Historic farewell: Lugar and Daniels tandem exit
Tuesday, December 18, 2012 7:18 AM
This article was originally published in the Dec. 13, 2012 edition of Howey Politics Indiana.
By BRIAN A. HOWEY
INDIANAPOLIS – The next four weeks end an epic era – two for that matter – in Indiana politics as U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar and Gov. Mitch Daniels prepare to leave elective office for what they say will be the final time.
For the last half century, Lugar and Daniels, once mentor and acolyte, ushered in profound changes to the Indiana political and policy landscape. It is unlikely that any future tandem of public officials will offer the width and breadth of dramatic policy and the good politics they rendered. Together they polled almost 10 million general election votes (Lugar 7.13 million; Daniels 2.8 million).
The story of this tandem exit has an intriguing alpha/omega quality to it. Both Lugar and Daniels were spawned out of the L. Keith Bulen political machine. But when it came to an end this year, the GOP machine came stunningly close to seizing up with potential catastrophic results for the party.
But, first, the legacies of Daniels and Lugar.
In Lugar, likely to have been the most prolific vote getter in Indiana history for the foreseeable future, his legacy is well known but worth capsulizing. As an Indiana public school board trustee, he wrote the Shortridge Plan that would have desegregated the state’s largest school system, and while it passed, it was rescinded a few years later as the issue ignited “white flight” into the Marion County townships and suburbs.
Bulen and Mayor Lugar, who defeated Democrat incumbent John Barton in 1967, responded politically with “Unigov,” the consolidation of the old Indianapolis into the surrounding townships, creating a generational bastion of Republican dominance. With the help of Unigov, Indiana Republicans controlled the governorship for 24 years (Gov. Edgar Whitcomb’s term from 1969-73 was before Unigov), the Indianapolis mayor’s office for three decades, forged hardy majorities in the Indiana General Assembly, and took over the state’s U.S. Senate delegation with Lugar’s defeat of Sen. Vance Hartke in 1976 and Dan Quayle’s upset of Sen. Birch Bayh in 1980.
Lugar’s Indianapolis would build upon the cascading legacy of Barton, who helped plot the I-465 belt around the the city, and it would be Lugar who would initiate planning on Market Square Arena, the Hoosier Dome, and the city’s emergence as an amateur sports capitol of the nation. His blueprint would help fuel following mayoralties of Bill Hudnut, Stephen Goldsmith, Bart Peterson and Greg Ballard, as each administration worked off the evolving plans of the predecessor. Indianapolis went from being “Naptown” and “Indiana No Place” to one of the more livable and attractive cities in America.
As a U.S. senator, Lugar would play a crucial role in saving Chrysler Corporation in 1979, providing a generation of high paying jobs, innovative technology and a steady flow of taxes into the state coffers. He would prompt the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines, convince President Reagan to take steps to end apartheid in South Africa, write farm bills that leave the state’s agriculture economy in perhaps its best shape ever. And, of course, there was the epic Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program and, for the first time in history, a nation dismantled a rival’s military arsenal during peace time. In doing so, Nunn-Lugar dramatically lowered the potential for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to end up in the hands of terror networks.
The legacy of Gov. Daniels is rooted in the Lugar organization. He interned for Mayor Lugar, served as his campaign manager in his 1976 defeat of Hartke and his tough reelection bid against U.S. Rep. Floyd Fithian during the deep 1982 recession. Daniels would follow Lugar to Washington, where he was Lugar’s chief of staff, teamed with the likes of Albert Mischler in a successful stint on the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, then moved to the Reagan White House where he served as political director. After leaving the White House, Daniels would lead the Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute, become an executive at Eli Lilly Company, then return to the White House as President George W. Bush’s budget director.
Daniels returned to Indiana in 2002. After Bob Grand, Randall Tobias and Jim Kittle Jr. engineered a takeover of the Indiana Republican Party, Daniels ran, strategized, directed and wrote two of the best statewide campaigns for governor, defeated an incumbent, won reelection by an 18-percent margin as Barack Obama carried the state. He forged five balanced budgets, accelerated decades of dormant highway projects with the Major Moves toll road lease, presided over telecommunications and sprawling education reforms, added 3,000 miles of bike lanes across the state, 50,000 acres to wildlife preserves, and used his political clout to neuter the state’s labor unions.
