Daniels book of speeches: Policy seeds
Tuesday, December 18, 2012 7:11 AM
This article was originally published in the Nov. 27, 2012 edition of Howey Politics Indiana.
By BRIAN A. HOWEY
NASHVILLE, Ind. – We are now down to the final six weeks of the two scintillating terms of Gov. Mitch Daniels. Between now and Jan. 14, 2013, when Gov.-elect Mike Pence is sworn into office, there will be an array of articles and TV news stories revisiting his eight years on the second floor of the Statehouse.
At times, Daniels has brushed off questions of his “legacy” as an uninteresting topic.
But to the rest of us, it isn’t. It presents a poignant case study of how power is attained and used. We’ve seen governorships constructed around a single issue. Others have evolved. We’ve watched governors rule with an eye on bigger prizes. We’ve seen others fail to spend the political capital at hand, accepting much of the status quo.
Some of the more fascinating aspects of the Daniels governorship will soon be conveyed in a new book “Aiming Higher: Words That Changed a State.”
The book, published by the Indianapolis Business Journal, is a compilation of Daniels’ speeches ranging from 1989 to 2012, in what he calls his “arc” of public service. In 1989, Daniels would tell a Hanover College event in Louisville that “public education in America is still failing” and added that “I think the education system is in need of some anti-trust action. We think the public education system should fund students, not buildings.”
He called for “fair accounting” of performance, the measuring of “inputs” of achievement, and a reduction of bureacracy. “We’re looking for school systems in which the administration is a service center and not a control center, in which decisions are made by principals and teachers in the buildings who are dealing with the problems every day.”
And Daniels called for a “decertification in the teaching profession,” explaining, “By that I mean opening up the profession to people who did not necessarily go to education school.”
The debate on education transformation had been pushed forward by President Reagan’s “A Nation At Risk” report in 1983 and in 1987, by Gov. Robert D. Orr’s “A Plus” initiative. “I’m a little weary with the debate that has gone on a long time, and I think it’s been very enlightening in many ways, but I regret to say, produced too few results.”
During his Hudson Institute tenure, Daniels oversaw education researchers like Denis Doyle and Lew Perelman reach the conclusion that public education was a “failed monopoly.” The course was plotted in a report called “Workforce 2000” that laid out a plan of action Gov. Daniels was able to achieve almost a quarter century later.
Those were some of the seeds that were sown and produced the emphatic education reforms that occurred between 2007 when he worked administratively around B. Patrick Bauer’s Democratic Indiana House, to 2011 when the governor achieved some of his most profound - and controversial - reforms with the Republican majorities he helped induce in the 2010 elections.
I was selected by Gov. Daniels to write the book’s foreward and came up with this observation: By definition, the word “transformation” is a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance. In a political or policy context, the word is often used in association with war, revolution or economic crisis. And in the Hoosier experience, the word clashes with 196 years of stereotype: We are a conservative people, cautious, suspicious, resistant to change. Interrupting this history in key moments has been the transformational governor, almost always thrust into that role by the churning events of the day. As Hoosiers at the turn of this century, we have witnessed such a governor in Mitch Daniels Jr. Whether you regard him as a hero or adversary, few Hoosiers will dispute the notion that his eight years at the Indiana Statehouse have been impactful and have altered the trajectory of the state at a time when just about everything is changing on a global scale.
A select list of transformational governors
Fewer than 10 Indiana governors merit the notation of “transformation.” For Governors James Whitcomb and Joseph Wright in the middle of Indiana’s first century, it resulted from the bankruptcies of public works projects gone awry, the empty coffers and loans they sought to send Hoosier soldiers into battle, and the new Constitution of 1851. For Gov. Oliver P. Morton, it was the breach of the American Civil War, a Copperhead General Assembly that was dispersed, while tens of thousands of young men streamed from the farms and small towns toward the bloody battlefields in the South.
War and innovation prompted Gov. James Putnam Goodrich to plan Indiana’s highway system in 1917. Scandal and bigotry brought along Gov. Harry G. Leslie in 1928 to clean up the Ku Klux Klan flotsam, extending into the Great Depression when he pioneered what would become FDR’s Work Progress Administration. Two governors – Thomas A. Marshall in 1909 and Paul McNutt in 1933 – tried to come to terms with the sprawl of bureaucracy over decades and challenged the status quo with a reform agenda. In Marshall’s case it was an unsuccessful attempt to write a third Constitution that was eventually thwarted by the U.S. Supreme Court, while McNutt used the thrust of the New Deal election juggernaut in 1932 that resulted in vast legislative majorities to winnow and reorganize the bureaucracy on his first day in office.
