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Indiana Democrat seeks review of state education board partisan makeup

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MUNSTER, Ind. (AP) - A Democratic state representative is calling on Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence to review the makeup of the State Board of Education after a newspaper reported a member serving as an independent on the board has a history of voting in Republican primaries and donating to GOP candidates.

The Times of Munster reports that Indiana campaign finance records show that Marian University President Daniel Elsener has donated $10,575 to Republican candidates and business groups supporting Republicans since 2001 and cast a ballot in GOP primary elections nine out of 10 times since 1994. He voted in the 2000 Democratic primary.

State law allows only six of the 10 members on the governor-appointed State Board of Education to be from the same political party. The governor’s office has said Elsener is an independent member.

Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, believes it’s a serious dereliction of duty by Pence.

“It’s definitely something I think the governor needs to reevaluate,” VanDenburgh said. “If they’re going in and declaring themselves Republican for the last 13 years, then that’s a Republican. It doesn’t count as an independent, and it surely isn’t a Democrat.”

Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said Elsener was appointed to the board as an independent by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2005 and continues to serve as such.

“There are serious issues facing Hoosier students and workers, and it is time to get back to a serious discussion about how to solve them. Gov. Pence believes that it is time to take the politics out of education,” she said.

Tony Walker, a Democratic state education board member from Gary, believes the partisanship limits should be abolished because any governor is going to appoint board members that agree with the governor’s education policy.

“I do not believe the partisan affiliations play any role in our deliberations,” Walker said. “Quite frankly, there is no consensus within the two major parties on most education issues.”

Elsener said in an email to the newspaper responding to questions about his party ties that he is “an independent thinker” who votes for candidates “I believe would perform the best in the office.”

“During my adult life, I’ve supported Democrats and Republicans, with both my time and my money. I supported Evan Bayh, and I supported Mitch Daniels. But, ultimately, I believe that my decision in the voting booth is my business,” Elsener said.

He did not respond to an email sent by The Associated Press or a message left for him through a university spokesman.

Last week, the board voted to appoint Elsener, instead of its chairwoman Glenda Ritz, the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction, who defeated Republican Tony Bennett in a 2012 election, to appoint him to lead a six-month strategic planning process that will set the state’s education goals.

 

Posted 9/10/2013