Daniels observed on Wednesday, “We ran on a very explicit and very detailed agenda. We did most of it.” Daniels cited “70 odd things” he promised to achieve in 2005. “I was in a hurry. We wanted to get the budget balanced and pay back the debts. We wanted to put some money in the bank. And then we wanted to start reducing taxes.”
“When I look back, I have this tattered little report card we kept for ourselves. I may have one of the last ones around. If you look at those 70 odd things in 2005, there aren’t very many in the ‘Did Not Succeed’ column. One of them is, an appointed superintendent of public instruction. What is highly ironic is that it was the only . . . position in common between the Republican and Democratic platforms. As far as I know they didn’t overlap on anything else. As a matter of good government, we should appoint the superintendent.”
Asked if there was anything left for Gov.-elect Mike Pence to take from “good to great,” as he campaigned this year, Daniels responded, “Sure there is. There always will be. I think we always operated around here on the notion of continuous improvement. If a department reached a certain target, we tried to raise it the next year. There’s a long, long way to go.”
Daniels cited the “skills gap” – the needs of high tech employers and not enough available workers as an aspect unfulfilled. “Most of the other factors, we’re pretty good at, you know, cost, infrastructure, taxes and regulatory climate. We’re as good as the competition or better on most of those. We clearly aren’t there with match of skills and jobs. It’s become more visible because of the recession and the non-recovery we’re in. With that many people looking for work and that many jobs available, you’ve got a real problem.”
He also cited the various health initiatives that he called uncontroversial but not achieved as he leaves office.
Asked how he has changed the office of governor during his eight years, Daniels said, “We did have a more activist approach, I think it’s fair to say, than our recent predecessors. It’s a ‘to-each-his-own’ situation. I felt, and it’s the reason I ran in the first place, that Indiana was drifting and slipping and we needed to get in motion against a lot of big problems. As a matter of personal approach, every year, and in-between, we had new ideas, we had to define each idea, and present the state and the legislature where they were needed action items. We felt responsible to push in directions we felt were in the public interest. There was a lot to do and we were not a very innovative state. There was a time for a lot of action, or so we thought.”
As HPI observed a couple of weeks ago, the Daniels governorship can be viewed as “transformative” because of its audacious scope and conspicuous use of political capital. But it will take a decade or more to determine how effective the education and transportation reforms were. Daniels agreed with that, saying, “Your time frame may be about right.” But he said that Luke Messer’s high school dropout bill in 2006 produced a 10 percent drop in those statistics, and recent college ‘credit creep’ legislation has prompted Purdue University to lower degree requirements in two/thirds of its degree program. “The question on a lot of reforms is, will they stick or will they be subverted,” he said.
The Lugar legacy, with the exception of his roles in the Bush43 Iraq and Afghanistan wars, is already burnished.
Lugar’s towering legacy
As Lugar prepares to leave office, his legacy has been effusively expressed by leaders in both parties.
Last week, President Obama called the Nunn-Lugar program “one of the country’s smartest and most successful national security programs.”
Obama told an audience at the Pentagon, “Early in the Cold War, Einstein warned of the danger of our wisdom not keeping pace with our technology. And with Nunn-Lugar, our wisdom began to catch up.”
