Mark Souder: In defense of boring
Thursday, January 19, 2017 9:27 AM
FORT WAYNE – When I proposed to Diane back in 1974, I told her that life with me would not be boring. That it was not. (I also said I wouldn’t run for political office but I failed in a few other things as well.)
When Mitch Daniels first discussed with me that he was going to run for governor, I raised some political concerns about his big city slicker and corporate background. His response was that he was going to “out small town me.” You know, he said, I come from a small town too. I asked how big. He said something over 10,000 people. I snorted, “That’s a big city.” Of course, Mitch (the populist first name), went RV’ing to every burg in the state, lost all his suits and ties, and even used populist green as his color as opposed to the ubiquitous Republican red, white and blue. I was impressed.
My hometown of Grabill had under 500 residents and couldn’t grow much because it was surrounded by Old Order Amish farms (not the liberal Amish with a top on their buggy). A friend unfairly described the church I grew up in as being founded by a group of men who gathered together, made a list of everything fun in life, wrote “NO” across the top, and then said “now we have the foundation for our church.”
When Mitch Daniels was elected governor, Indiana government was rather antiquated. License bureau jokes have disappeared from our lexicons. His “selling the toll road” hurt Indiana Republicans in 2006, but without a doubt will go down as one of the more remarkable deals of any state government.
I had supported multiple road requests, including one that the previous governor promised me. Our new regional highway director Bob Alderman received permission from Gov. Daniels to open the files related to our district. It was appalling; all sorts of promises to all sorts of people with absolutely no way to pay for hardly anything. The personal note to me with the road commitment was even in the file.
For eight years Daniels challenged institutions in this state. Businessmen came in to run divisions like a business. When hearing that very popular expression people often forget that businesses don’t always succeed. However, successful businessmen don’t quit. They learn from their errors and re-structure, trying new ways to improve the ineffective status quo. Generally they quit, after learning that the public sector doesn’t work like a real market, but if they stay around long enough or get replaced with similar folks (as happened under Daniels), quality change can occur.
Life under Gov. Daniels wasn’t boring. It was tumultuous. But the state advanced more, in my opinion, than any other Hoosier governor.
There are some worthy rivals to Daniels, including the next governor, Mike Pence. When Mitch left the governor’s office and decided to reform higher education, a much harder effort than changing a state, incoming Gov. Pence seemed more likely to be a friendly, smiley sort of fellow. One’s first impression, and last, of Mitch Daniels is that he is intense. That is not true of Mike Pence, though depending upon the issue, the last impression might be that he is grimly determined.
While to the media, Pence’s defense of a private business owner’s right to practice their personal religious beliefs is the defining moment of his career, it was not what impacted most Hoosiers. It was the obsession of the few who blasted Indiana nationally because they, as individuals, did not agree.
Quite frankly, I had some disagreements with the legislation. However, the opposition picked non-representative examples, distorted potential impacts, and yet pretended to be providing “news” and “fact.” For four years the media-created ruckus made the political life of Indiana “not boring.”
As for actual substantive change, Gov. Pence’s health care and education legislation impacted more people and are an enduring legacy. Because he developed specific proposals to be implemented, as opposed to purist ideological rhetoric, Mike was whacked up the side of the head and blasted by right-wing and left-wing critics.
Thanks to the accidental occupant of the position of superintendent of public instruction behaving like a spoiled child, the education policy changes never actually received the substantive debate they should have. People got tired of the drama. In the Trump Administration both the Pence approaches to health and education are likely to be highlighted nationally. The controversy won’t be boring.
Our new Gov. Eric Holcomb now faces remnants of the 12 years of his non-boring predecessors’ issues including roads, education, health care adjustments, and drug abuse. Eric worked with both Daniels and Pence, so is well-equipped to understand the diverse legacy approaches.
Gov. Holcomb is another small-town enthusiast, proud of his state. His eyes light up when he spots a basketball hoop or a small-town diner. But overall, he is pretty boring. His ideas tend to be functional, not controversial.
But people don’t stay, come back or move into Indiana for excitement. While we have plenty of it in our cities, arguably too much, even Indy is not New York or Chicago, for which we are thankful. There is nothing wrong with being kind of boring. We also needed a break from governmental tumult, a period to consolidate.
Washington, however, needs a shake-up; actually, a total makeover. Donald Trump is too much of “not boring” for my preference but Washington needs a jolt, though it is handy to have a vice president who can piece together some of the broken pieces to make sure there is not a collapse of core functions in the process.
We wander Indiana. If we want extra excitement, as long as our roads and airports are decent, we have easy access to greater tumult and turmoil. What is nice is to watch the Washington chaos in the news, or Entertainment Tonight, from solid, steady, somewhat boring Indiana.
Souder is a former Republican congressman from Indiana.