk to in the Superintendent of Public Instruction's Office, and it's well-earned. A source told me that Bennett's folks left nothing in the office when he left. The office was essentially left bare, according to my source. Perhaps that's partially what this redesign was maybe helping to fix. After all, we don't have the invoices in front of us. That bunker mentality though is that many in the Statehouse are working against Ritz and trying to undercut and undermine her authority.
What better way to give them grist for their mill than to personally direct what seems to be an $86K redesign of office space?
Memories are still fresh of state agencies wasting taxpayer dollars. It was just over a year or so ago that WTHR did an expose piece on the Hoosier Lottery's extravagant new offices. That led to the ouster of the Lottery Director and led to a mad dash to recoup funds. Ritz's spending on her office is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what the Hoosier Lottery spent, but it still is a problem given the political climate we live in. There will be no resignations over this, and there shouldn't be. It doesn't look like she went overboard. The right way to do this would have been to get out in front of the story instead of having to react to it. It's a lesson in politics, as Jim Shella said in the report. In the world of politics, though, perception is reality.
If there's one thing Republicans like to pull on Democrats, it's that we like to spend money and do it wastefully. Of course, we know that both sides spend and tax, but it's the Dems that usually find that charge sticking to them more. Moves like this by Ritz and her office do nothing to dispel these political charges, only perpetuate them.
Maybe we're only getting one side of the story here, but this seemingly shortsighted move by the Superintendent of Public Instruction plays into past stereotypes of Democrats and only fuels the firestorm against her. Any time Ritz now tries to claim schools are underfunded and that more money needs to be spent to help struggling schools, this story will be brought up. Can't you just see them now?
Hoosier common sense apparently was not in these plans. Let's hope next time it is.