“And, Dick,” Obama added, “I want to take this opportunity to say something else. At times, we’ve disagreed on matters of policy. But one thing we’ve always shared is a notion of what public service should be. That it ought to be more than just doing what’s popular in the moment. That it ought to be about what’s right for our nation, over the long term. It ought to be about problem-solving and governance, not just how we can score political points on each other or engage in obstructionism. And where compromise is not a vice and where bipartisanship is actually considered a virtue – to be rewarded, not punished. So, Dick, as you prepare to leave the Senate that you love, I think I speak on behalf of everybody here and millions of people across the country to say that your legacy will endure in a safer and more secure world, and a safer and more secure America. And we pray that this nation produces more leaders with your sense of decency and civility and integrity. We are grateful to you. Thank you very much.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell observed on the Senate floor on Tuesday, “He has excelled at everything he’s ever done. And, most incredibly, he’s done it with perfectly smooth elbows. Walk into any office on Capitol Hill, and you won’t find a single person who’d say a bad word about Dick Lugar. He’s earned the respect and admiration of everyone who ever crossed his path. I assure you, in the world of politics, that’s nothing short of a miracle. And now Dick has decided to press his luck. He’s moving into the only line of work where the rivalries are even more vicious than politics. He’s becoming a college professor. To a lot of liberals, he’s a walking contradiction: a Republican intellectual. And he has always worn that reputation lightly.”
Former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton told HPI, “Dick Lugar had a very distinguished career in the Senate and before that. He is a true intellectual. He was a conservative who would reach out for an agreement. He’s leaving a giant hole in the Senate.”
Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock told HPI, “Before he was a statesman, before he was a senator, before he was a big city mayor; Dick Lugar was a farmer. Throughout his long, distinguished career, he never forgot his agricultural roots and remained a steadfast friend and supporter of Hoosier farmers and rural Indiana. Much of the prosperity we in American agriculture have enjoyed these past few years is a result of the hard work of Dick Lugar. His untiring efforts to support free trade and open up markets around the world have increased demand for Indiana-grown corn, soybeans and meat products. His efforts to support renewable fuels and to wean us from dependence on foreign oil has fostered the growth of the ethanol industry in the Midwest and hence increased corn prices. Senator Lugar’s leadership in writing the Freedom to Farm Bill released farmers from onerous production controls and allowed us to respond to market signals. Few, if any, other political leaders have made such a significant impact on modern agriculture.”
The stunning aspect of Lugar’s exit is that his own beloved Indiana Republican Party turned its back on him in 2012 as the GOP opted for rigid orthodoxy, ideological purity, an expressed disdain for the national security blanket Lugar helped weave and the prosperity that came to the agricultural sector via farm bills he helped write. It prompted a scene on May 4 at Lugar’s Broad Ripple campaign headquarters that would have been unfathomable just a few years ago when Lugar pleaded for votes from farmers, veterans, African-Americans, Latinos, independents, Jews and Democrats. “I believe that right now, if a majority of Hoosiers were to vote in an election – that is, all Hoosiers regardless of party, Republicans, Democrats, independents– I would win,” Lugar said. “I’m not asking anybody to cross over. I’m just saying positively, ‘Register your vote, because if you do not, I may not be able to continue serving you. At this point, help.”
And it was as if Indiana Republicans shook off science and its internationalist bearings that came about from the era that produced Lugar, Doc Bowen and Gov. Robert Orr, and flung itself into a ditch where “bipartisanship” became a dirty word. Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Polling in March showed that Lugar would have had a much better chance of holding on to the Senate seat that eventual nominee Richard Mourdock not only lost, but blew with his “God intends” rape remark on Oct. 23.
The GOP in a ditch could have long-lasting ramifications. Republican pollster Frank Luntz observed on Tuesday in Indianapolis that because of Mourdock and Todd Akin, suffering a similar self-inflicted wound in Missouri that predated Mourdock’s blunder, Republicans are unlikely to reclaim a Senate majority in 2014.
Exits tied and comingled
As the 2012 election recedes into history, the tandem elective public service exits of Daniels and Lugar are intriguing because of not only the origins, but the ending. There is an alpha/omega bookend to the surreal way the story ends.
Deep behind the scenes at the Crystal River Walk Yacht Club in Broad Ripple on primary election night, there was palpable tension between Gov. Daniels and Marty Morris, Lugar’s chief of staff who was chosen for that role a generation ago by the former. In the initial raw flash of defeat, the sentiment was this: The governor was the one person who might have convinced Mourdock not to challenge Lugar.
