INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Mitch Daniels will leave Indiana a state modeled
after the businessman’s conservatism he practiced and studied for decades,
with all the successes and mistakes that came of his bold vision.
He leased the Indiana Toll Road through 2081, pushed the nation’s most
sweeping school voucher law, privatized welfare, overhauled the Bureau of
Motor Vehicles and placed Indiana on sound financial footing even as other
states foundered during the recession.
He also ignored well-documented problems at the Department of Child
Services, lost track of $556 million in tax money, eliminated collective
bargaining for state employees and took billions in federal aid while
building a national career bashing the federal government for mismanagement
and overspending. Efforts to privatize the state’s welfare system, cut
funding to Planned Parenthood, bar employers from requiring union dues of
workers and create the voucher program sparked numerous legal battles, some
of which will continue long past the end of his term Jan. 14.
Through it all, he thought big - long a foreign concept in Indiana politics
that he said he hopes will stand as the new norm.
“Building a great business climate — that was always the central goal,” said
Daniels. “If it does have staying power, it will lead to all the other good
things we want. It will lead to new jobs, it will lead therefore to revenues
to do the things government should do and it will underpin the success of
As his second term as governor winds down and Daniels prepares to become
Purdue University’s president, the man who campaigned across the state in an
RV has traveled the nation on his legacy tour to share “the Indiana story.”
It’s a glossy tale of his achievements: sending hundreds of dollars back to
taxpayers via his automatic tax refund, weathering the national recession
without raising taxes and leaving Gov.-elect Mike Pence with money to spend,
on tax cuts or elsewhere.
But Democrats point out that Daniels omits many details, such as the state’s
need to borrow $2 billion to shore up its bankrupt unemployment insurance
fund and Daniels’ decision to accept $2 billion in federal stimulus money
despite saying he opposed the measure. They also say his decision to lease
the Indiana Toll Road for $3.8 billion to a foreign group for 75 years was
short-sighted, noting that most of the money has been spent or committed and
that key projects, such as the completion of the Interstate 69 expansion,
“I think that it’s going to turn out to be a bit of smoke and mirrors for
Indiana over the longer haul. I feel like he’s been very skilled at selling
Hoosiers -- and quite frankly the country -- a bill of goods, and it’s
really disappointing,” said Betty Cockrum, the president and chief executive
officer of Planned Parenthood of Indiana who clashed with Daniels in 2011
after he signed a law cutting off public funds to the organization because
it provides abortions.
Cockrum, who ran the state budget for former Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon,
said Daniels relied on tricks to make the state’s books look good just like
any other governor, but he rarely gets called on it because of his national
Daniels, who promised to bring a “freight train of change” to Indiana in a
2004 speech to fellow Republicans, continues to paint state government as a
mess before he took over in 2005. Customer service was awful at the Bureau
of Motor Vehicles, fraud was rampant in the state’s Medicaid program and the
state’s roads and bridges were crumbling, he says.
In his first year in office, he eliminated collective bargaining for public
employees and put the state on daylight saving time, something no governor
had achieved in decades of trying. The next year, he leased the toll road
and awarded a contract to a consortium led by IBM to privatize welfare. He
also hired hundreds of new caseworkers at the Department of Child Services,
transformed the state’s economic development department into a quasi-public
group -- with all the freedom and the secrecy that status grants -- and
turned the BMV into a beacon of customer service.
As the Republican Party’s old guard courted him to run for president in
2011, Daniels signed some of the nation’s most sweeping changes to public
education into law, including a voucher program that would let some students
use public money to attend private school. And in this last year in office,
he made Indiana the first Rust Belt state to ban mandatory union fees with
His allies and close friends say Daniels had a distinct vision for fixing
the state and executed it with fervor. Before Daniels took over, state
leaders were fine with mediocrity, said Neil Pickett, Daniels’ policy
director from 2005-2009.
“The general opinion of the state’s leadership was that we were okay, and it
was an okay place, and it was okay place for your family and an okay place
to raise your kids, but it wasn’t extraordinary,” Pickett said. “And Mitch
wanted something more, and he used his energy, and the force of his
personality and the force of his vision, to help people see that there could
Daniels was uniquely poised to execute that vision after years of jobs in
politics and corporate boardrooms, Pickett said. Daniels’ work in the Reagan
White House and as President George W. Bush’s budget director co-mingled
with his time as an Eli Lilly executive to show him how to get big things
done in a state unaccustomed to big changes, he said.
Former House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer isn’t as flattering.
“Mitch would do anything to accomplish his goal. He was persistent and he
kept at it and he didn’t let the facts get in his way and he didn’t let
anything get in his way,” Bauer said. “And ultimately, because of the fact
we’re basically in a Republican state, he got his way.”
Perhaps more than anyone, it was Bauer who drew out Daniels’ sharp tongue.
IN 2005, Daniels said Bauer and the House Democrats “car bombed” his
first-year agenda. Since then, he has mellowed significantly in public, but
still has his moments. At the opening of the Interstate 69 extension,
Daniels called opponents of the projects “bellyachers.” He later apologized
for the flip remark.
He incurred the wrath of the state’s public school teachers with his
sweeping education agenda, which in addition to the voucher program tied
teacher pay to student performance and led to the first state takeover of
failing schools. Those moves cost his education chief, Tony Bennett, his job
in the November election. The state abandoned its welfare privatization
project after complaints of delays and lost services, replacing it with a
hybrid system of public and private services. And changes in the embattled
Department of Child Services have sparked hours of public testimony and
prompted lawmakers to propose revisions in how the state handles reports of
abuse and neglect.