"By Abdul-Hakim Shabazz
“All my friends are so small town. My parents live in the same small town.
“My job is so small town. Provides little opportunity.”
—John Cougar Mellencamp
Although I’ve only been writing and talking about Indiana politics for a little more than a couple years, I have a theory about Gov. Mitch Daniels and his relationship with Hoosiers. I call it the “Small Town Theory” (STT). I define a small town as a place with no buildings more than five stories tall. So if you live AND work in a place that has a building more than five stories, you probably think Mitch is awesome. If you live OR work in a place that has a building over five stories tall, you probably think Mitch is OK. But, if you live AND work in a place that doesn’t have a building over five stories tall, you probably think the governor is the anti-Christ!
Over the past two years, Mitch Daniels has given Indiana what it needs most: He gave it a badly needed kick in the rear-end and dragged it screaming into the 21st century. Let’s look at the record. In June, the state signed over the leasing of the toll road for nearly $4 billion and is earning, according to the state Treasurer’s Office, $6 per second in interest. Honda announced a major expansion of jobs in Southeastern Indiana. The state has a budget that is balanced and local governments are actually getting long overdue money back from the state.
Schools are going to be paid back in the next budget cycle. For the first time in years, full-day kindergarten is actually a reality in this state. And the Daniels Administration has launched a privatization effort with the Family Social Services Agency to improve the delivery of services and save the taxpayers money. That same privatization attitude is also looking at other ways to streamline state government. The governor wants to relinquish some of the control the state has over local governments by giving them more control over their own financial destinies. Heck, Indiana even has daylight-saving time. Who knew this was possible?
So in light of all that progress, who has an issue with Mitch? I can draw you a profile based on data gathered from Survey USA’s, a Web site that keeps track of the approval ratings of governors from across the country. Based on a recent survey, Mitch has a 43-49 percent approval rating; definitely not good by any measure. But when you break it down by region, you get a better picture of who’s mad. The governor’s strongest approval ratings are in Indianapolis at 55 percent. Indianapolis has a lot of buildings taller than five stories. The governor’s lowest approval ratings, by region, are all outside of Indianapolis: Northern, 51 percent disapproval; Southern, 46 percent disapproval; Central (outside Indy), 59 percent disapproval. All places where tall buildings are few and far between, the governor is not a well-liked individual.
Now, this is not to say that people from small towns are small-minded, but there is something to be said about small-town folks not liking a lot of change, which is why it would explain why they live in small towns. Small towns are never known to be hotbeds of innovation and new ideas. That’s why their young people usually leave and go to the big city where change and innovation are often commonplace. Look at the places in Indiana where people have raised the biggest stink about the major issues of the day and you will see the pattern. Daylight-saving time: all small-town opposition. No one from Indianapolis had a real issue with this. Leasing the toll road: mostly small-town opposition.
Now, this is not to say the governor is not without some faults. We can debate those, but one thing even the people John Cougar Mellencamp writes about in his song “Small Town” have to have enough cerebral activity to realize that for too long Indiana has been stagnant in making progress and moving forward. I’m not saying Evan Bayh, Frank O’Bannon and Joe Kernan were bad governors. They were reasonable and honest men. But this state needs someone with vision and direction. And for the people who don’t like the vision or direction, I recommend they move to someplace with a building taller than five stories so they can get the full lay of the land. Tall buildings tend to provide a better view and give you a much better sense of direction.