But Gov. Daniels’ king-making abilities were not as durable as his own gubernatorial policy record. While forging a landslide reelection win in 2008 despite the Obama onslaught, Daniels had failed to coattail in a Republican House, which delayed his education reforms by two years and doomed the Kernan-Shepard reforms as time ran out. At the Indiana Republican Convention earlier that year, delegates rebuked his choice of Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas, nominating Greg Zoeller for attorney general, though Daniels prevailed in getting the previously obscure Tony Bennett the nod for superintendent of public instruction.
Daniels could have told Mourdock that a challenge to the patriarch could have been a career-ending proposition. But there was no such action. While Daniels endorsed Lugar, as well as wrote and recorded late TV ads on his behalf, he also praised Mourdock. The Indiana treasurer garnered one of the only name references in his book “Keeping the Republic” over the Chrysler/Fiat litigation and Daniels often cited Mourdock’s political bravery for taking that stand. Sources tell HPI that a Wall Street Journal op-ed article penned by Daniels originally was to be co-written with Mourdock.
How could even a benign sanctioning of Mourdock’s challenge to Lugar take place?
Consider the other atmospherics at the time. As Mourdock announced his candidacy, Daniels was still flirting with a presidential candidacy. Mourdock was the emerging darling of the Tea Party movement and the two agreed on the Chrysler/Fiat challenge. Daniels had also declared a “truce” on social issues, though months later he would sign some of the most far-reaching abortion restrictions in the country as well as the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
And the Indiana Republican Party, under the clear control of Gov. Daniels, played both sides, saying “no” to no one, even after seven of 11 Mourdock endorsers from the 2010 Indiana Republican Central Committee were no longer on the state committee in the spring of 2011, due to either defeat or retirement. There would be even further push back in 2012 when John Hammond III, a Daniels ally, defeated Jim Bopp Jr. (an early Mourdock backer) for a seat on the Republican National Committee.
A key black mark on the Daniels administration, the loss and recovery of $500 million in state funds, was off limits to the Lugar campaign in its primary race against Mourdock. There was too much of a potential for bleed-over into the gubernatorial realm. Mourdock was never held accountable as the so-called “chief financial officer” of the state.
Asked by HPI on Wednesday if the governor wished the primary challenge hadn’t taken place between Lugar and Mourdock, Daniels answered, “Sure. I wish something different had happened. Either that he had decided that six terms, that that was the natural time to step aside, or that he’d been renominated and reelected. But really nothing will change, the value of things he did, or the affection and esteem in which he’ll always be held.”
But one thing did change: A Republican Senate seat for 36 years is now in the Democratic hands of Joe Donnelly.
The fact that Daniels didn’t implore Mourdock to back off the challenge to Lugar had a vast array of unintended consequences that were damaging to the Indiana GOP. Mourdock’s debate blunder put the Mike Pence campaign in a late precarious position, with Pence’s own internal tracking showing significant damage. The Mourdock damage extended as far as Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, which lost traction with not only female voters, but Republican women.
And feeling the wrath of the GOP female defections was Supt. Bennett, who was upset by Democrat Glenda Ritz, in part because of the social media campaign on her behalf, but also as a rebuke from rural Republicans to Daniels for his support of Costas in 2008, and Tea Party revulsion of core curriculum standards that Bennett embraced.
Daniels and Pence had openly embraced Mourdock after his upset primary win over Lugar in May. But within weeks, Daniels would leave the political stage with his acceptance of the Purdue University presidency. He became, in his own words, politically “celibate.” Mourdock and Bennett would not have political access to the most important Republican voice of the day. They were on their own.
And Pence, Mourdock and Bennett would also be running without the most prolific Republican vote getter in Hoosier history – Sen. Lugar.
There was a reason there were long lines on election day in places like Carmel, Zionsville, Brownsburg and Nashville: Normally straight voting Republicans were splitting their tickets. There weren’t more people showing up, it was just taking them longer to vote.
There would not only be no Lugar coattails, but a keen, unmistakable Mourdock drag on the ticket that came embarrassingly close to becoming an epic Republican catastrophe.