The Libertarian Case for Mitch Daniels…
Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels has been on a number of short lists for a possible presidential run in 2012. For his part, Governor Daniels has declined to announce his intentions, one way or the other, until after the end of the Indiana Legislative Session. Of course, as that date approaches, speculation is intense as to the Governor’s Washington ambitions. Fiscal conservatives are head over heels for Daniels, and with good reason. Social conservatives have cooled to the governor as he has intentionally stepped away from social policies to focus on facing economic challenges head on. But there’s one group who is largely still up in the air on Daniels: Libertarians.
With the growing popularity of limited government movements such as the Tea Party, and the renewed national focus on sound fiscal policy, Libertarianism has emerged again as an increasingly popular political philosophy. Eschewing the “big-spending” “big-government” candidates of the left, Libertarians usually find themselves naturally drawn politically to the right. But with the shallow pool of Republican presidential contenders leading up to the 2012 elections, Libertarians may find themselves out in the cold.
This is where Governor Mitch Daniels comes in. Libertarians would be wise to support Governor Daniels for several reasons, most of the same reasons, in fact, that should compel most Americans to support him.
1) Mitch Daniels understands money.
The importance of this quality has recently come into stark relief as it seems that any number of public officials are prepared to borrow indefinitely in order to fund their pet projects.
Governor Daniels was already successful in the private sector in his position at Eli Lilly and Indianapolis Power and Light when President George W. Bush appointed him to the cabinet-level position of Director of the Office of Budget and Management. It was there that he earned the nickname “The Blade” for his skill in streamlining budgets. It was only due to Congressional disapproval that Daniels millions of dollars of cuts weren’t implemented.
Later, in his first year as Governor, Daniels delivered the first balanced budget in nearly a decade, turning a $600 million deficit into a $300 million surplus. Rather than turn the funds to pet projects, Daniels used the surplus to pay down state debt.
Between 2008 and 2010, Daniels and his Indiana Economic Development Corporation was able to convince 485 businesses to commit to invest in Indiana, bringing more than 60,000 new jobs and $14.5 billion in new business to the state. In fact, Daniels acumen in budgeting is so keen that even NPR praised him in a recent radio interview.
Indiana is one of the few states that has seen a drop in unemployment since 2009. The state entered 2010 with a budget surplus and has a triple-a bond rating and, for the first time since the mid-1970′s, the population is expanding. As the Governor stated himself: “Government’s the last great monopoly, overcharging and underserving its customers. It’s not a business but can be more businesslike.”
2) Mitch Daniels pursues small government.
It’s been well publicized that Governor Daniels has passionately joined the battle against Obamacare, but some of his other accomplishments toward smaller government have been less well-publicized.
In 2008, Governor Daniels delivered to Indiana residents the biggest tax cut in state history. Also in 2008, He pushed a property tax cap of 2% on rentals and 3% on businesses that resulted in $870 million in tax cuts. He made record-setting cuts to property taxes, as explained above. In 2009, he called for a 10% cut across the board in state spending to counteract low tax revenue. That same year, he froze government pay raises for the second year.
Governor Daniels privatized everything that failed his “Yellow Pages” test. As he describes it, if a service can be found in the Yellow Pages, then the government probably doesn’t need to be doing it. In a 2006 column at Reason.org, he describes:
Shortly after taking office, our new Corrections Commissioner asked me “Did you know we’re cooking our own food in 26 separate kitchens, and we’re paying $1.41 a meal to feed the offenders?” “No,” I answered, “is that a lot?” “It only cost us 95 cents where I worked last” he said, so I authorized an immediate competition.
Another, somewhat controversial move toward privatization was made when Daniels leased the Indiana Toll Road to private interests for $3.85 billion dollars. Initially his approval numbers plummeted due to a Democratic disinformation campaign, but quickly rebounded when the positive effects of these moves were felt across the state.
3) Mitch Daniels can prioritize.
This is perhaps one of the best qualities a voter can find in a public official. Many extremists will tell you that compromise is weakness. Perhaps in some endeavors, but getting 50% of something is almost always better than getting 100% of nothing.
Many Republicans are expressing their disappointment that the new Republican majority in the House has spent so much effort pursuing social causes when public concern over fiscal issues elevated them into office. Governor Daniels went against the crowd (as he so often does) in May of 2010 when he directed Indiana Republicans to offer a truce on social issues and to re-focus their efforts on fiscal matters. As he explained to NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press,”
“I think probably, as a general rule, it is better practice (to) do the people’s business, try to concentrate on making ends meet, which Washington obviously has failed to do for a long time, and have other policy debates in other places if you can… I happen to share their views and respect their passion. However, Chuck, it comes to this. Are you more committed to results or rhetoric?”
And earlier this year, when Democratic legislators fled out of state to avoid voting on Right to Work legislation, Daniels directed Republicans to table the legislation, explaining that it wasn’t part of the party’s election platform. The Democrats demanded the further legislation be abandoned, but Daniels and Republicans managed to salvage, among other bills, the revolutionary school voucher bill that was recently passed, allowing low-income families to transfer their children from under-performing public schools into higher-performing private schools. Although the compromise left the Right to Work legislation on the table, Daniels indicated that the issue was far from settled, and that it would be renewed when the voters were ready to have a vote about it. Which leads nicely into the next point…
4) Mitch Daniels fought the unions… and won.
When Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin called Governor Daniels his “great mentor and inspiration,” he wasn’t merely posturing. On his very first day in office, Governor Daniels issued an executive order de-certifying all public worker unions, and eliminating the requirement that public workers join unions at all, a measure which had been in place since then-Governor Evan Bayh had issued an executive order to that effect in 1989. He went on to express his support for Governor Walker, and outline the “out of control” nature of public employee unions on the Diane Rehm show in February of 2011.
Further, in April of 2011, Daniels signed legislation that limited the contents of teachers union contracts to wages and wage-related benegits… and nothing else. It also limits the terms of union contracts to two-years. This is especially significant in Indiana, where powerful teachers unions (such as the Indiana State Teachers Association) have long been Indiana’s political ‘godfathers’ without whose endorsement many a campaign has found itself dead in the water.
5) Mitch Daniels is widely respected.
This is a matter of perception, of course, but electability is key. Ron Paul is clearly the darling of the libertarian masses, but can he be elected to the White House? The polls say that he can’t. Governor Mitch Daniels has some strikes against him, sure. He’s short (5’7″… in boots), his comb over is laughable, his voice is far from commanding. But in matters of substance, the world has already awoken to the Mitch Daniels philosophy. Media outlets that have lauded Governor Daniels achievements include,Newsweek, The New York Times, Politico. com, The Atlantic, Reason, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report and more. It seems the world is already aware of Mitch Daniels and what he can do for America, even Libertarians.