The Herald Bulletin

September 7, 2013

Editorial: Private policy meetings make mockery of democracy


The Herald Bulletin

---- — The Associated Press continues to mine emails concerning education reform, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and former Gov. Mitch Daniels. More keeps coming out.

Last week, a story illustrated that education reform in Indiana started not with legislators where it belongs, but what the AP called GOP power brokers working behind the scenes. They met "over Scotch whiskey at a steakhouse and in meetings at a private club." The group looked to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for model legislation on charter schools and vouchers, teacher merit pay and other reform items.

According to the report, the group kept an eye on the political ramifications of their reforms, such as not using the word voucher but school choice scholarship instead.

When Republicans made huge gains in 2010, the power brokers were ready and dumped all of their reform ideas onto GOP legislators. With the filibuster-proof majority, the GOP began passing the reform laws.

Mark Lubbers, called a Daniels confidant by the AP, said, "The whole concept of when do you bring in the public is an academic question....making public policy in a democracy is the game. That is the whole game."

This is, frankly, amazing, although Hoosiers should probably expect some behind-the-scenes wrangling. Anyone who has seen or read "All the King's Men" knows that such shenanigans will be used by special interests pushing an agenda. That doesn't make it right, just prevalent.

But even with all of the arm-twisting, cigar smoke, Scotch on the rocks and Powerpoint presentations, what is decided doesn't have to become law. That is still up to legislators, who apparently were not even keyed in when the policies were being drawn up. Daniels and Bennett were the go-to guys and the GOP lawmakers followed their lead.

In other words, it was the ideology behind the policies, not the merit, that the Republicans got behind.

This is a deviation of the democratic process where bills are introduced in the legislature, debated and voted on, and it's all in the public eye. That's how an open democracy works. As Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute for Money in State Politics, told the AP, "The public doesn't stand a chance in that kind of scenario, and the accountability is nonexistent."

Hoosiers should be outraged that Indiana Republicans are relying on model legislation — which the American Legislative Exchange Council specializes in — instead of coming up with their own bills based on their constituents' needs.

Indiana voters firmly rejected Bennett in 2012 because he was associated with school reform laws perceived as too sweeping. As it turns out, Bennett was only the tip of the iceberg. Republicans in the General Assembly were equally culpable by buying into ideological reforms and expediting them to Daniels' desk so they could become law with very little public input.

This is not democracy and should be remembered next year.

In summary Hoosiers should be outraged that Indiana Republicans are relying on model legislation instead of coming up with their own bills based on their constituents' needs.