Tavis: Mitch Daniels is serving his second term as governor of the Hoosier State, Indiana. Reelected back in 2008 by a wide margin, he’s also a name on many people’s lists as one who they’d like to see seek the Republican party nomination to challenge President Obama in 2012. He joins us tonight from Indianapolis. Governor Daniels, good to have you back on the program, sir.
Gov. Mitch Daniels: Tavis, you’re still at the top of our list of Hoosiers we’re proud of.
Tavis: Well, I appreciate that. I’m honored to have you back on this program. Speaking Hoosiers, let me start inside the Hoosier state tonight as the state is once again making national news, and we’ll get to some other stuff in a moment.
So as we speak tonight, the Democrats who ran out of Indiana to Illinois, they didn’t want to be a part of this legislative agenda, they left to go to Illinois, they were supposed to come back today. Same thing happened in Wisconsin. So update me first on whether or not the legislature is going to get moving again in Indiana.
Daniels: Well, I’m not taking anything to the bank with these folks until I see them in person, but it does appear that they’ll be back after a national record walkout of 30-some days, and we’ll make up for lost time. It’s not been a pretty spectacle, but I’m glad it’s over.
Tavis: From your point of view, the walkout was about what, or you’ve had what to say about the walkout in Indiana?
Daniels: You’d have to ask our Democratic colleagues what it was about, because the story changed several times. Initially it was said to be about a private sector right-to-work bill which had been offered in the house. But then when that was taken off the table they stayed over in the hot tub in Illinois on different grounds for the last several weeks.
I’ve tried to say not too much about it. I’m not sure anything I would say would have affected their decision-making. But it has not been a proud moment for our state and again, I’m just glad it’s over and I’m glad that there’s still time to pick up the pieces and do some important work for our economy, for our kids and for our future.
Tavis: You defended Governor Walker over in Wisconsin, who has been up against the same thing you’ve been up against; that is to say, with Democratic legislators feeling compelled to step away from these debates that they thought were unfair.
So you defended Governor Walker and I went back and did a little bit of reading about your own path, which I know fairly well, being a Hoosier. One could argue that you started this mess six years ago when you killed collective bargaining in Indiana.
Daniels: I wouldn’t call it a mess. We had a mess to clean up and discontinuing 160 pages of work rules that used to handcuff state government trying to serve citizens better, that was one real important step along the way. We have transformed state government in a variety of ways since then and can prove, because we measure everything, that citizens are receiving quicker, prompter, more accurate service today.
But we couldn’t have done it under the old system, where you couldn’t move a Xerox machine from one room to the other without the permission of the union or a 30, 60-day consultation. So yes, I think Scott Walker, first of all, he’s trying to do what he said he’d do, and we want our elected officials to keep their commitments. Secondly, it’s not just – at least in our experience – not just about saving taxpayer money, although we did, by the hundreds of millions. It’s also about serving the public better.
Tavis: How much of an issue do you think these issues are going to be come 2012? It seems to me that these issues now, about the rights of workers in this country, government workers and others, for that matter, are not going to be front and center in this presidential race, whether you run or not. What do you make of the issue on the national level?
Daniels: I don’t think there’s a lot of debate on the private sector side. I don’t think there needs to be one. Collective bargaining is an important right. Of course, private sector unions have been dwindling for a long time, down to 6 or 7 percent now of the work force, but they have every right to be there where workers choose that.
It’s very different in government, and even the strongest proponents of collective bargaining for the private sector, people like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, never thought that it had a place in government, where nobody’s playing with his own money.
The representative on the government side of the table is playing with the taxpayer’s money and I think that’s a legitimate issue. Who works for whom here? Does the public work for the government or is the government there to serve the public?
Tavis: If the debate about collective bargaining, which you said is appropriate in private sector, but if the debate is about the rights of workers, we could have a whole conversation tonight about government in this country, our government being oftentimes the worst discriminator, the worst offender.
Let’s not talk about civil rights, let’s not talk about slavery, let’s not talk about women’s suffrage, the suffragette movement. I could do this all night, talking about, giving examples of where government has been the discriminator in chief. So why not rights for government workers? Why not access to collective bargaining? Just because they work for government?
