Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 4, 2013

HEINIG: Where did common sense go in Hoosier education?

Gov. Pence may be risking his future political career

By Mark Heinig Jr.
Guest columnist

— Common sense.

I spent almost 40 years as an educator trying to convince high school kids that we all have it or at least the potential to acquire it. We merely need to learn how to use it. Often, what we really need is to slow down and THINK before we act! Thinking demands controlling our emotions, anticipating all possible consequences of an action, and using our power of reason to decide whether to take, modify or reject the action.

The constant bickering between the Indiana State Board of Education and Superintendent Glenda Ritz reveals an irrefutable lack of common sense. The board and the superintendent are fighting a battle that neither side can win. In this case, the motives seem more political than educational. The conflict yields nothing productive. It simply diverts attention from opportunities to help teachers teach and students learn more effectively.

Common sense tells us that the election of a single Democrat amidst a Republican landslide says something significant about what Hoosier voters want. Gov. Pence’s response to that message displays neither common sense nor effective leadership. Anyone who served Hoosiers in Congress for as long as Pence did should understand the importance of those two qualities.

Circumventing the voters’ desires is incredibly dangerous for any public official. Pence may be risking a promising political career —possibly one crucial to the future success of the GOP and the conservative movement at the national level. Although he contends that he is entirely focused on his job as governor of Indiana, he has never explicitly said that he wouldn’t consider running for president.

Despite his early career in radio broadcasting, our governor is not a showman. He enjoys widespread respect among Republicans, and some of them consider him charismatic. Yet he doesn’t possess the magnetic appeal that President Kennedy and President Reagan had.

At times he has demonstrated thoughtful common sense leadership. He may be one of the few Republican presidential candidates who could heal the rift in the party by uniting Tea Party and mainstream Republicans into a potent political force.

I have no reliable information about Pence’s political ambitions beyond his current office. However, he may be a serious dark horse candidate, if none of the GOP’s front runners can capture the nomination. Could Gov. Pence really be our next Republican presidential candidate and our next president? Maybe, but not if the voters believe that he may ignore their wishes when they differ from his. That belief could cost him either the nomination or the presidency. Doing what he wants rather than what they want won’t get him to the Oval Office.

Predictions about any presidential campaign are always tenuous, and the one in 2016 is harder to foresee than most. Many of the problems that we have wrestled with in the past six years will almost certainly continue to trouble us. If our current elected leaders haven’t solved them yet, will two more years make a difference? Probably not.

We must look all the way back to the war in Vietnam to find as many disillusioned, frustrated and angry voters as we have now. We need to elect some new leaders open to negotiation and compromise. We must also persuade incumbents who are reelected to cooperate with their opponents instead of fighting with them. Bipartisan collaboration is more effective than confrontation.

I used to tell my students that it takes at least two people to have a fight, and no one really wins. The fact that a fight occurs at all means that more sensible and intelligent methods of conflict resolution have failed. Both sides lose. This time the loss hurts our children most of all.

Superintendent Ritz’s paralyzing dispute with the state board members is not entirely her fault or theirs. Both sides must accept some of the blame. The voters will ultimately decide how much blame each side must bear. However, the voters may not be prepared to forgive and forget. After all, Gov. Pence chose the board members, but the voters chose Superintendent Ritz.

My greatest concern about our next presidential election is that the Republican Party as we know it may split. That is a distinct possibility if the Tea Party folks and more moderate Republicans continue to disagree. If Mike Pence or any other candidate can prevent that, the conservatives will win an important victory even if they lose the actual election.

We need a two-party system. A single political party cannot adequately address the concerns of our entire population indefinitely. History teaches us that. The remaining party eventually splits into liberal and conservative factions, but chaos and confusion thrive until then. Avoiding the problem is the common sense alternative.

Mark Heinig Jr. of Kokomo is a retired Indiana principal and teacher. Contact him at markjr1708@gmail.com.