The Statehouse File
Mitch Daniels won't go out quietly.
That became clear at his eighth and last State of the State address Tuesday night.
An hour before the speech began, the Indiana State Police opened the doors to the Statehouse and right-to-work protestors started filing in. They kept coming all through the speech.
As they gathered, they began to chant.
NO RIGHT TO WORK!
KILL THE BILL!
And, as the time drew near for the governor to enter the chamber of the Indiana House of Representatives:
MITCH IS A LIAR!
The chants continued, growing at times into a wall of noise. Daniels may have been rattled by the furor, gazing upward toward the ceiling occasionally as if he were trying to determine where that sound was coming from.
The governor spoke for roughly 30 minutes. Most of his speech was a victory lap, a recounting of past triumphs.
He hurried through much of his legislative agenda – a tougher human trafficking law, a smoking ban, rapid transit for Central Indiana and funding for victims of the Indiana State Fair tragedy.
Some items got a phrase. Some got a sentence. A few got an entire paragraph.
With the right to work, though, the governor took his time. He devoted six paragraphs, by far the longest part of the speech, to arguing for a law that would prevent employees from having to pay fees to unions to which they do not belong.
"Almost half our fellow states have right to work laws. As a group, they are adding jobs faster, growing worker income faster, and enjoying lower unemployment rates than those of us without a law. In those ratings of business attractiveness I mentioned, the only states ahead of us are right to work states," Daniels said.
When the governor spoke those words, the crowd's chants became a snarl and then a roar.
MITCH IS A LIAR! MITCH IS A LIAR!
When the governor's speech reached its climax, so did the crowd's fury. Boos bounced off the limestone walls of the Statehouse like waves crashing in a storm.
When Daniels finished, most Democrats walked out before he left. Several didn't even attend the speech.
I asked Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, if he'd ever seen anything like that at a State of the State.
Hundreds of union members swarmed the Statehouse to protest Gov. Mitch Daniels' final State of the State address, in which he advocated right-to-work legislation that labor groups oppose. Photo by Olivia Ober, The Statehouse File.
Waltz shook his head.
"You'd probably have to go back to the Civil War to see something like this – when the feelings were running this high," he said.
Waltz said that he was trying to find a compromise on right to work – an exemption from the law for the building trades – and said that he had support within the Senate Republican caucus. But he said he wasn't optimistic.
"The Democrats won't vote for it," he said.
Minutes later, I caught up with Nancy Guyott, president of the Indiana AFL-CIO.
I asked her about Daniels' speech. She said she hadn't heard it because she had been outside the Statehouse, checking on the lines of protestors still trying to get in.
"They were wanding everyone and that really slowed everything down," she said.
I told Guyott that the governor had said that two-thirds of Hoosiers support right to work.
She shook her head.
"That's not accurate," she said and cited a Ball State University survey that showed that 48 percent of Hoosiers don't even understand what right to work is.
The governor asked in the speech for lawmakers keep the struggle within the walls of the Statehouse.
I asked Guyott if, given the fact that she didn't seem to have the votes to stop right to work, Democrats and labor were going to try to take the fight outside the building.
She smiled ruefully.
"I'm not conceding that I can't stop it in the building," she said, but added that it was in her side's interest to take the fight outside.
She also said that, if right to work became law, it would be in issue in the November election.
"They (Republicans) didn't run on this. That's kind of what's hit people upside the head," she said.
People began leaving the Statehouse, still buzzed by the experience.
As they left, they talked about what they'd seen, what they'd heard, what they'd done.
And not quietly.
Not quietly at all.
John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of No Limits, WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of The Statehouse File, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.