Fuentes-Rohrer is a self-professed liberal Democrat who chairs of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education of Monroe County and South Central Indiana, an organization that used its strong Facebook presence to connect with other like-minded grassroots organizations across the state.
They helped generate an anti-Bennett message which resonated with voters like Sharon Kain, president of the Cass County Republican Women’s organization, a self-described conservative and ardent supporter of Mitt Romney and Richard Mourdock, the GOP’s losing presidential and Senate candidates.
“I did everything I could to defeat Tony Bennnett,” Kain said in an email to the CNHI Statehouse Bureau. Kain’s reasoning: She has a daughter who is a teacher and a husband who is a school superintendent. “Both have been extremely unhappy with the way education reforms have been handled,” she said.
Ritz is a schoolteacher, a political newcomer and a former Republican who switched parties to take on Bennett. She billed her campaign as a referendum on sweeping education-reform legislation implemented by Bennett, including vouchers for private schools, merit pay for teachers and more high-stakes testing for students.
With a campaign budget less than one-fifth of what Bennett raised, she and her campaign staff tapped into the sentiments of unhappy teachers and school administrators across the state and made the most of social media.
State Sen. Jean Leising, a Republican from Oldenburg who backed the major education-reform legislation had 1,500 online petitions in her inbox when she opened her email Tuesday morning.
That caught her attention, as did Ritz’ win. She’s not ready to jettison the reform legislation, she said, but she’s also not ready to dismiss its critics: “I think in the next session you’re going to see legislators saying, ‘Let’s look at what’s working and what’s not working.’”