Q&A with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels

Gov. Mitch Daniels reads through his "oops list," which includes mistakes he believes his office has made or things it should have done differently. He was reviewing the list to answer a reporter's question about what he might have done differently in the past year.

By Timothy Cox and

Lesley Weidenbener

Editor's Note: NUVO placed a request on Nov. 11 for a pre-session interview with Gov. Daniels. Many other media outlets have been permitted to visit the governor during the past month for end-of-the-year reflections. "We've done them each year with reporters and organizations that have regularly covered the governor over the years," the governor's press secretary Jane Jankowski wrote to NUVO in an email declining its interview request. "Perhaps we can revisit (your request) at a later time." So, until that time, our partners at The Statehouse File offer a glimpse of the governor's agenda as we head into the 2012 General Assembly.

Gov. Mitch Daniels acknowledged his agenda for the 2012

session of the Indiana General Assembly may not be as sweeping as past years when he

pushed for the privatization of the state's toll road, implementation of

daylight saving time and property tax caps.

But in an interview last week, Daniels said "this year's

agenda is very important" and there may be a few ideas he hasn't yet


Among his goals: Implement a statewide smoking ban, make

Indiana a right-to-work state, and end what he calls "credit creep,"

which is the increasing number of classes college students must take to earn


He's also pushing to close loopholes in the state's human


law before Feb. 4, when Indianapolis will host the Super Bowl, an

event that typically attracts a fairly large sex trade. Daniels said fixing the

state's laws to protect children pushed into prostitution is a top priority.

"I admit, I just didn't know much about this until

about six or eight months ago," Daniels said. "Some friends I know

who have become active on behalf of exploited children began educating me about

this growing phenomenon and then I learned how it has special relevance to an

event like the Super Bowl.

Here's what else Daniels said during a wide-ranging

interview about his agenda, his first seven years in office and what he wants

to accomplish in his final year.


The evidence for right-to-work (which frees workers from paying fees to unions

they don't join) is murky.

You can find right-to-work states that have good unemployment rates and bad

unemployment rates. Given that, why is it worth pushing for?

A: Well, some things aren't murky at all. One is that we

miss a lot of shots. We just do.

Every site selector will tell you, some businesses will tell

you privately, and then we just watch as some big

operations that absolutely should've looked at Indiana just don't.

Q: If the state

decided to eliminate right-to-work laws, as it did a few decades ago, what has

made Indiana ready for right-to-work again now?

A: We're in a completely different world, of course. A completely different world. I don't know very many things

that applied five decades ago that haven't changed since.

Q: What is not on

your list of legislative priorities that you wish you could've gotten out


A: I believe that we will leave a lot of undone work in

higher education, for one example.

That doesn't make us any different than other states. I

think higher ed is going to

need to make all sorts of changes across the country to adapt to new

technologies and the economy of today.

Q: What are the

biggest obstacles to reforming higher education? What have been the biggest


A: There's a lot of inertia in that system as in any. And up

to this point, higher ed has

been able to continue with its model without much change. But as costs have

risen and risen both to families and students and to the taxpayer, people are

starting to ask questions about the value of this that

they weren't asking two and three and five years ago.

It's been accepted for some time now in the country that a

college degree is an unquestioned value and that everybody who could get one

should. But it's in the last really just few years people are beginning to

question that assumption for the first time. And so I think the time is right,

I just hope Indiana and its institutions move more quickly than others


Q: Do you have

specific things you'll ask the General Assembly to do about credit creep?

A: The starting proposal is to empower the Commission on

Higher Ed to disallow degree programs that they believe are excessive, that are

above some number (of credits). They have the authority now to authorize new


This will give them the ability to have a look at existing

programs. Nobody is suggesting there's some sacred number... I'm told something

like nine in 10 of our current degree programs have now gone above (the

traditional 120 credit hours for majors). And one way to get at it is to simply

say that if you're above that number you have to come show the commission

there's a good reason. Often there will be, but not always.

Q: What else is on

the list of things you won't get done? Sentencing reform?

A: It could be. I always try to approach these things with

optimism but I'm not finding too many other friends of that reform right now

that think we could get it done this year. That could be one.

There will be a lot of things left over. I think we're going

to get some things done in local government reform but that will still leave a

lot of work I believe that should be attended to in the future.

There's another category I think we can do better at and

that's health care costs here in the state, which at least in certain areas are

higher than they are elsewhere. This is noteworthy because in general we are

such a low cost state. Our cost of living here is dramatically lower than other

places but health care stands out as an area where it's more.

Q: You have proposed

increasing the amount of money that victims of the state fair stage collapse

would receive – beyond the $5 million total paid out under state law. How

much money are we talking about? Would it be continuing or one time?

A: I think a singular gesture to recognize the singularity

of this event. I don't have an absolute number in mind. Something probably

similar to what the state's already done.

The best thing for the legislature to do is try to figure

out what is fair and just and see what that number produces. For instances,

some folks have said, "Wouldn't it be fair for the seven families of

fatalities to get them up to the individual limit in the law which is $700,000

and they got about ($300,000)." There's some logic to that.

Q: One of the things

you ran on was increasing the state's per capita

income, but you have not been successful. Why has that been such a hard number

to move?

A: It's a huge tanker to turn. First we had to stop sinking

if we could before you can hope to climb. But I've learned that you cannot look

at this without looking at the cost of living.

IU just did another report on this and it's striking the

extent to which the dollar goes further in Indiana.

But what can be done about it? We are doing exactly the

things I can think of that a state can do. This is a 50-year phenomenon in

Indiana. National and international economics has a huge bearing on it. But if

somebody can think of something that we aren't trying, I'll be happy to add it

to the list.

Q: Have you finished

your State of the State address and will there be anything unexpected?

A: It's written. I'm in the "improve and trim"

mode now. I don't think it's going to change in any fundamental (way). There

might be a (new) item or two in there.

Q: Would you like to

tell us about those? Or can you give us a sense of whether they will change the

scope of your agenda?

A: I don't have anything further to say about it. The items

I'm contemplating have a little more work to do before I'm sure they'll be

there at all. I'm still working on a couple things.

Q: You said in your

book you have an "oops list" you keep in your drawer. Have you added

to that "oops list" this year?

A: (The governor gets up from his seat and walks over to his

desk, rifles through a file drawer and comes up with a

notebook flagged with sticky notes.)

OK. Sure, here's one. Here's a fairly recent example. We

struck a deal with a start-up company (Lightbox) that

wanted to make some – and still hopes to make some – portable TV

screens here in the state and I went to an event (to announce the project). In

retrospect I probably would've waited longer to see (if the project would come

to fruition).

It was a request to go and operating on the facts I had, it

seemed like a good thing to do.

Let me be very clear, I completely support the action that

our folks took (to provide tax credits to the project.)

I don't know if the things are going to work or notÉthese

are risky deals. But the state is not at any risk. If this thing makes it,

it'll make it here and hire a lot of people and that'll be great. If it

doesn't, we're not out a cent. Only the private investors are. So that was a

right thing to do.

Q: Looking back on

seven years now, are there things that you've learned?

A: So many things. One is I learned not to spring big ideas

by surprise – or at least to do as much preparation work as you can. So I

made that mistake more than once. The Commerce Connector (toll road around

Indianapolis) was a good example of that. Even though we tried, it wasn't

enough ground work laid in advance.

I learned very early on that there's just no percentage,

there's no upside, in responding in kind. Somebody says something terrible or

insulting or untrue and your first instinct is to shoot back. It feels good for

about 10 minutes and you realize that if the goal is to get something done, you

probably didn't advance it.

The public is not particularly impressed when people in

public life zing each other. I had to learn that.

Q: Have you ever

wished you could run for a third term?

A: No. It's been a moot question and I don't usually spend

time thinking about things that are purely hypothetical like that.

If we didn't have a two term (limit), I think I would've

stopped at two. Pretty sure. First of all, I think

that that it's a good idea to have new people to come along. Eight years is

probably about the right amount.

We're going to be going hard on our last day in office.

We're going to use every day of eight years. But maybe eight years is the time

when you should let somebody else have a go at it.

And from a personal standpoint, it would probably be good to

have another chapter.

Lesley Stedman Weidenbener is managing editor, at TheStatehouseFile.com where Timothy

Cox is a student reporter from the Franklin College Pulliam School of



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