Rich James: Absolute power ... corrupts
Thursday, March 30, 2017 12:04 PM
MERRILLVILLE – One of the most famous political slogans came from Lord Acton way back when. Acton, of British descent, said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I have the feeling those words are emblazoned on the walls of the Republican Senate caucus in the Indiana General Assembly. I think we might be able to say the same about the Hoosier House of Representatives as well. But they don’t seem to care.
With Republicans controlling both chambers by wide margins, they apparently think they can do just about anything they want legislatively. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb seems to have the same train of thought. At issue is the bill to take the office of the superintendent of public instruction out of elective politics and allow the governor to appoint the secretary of education.
The bill was written by Holcomb. But, much to his surprise, the Senate killed the bill on Feb. 20 on a 26-23 vote. So, that was the end of the grand conspiracy to take over the office of the education superintendent.
So it seemed, anyway. Senate rules prohibit the language of a defeated measure, or any “substantially similar” language, from again being considered for the remainder of the legislative session. But the Senate rule didn’t seem to bother President David Long of Fort Wayne, who said changes to the bill were significant enough to allow it to be considered again this session.
The new bill changes the start date from 2021 to 2025 and requires the appointee to have at least two years as an Indiana resident. If Long and fellow Senate Republicans think the change is enough to allow reconsideration of the bill, well … In essence, it is the very same bill in that it takes authority to name the education chief away from the voters and gives it to the governor.
This power grab ought to enrage Democrats when it comes to mid-term elections in 2018. One would think they will be angered over the Republican move to take the naming of the education chief away from the voters. But Indiana Democrats are a hurting bunch. One would have thought Democrats last year would have reelected Glenda Ritz as superintendent of public instruction.
After all, Democrats have been enraged over the weakening of teacher unions by Republicans. They also are upset about Republican moves to shift considerable amounts of public dollars from public to charter schools. But none of that apparently was enough to get Ritz reelected. Apparently you sometimes can get away with absolute power corrupting absolutely.
Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana.