On Tuesday, January 10, Governor Mitch Daniels gave his eighth and final State of the State Address to the Indiana state legislature. The last seven years Hoosiers, policy professionals, and political pundits have watched as Indiana government has reformed, producing results usually reserved for entities with a profit motive. The policy successes have been significant and widespread. Indiana has been mentioned recently and often for sustainable reforms in budget and tax policy, education policy, child protection, transportation, even in environmental compliance.
Less than a year ago Governor Daniels was at the forefront of conversation regarding possible candidates to enter the race for the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential election. Although he professed no personal ambition for the office, he left the possibility on the table if the people were behind him (he needed some assurances). National press quickly framed him as a favorite among moderate conservatives, and the least bad option by the moderate-left. He was labeled a policy wonk’s politician. Although he unapologetically called for a “truce on social issues,” his policy record as governor provided results easily more conservative than any of the current front runners.
At the time, the Tea Party movement was brandishing significant popular support within the GOP, calling for an unqualified prohibition on any new taxes and any new debt. Recognized as a leader in cutting taxes, balancing the state budget, and increasing program efficiency, Governor Daniels seemed to be an ideal Tea Party pick for the nomination. He claimed his entire interest in running was to insure that the Republican Party made fiscal responsibility the number one issue for the campaign and the next administration. He even referred to the current fiscal discipline in Washington as the new “Red Menace.” However, he made his position on ideological knee-jerk proposals to public policy issues abundantly clear at CPAC last year when he told the conservative group of listeners, “Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers… I for one have no interest standing in the wreckage of our republic saying ‘I told you so, you should have done it my way.’” Exhibiting the long lost principle of republican governance that a single problem is not limited to a single solution.
Indiana has soared into the top rankings for providing a conducive environment for business growth. With the national economy so sluggish it is hard to claim victories, but Indiana has stays afloat while many states continue to sink. Indiana has lowered taxes, paid down debt, and cut state payrolls to the lowest number of employees since 1975. The state continues to invest in infrastructure, the environment, and education. Revenues outpaced forecasts, and the surplus it is likely to trigger a statutory tax refund, delivering money back to taxpayers and the teachers pension fund. If the philosophy under which the Governor Daniels operates is not clear from the results he spelled it out in his final address:
“Careful stewardship of the taxpayer’s dollar, and ceaseless efforts
to improve public services, are matters of duty, and basic good
government. But they are not the fundamental goals of public life.
They are just means to the real goal, which is to make of our state a
place of opportunity, and upward mobility, and a better standard of
There can be reasonable disagreement about whether the policies the Daniels’ Administration has pursued are appropriate under divergent views on the purpose of government. It is difficult, if not unreasonable, to argue that the policies implemented have not produced the targeted results.
A Daniels’ presidential candidacy did not come to fruition, but he has produced a sterling example of conservative model of small, yet accountable, government. As he states in his address, Indiana’s “remodeling” is not yet complete, and it would be foolish for the legislature to stop seeking innovative policies that produce continually better results. His final year agenda is modest in comparison to previous years, the likely highlight being passage of “right to work” legislation. The greatest achievement of his administration is the verifiable proof that the promise of “small government” can be kept. Indiana of the last seven years provides evidence to support the theory that small government is a workable government, an accountable government, and a responsive government.