The portraits of Marshall, Goodrich and Leslie adorn the walls of the cavernous Statehouse office occupied over the past eight years by Daniels.
With “Aiming Higher,” we find Daniels’ own words, crafted without a speechwriter or framed by polling crosstabs. Many of his speeches were delivered extemporaneously, and captured either by video or audio.
In fact, the Daniels administration is the most digitally recorded governorship in history. “Basically, it’s a fairly complete digital record of most public appearances, either video, or audio,” Daniels explained a few days after the November election. “I believe we have as complete a set of printed material, digitized, as probably anyone has. For the gubernatorial years, pretty much the digital revolution was underway at that time. So a lot of it was captured that way. A lot of the ‘04 stuff was at the end of the VHS era. We had a lot of that transferred. It won’t be completely perfect, but it will be closer than anybody was able to do before because of the advance of technology. I’m pretty sure that as of some point, ‘06, or ‘07, somewhere in there, we didn’t miss too much.”
A decade with Daniels
In the past, when a gubernatorial term winds down after eight years, the sentiment in the press corps is “good riddance.” Time for new blood.
It’s different this time. Daniels used RV1 and the 16 months he campaigned in 2003 and 2004 to visit just about every community in the state. He developed a rapport with the press and opinion shapers. He was accessible.
And while there were some surprises along the way, Daniels shaped much of his first term from a campaign “roadmap” and used it as a scorecard when seeking a second term in 2008.
It’s been more than a decade since Daniels returned to Indiana after his second stint in the White House. Standing outside of Hinkle Fieldhouse and a boxy recreational vehicle in July 2003, Daniels was prepared to take on an incumbent governor who was a former Notre Dame catcher, a Navy pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam and held prisoner for years. “Today we begin a 16-month job interview,” Daniels said of a day that would trace back Bobby Plump’s all-star path to tiny Milan, a town with a legendary sporting chapter that will span epochs. By the time he addressed the 2004 Indiana Republican Convention, the gathering steam would be described as a “freight train of change.”
Anyone doubting this would be dazed by the scope of the agenda Gov. Daniels conveyed before a statewide TV audience and the Indiana General Assembly on Jan. 18, 2005, a mere eight days following his inaugural and a week after he ended collective bargaining rights for state employees by executive order. The governor was prepared to write checks on his political capital to install Daylight Saving Time, transform the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, spread charter schools, move ISTEP, reorganize the Commerce Department into what would become the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, expand full-day kindergarten, boost classroom spending along with a 120-day moratorium on the issuance of any new school bonds.
In an era when any tax increase was perceived as virtually heretical, the new governor would call for a one-time, 1% income tax hike “for the most fortunate among us” to help end the state’s fiscally bankrupt ways. There would be 50,000 new acres of protected wildlife habitat, 3,000 miles of new bike paths, and his administration’s blackest eye - the first reform of the Family Social Services Administration - gave way to a “hybrid” system that restored confidence in the safety net.
“The wolf is not at the door,” Daniels intoned in 2005 in the House Chambers. “He is inside the cabin.” And he resorted to legendary CBS news pioneer Edward R. Murrow to help make his case: “Difficulty is the one excuse history never accepts.”
As his governorship entered twilight, neighboring states were roiled in labor controversies that he had negated with the stroke of a pen in its earliest hours. He would advise other leaders at Mackinac: “Do it early, do it fast, do it swiftly, and do it decisively. In the wisdom of the old country song, ‘if I’d shot you when I should’ve I’d be out of jail by now.’”
As he leaves office, a key ally - Supt. of Instruction Tony Bennett - was defeated for reelection as teachers mobilized against him in a reaction to the 2011 reforms.
“When you look back to the time we were just talking about, to all the attempts to improve education, Bob Orr’s A Plus program was pretty good for its day,” Daniels explained. “It was systematically dismantled over the next 10 or 15 years and we lost another generation of kids, or many of them. The reason I don’t think that will happen this time is because the laws are much more sweeping. Secondly, the legislature is not going to repeal them. And third, and most important, the intellectual climate has changed dramatically.”
