When it comes to the future of his state, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels
’71 is thinking big. But his first term demonstrates how bold
action might not be the surest ticket to a second term. The governor
has ruffled so many feathers that two credible Democrats are raring
to take him on in the November election.
Daniels, a Republican and former director of the Office of Management
and Budget under President George W. Bush, has pushed a series of
controversial policies since ending a 16-year Democratic hold on
the governor’s office in 2004. He says he aims to improve
the sagging economic competitiveness of his industrial state.
“This was a state in which the average citizen out-earned
the average American 40 years ago, in the heyday of manufacturing,”
Daniels says. “I wanted it to be that state again.”
From putting the state on daylight saving time for the first time
(to eliminate logistical snafus that can create problems for businesses)
to privatizing a major toll road by leasing it to an Australian-Spanish
consortium to closing a host of state motor-vehicle offices, aspects
of Daniels’ bold agenda have left voters divided. “Hoosiers
are resistant to change, even if it’s good change,”
says Ed Feigenbaum, who publishes a political newsletter in Indianapolis.
Daniels acknowledges the consternation he’s caused some
constituents. “We have moved maybe too fast for some people,”
he says. There are things, he adds, that he “should have done
better. Preparing the ground for certain actions might have been
a good idea. Sometimes we had to choose between getting the job
done and getting the P.R. done, and we chose the former.”
Indiana certainly could use an economic shot in the arm. While
unemployment is lower than it was two years ago, well-paying manufacturing
jobs are being lost, household income is down, and Indiana has among
the nation’s highest rates of foreclosure.
The toll-road lease is set to bring in $3.8 billion that will
be devoted to the state’s transportation system. Daniels also
has lobbied hard, and successfully, for foreign investment.
As the election approaches, the toughest issue for Daniels probably
is the state’s property tax. Over the past few decades, Indiana
slowly has shifted the tax burden away from businesses and onto
property owners, and now homeowners are up in arms. The Indiana
General Assembly likely will pass some version of Daniels’
property-tax reform package. How the changes are received will have
a major impact on his re-election bid.
Two Democrats — architect and neophyte candidate Jim Schellinger
and former U.S. Rep. Jill Long Thompson — are in the race
to challenge Daniels. But no one in the state is writing off the
For his part, Daniels is prepared for a tight race. “It’s
almost always that way,” he said. “I would expect it.”
By Louis Jacobson ’92
Louis Jacobson ’92 writes a column on politics in the
states for stateline.org, from which this article is adapted.