Daniels: There may have once been a time, Tavis, in the old days of patronage and so forth, where government workers were put upon and vulnerable, but that’s a long time ago. Now, in 41 states out of 50, they are better paid than the taxpayers who support them. In the federal government they’re almost twice as well paid. This doesn’t even count the benefits and the almost complete job security they have.
So it’s a very legitimate question at a time when government does not have enough money to do the things that it’s committed to do. Whether we ought not restore some balance to this process, I think it’s a legitimate debate and one that’s overdue.
Tavis: You’re having a good run, obviously, as governor of Indiana. How badly, if at all, do you feel for the current budget director? You have been the budget director for a United States president. It’s a job I assume right now that you wouldn’t want at all.
Daniels: Oh, it’s a great job and yet I do feel a spirit of fraternity with whoever’s there, whether I agree or disagree with the policies of that person’s president. It’s a job where you have to say no to a lot of people, or should, and not always a job where you enjoy a lot of thanks for the effort you put in.
It’s never been more important than it is right now. Our nation has built up debts and through its over-promises the prospect of even greater debts that really do threaten the livelihood of every American, most particularly those who are looking for a first leg up on the ladder of life.
We’ve got to wish everybody out there in both parties, legislative, executive branch, a lot of success. We all have a lot riding on a big change in national policy.
Tavis: We’ve been talking about domestic policy, and I’ll try to get one more question about that before I let you go. But given that the president tonight has spoken about Libya, your thoughts about what we’re doing in Libya or should be doing or should not be doing?
Daniels: Indiana doesn’t have a foreign policy, and I for one have always believed, as they say, that partisanship stops at the water’s edge. So I’m not going to second-guess any decision that the president or the administration’s made.
I’m glad he’s talking with the country tonight. I do think that it’s fair that many people have said the administration needs to explain itself. What are we doing there, what’s the extent of our commitment, who are the folks we’re trying to help, what’s the end objective.
So I’m glad that the speech is coming and I also agree with those who say it should have been more discussed with Congress, that our presidents really need to involve the people’s representatives before they put young Americans in harm’s way or send the country to war.
Tavis: You are brilliant, and even in your brilliance sometimes predictable, so I knew you were going to answer that question exactly as you answered it – that Indiana does not have a foreign policy. I asked that question, you full know well, because I want to close by asking if Mitch Daniels runs for president, he’s going to have to have a foreign policy. So what about all the talk about you running for the White House in 2012?
Daniels: Obviously you’re the brilliant one, since you know the answers before I give them. (Laughter) You might know this one, too.
Tavis: Yeah, I can guess.
Daniels: I told you you’d be the fifth or sixth to know if I made that decision. I haven’t decided to do it or to not do it. I really am absorbed and as of tonight will be very much more so now that we have a full legislature back. We’re trying to do some important things out here, Tavis.
We’re trying to reward our best teachers, we’re trying to improve teacher quality in our state, we’re trying to turn around our worst schools, we’re trying to liberate charter schools and give our parents more options. I’ll be fully absorbed in that until the job’s done, and then if that other question you ask is still of interest to folks, we’ll address it.
Tavis: Let me ask whether or not you have decided on what your process is going to be for making a decision about whether or not you’re going to run.
Daniels: I would just say that there are two main elements. One is that I’ve been watching to see whether people in one party or the other would step up to the really I think life-threatening, I should say republic-threatening, problems that we discussed a minute ago – the bills we’ll never be able to pay, the danger to our economy and to the American dream, if we don’t shape up.
Secondly, it’s a very personal decision and it’s not just one person involved. There’s five women in my family and what they think has an awful lot to say about things I do in life.
Tavis: Well, I’ll stop pressing for now – “for now” is the operative phrase.
Daniels: That’s fair enough, and we’ll talk about it again, I bet.
Tavis: I appreciate it. Governor Daniels, good to have you on. Thanks for your time, sir.
Tavis: Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana.
[Walmart - Save money. Live better.]
Announcer: Nationwide Insurance proudly supports Tavis Smiley. Tavis and Nationwide Insurance – working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. Nationwide is on your side.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.