After Democrat Glenda Ritz’s victory on Nov. 6, Daniels observed, “You know there’s a very significant percentage of the Democratic Party and their allies who realized they were handicapping low income kids for life. The absolutely obstructionist, reactionary position is very marginalized. If you look at all at the campaign against Tony, it wasn’t based on policy. They told thousands of parents that Tony would zero out fine arts funding. They went to Band Day and handed out fliers. It was a complete falsehood. He couldn’t have done it if he wanted. From the Anything Goes School of Politics, I guess you could say it was an effective campaign. What it wasn’t was a reflection of the policies of reform.”
The governor’s own words
This arc of change that Daniels, with the help of former aide Neil Pickett, who headed the governor’s policy operations for several years, is relayed in this book by metaphors, whether it was the Amish community barn building in his first inaugural, to the Hoosier ship of state - a canoe - that would only go in circles if one paddled only on his side, or nowhere if the front and back paddled against each other. But these speeches came about without speechwriters like Peggy Noonan, Peter Rusthoven or Michael Gerson. They came from his own pen, and often extemporaneously, with only an audio recorder capturing the conveyance of idea.
In his 2007 State of the State address, with newly installed House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer seated behind him, he would observe that the state went from one ethanol plant to 21 biofuel manufacturing sites, producing 1.7 billion gallons. In the coming years, the nation’s largest biodiesel plant would produce energy in Claypool, the second largest wind farm sprouted along I-65 between Lafayette and Lowell, 5,000 state employees would be cut, 2,000 state employee vehicles (and 12 rocking chairs) would be jettisoned, and with the new property tax system in place, a kid could go to any public school in the state while his or her teacher could come from any sector of the economy.
When this governor said, as he did in 2007, “Let me then submit an agenda for greatness, built on items that might unite those who have recently found too little common ground,” few would question his audacity. Two years later, at his second inaugural, he would report with few taking issue, “A new mentality has taken root, a new boldness born of risks successfully run and change successfully delivered. In overwhelming numbers, Hoosiers have declared that we are unafraid to lead, to try the new before others do, and that we like the results of doing so.”
The compelling voices of others
Along the way, Daniels employed the compelling voices of others - Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, Henry Clay, Louis Brandeis, Lincoln, Washington and Adams, C.S. Lewis, Mayor Daley (the first), William Bradford, Oscar Schindler, Michelle Obama, George Carlin and Ken Kesey - to help make his points.
He was adept at making real-time observations, telling the IU Law School in 2006, “By any measure, Indiana is a ripe state. Nearing our third century, we are constitutionally, economically and demographically showing our age. Our basic law pre-dates the Civil War. Our economic base remains heavily dependent on the manufacturing base of the last century. Not coincidentally, population growth itself is nearly stagnant and the average age has risen. So the question for Indiana going forward is, will we ripen to the point of rot, or see a new spring of rejuvenation and revival? We can plant the right seeds, but the size of the ultimate harvest will not be up to us.”
In these speeches of Mitch Daniels, the listener - now the reader - finds a self-effacing messenger, rooted in Hoosier common sense, a folksy manner that belies what George Will described as “never has there been a higher ratio between mind and mass” in one public servant. He set big goals and in his earlier commencement speeches, urged students to go “make babies,” something he refrained from doing before the Indiana General Assembly.
There were the poignant reminders of service and sacrifice, when he recalled during a 2008 Indianapolis 500 Festival Memorial Service, World War II era Gen. Luke Trescot turning his back on an audience, addressing the cemetery and the soldiers resting there. “He said he apologized to them that their lives had been taken,” Daniels said as he remembered the fallen Hoosiers under his watch - Pfc. Brian Leonhardt, Sgt. Robert Blakely, SSG. Michael Heister, and Joe Proctor. “He said that he knew one might pretend the mistakes of leadership never do lead to such losses but that wasn’t true. He said if any mistake he had made had led to their loss, he apologized for it . . . .”
Gov. Daniels always had a savvy grip on history, and he reached for it often, whether it was Lincoln’s “mystic cords of memory” or China’s Chou En-Lai being asked if the French Revolution was a success. “Too soon to tell,” the Communist leader said.
As the Daniels governorship comes to a close, such a sentiment could be expressed on how enduring and successful this locomotive of public policy and a new brand of politics will be. It will take at least a decade for an honest assessment to form. And it’s all too reasonable to expect that in the decades following that, historians will be reaching for this very collection of speeches to probe the mind and soul of one Mitchell Elias Daniels Jr.
Note: The book can be ordered at www.IBJ.com. Proceeds will be donated to Mitch’s Kids program at the Boys and Girls Clubs.