Tony Bennett Flops Twice in One Year
Around the State
Conservatives expected Tony Bennett to be a leading education reformer, but he could never get out of his own way, which is why he lost two education positions since November.
A former teacher, school principal and high school basketball coach, Bennett was elected to head Indiana’s public schools in 2008. Voters turned against him in 2012 and he lost his bid for a second term. In December the Florida Board of Education unanimously approved him to be the Sunshine State's education commissioner.
Bennett’s political career in Indiana reveals the perils education reformers often face. In 2012 many Republicans and Republican-leaning groups tuned Bennett out. He ran behind other Republican candidates in Indiana. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney won the state in 2012 with 54 percent of the vote. Mike Pence, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2012, won office with 50 percent of the vote. Bennett lagged behind with only 47 percent, sealing his defeat. In many rural suburban counties in Indiana, he ran 10 percent behind Romney and other Republicans. Simply put, Bennett was sunk because many Republican voters think schools need to be reformed, but the schools their children attend are fine.
Bennett had an opportunity to build on Jeb Bush’s education reforms in Florida. The education reforms Bennett backed in Indiana were more popular in the cities than in other parts of the state and that could have been the case in Florida. Bennett had the support of Rick Scott and Tallahassee Republicans. It appeared he had the opportunity to play a leading role in reshaping assessment and implementing Common Core in Florida.
But, eight months after the state Board of Education unanimously backed him, he resigned. Bennett simply didn’t spend enough time in Florida to leave much of a legacy and it’s telling that Bush and his allies talked more about his record in Indiana than in Florida in the statements they sent out on Thursday.
Bennett had the rare experience of leading education efforts in two states. Despite being one of the leading and perhaps most gifted school reformers in the nation, he left early both times out. A third chance is extremely unlikely after the disastrous year he had in both Indiana and Florida.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.