Tavis: Tonight, though, we begin with the current governor of my home state of Indiana, Mitch Daniels. The second-term Republican served as director of the Office of Management and Budget before becoming chief executive in the Hoosier State. He joins us tonight from Indianapolis. Governor, good to have you on this program, sir.
Gov. Mitch Daniels: Love hearing you call it home, Tavis. I hope you don’t mind us bragging on you. We’re very proud of all you’ve done.
Tavis: No, you can do that all day long, it won’t offend me. Let me start by saying that a little birdie told me that the governor is dressed rather casually tonight because he drove his motorcycle to work today?
Daniels: Oh, busted, huh? (Laughter) You weren’t supposed to see that there are jeans on down below here, so thought I might get away with it. But apparently your sources are as good as always.
Tavis: So you are a motorcycle enthusiast?
Daniels: I am. In an otherwise boring life, that’s been, I guess, my longest-running hobby and my fellow citizens have been willing to accommodate it or look the other way when I’ve kept it up.
Tavis: Does that mean that the governor has to have a special escort when he’s driving down Meridian on a motorcycle? You have security in tow as you’re humming down the street?
Daniels: They’re back there somewhere. They didn’t like this idea much, and that’s the first time they’d ever had to deal with it. I said, “Well, look, y’all aren’t getting on here with me, so you can follow me if you like.” My friends in the (unintelligible) state police have shown good humor about it too.
Tavis: Of course, you’re wearing your helmet every time you get on your bike.
Daniels: I am, and encouraging everybody else to do the same.
Tavis: Fair enough. How has my home state of Indiana been impacted by this recession?
Daniels: We were hit hard and suddenly. We were at full employment, just booming along, two years ago, being described as an island of growth in the Midwest and so forth. But we’re a big manufacturing state, as you’ll recall, and a dominant state in RVs, for instance, as well as autos. So we’ve fallen down to around the national average.
We’re the lowest in the Midwest and really receiving a lot of jobs from neighboring states, but that’s no consolation. We won’t feel at all good until we’re back where we were.
Tavis: What have you had to do as governor to balance the books, then?
Daniels: Well, fortunately we came into this with some money in reserves. We’re a little out of phase, actually, Tavis. Five years ago Indiana was broke when everybody else was flush, so our first order of business really was to get things back in balance. We really put the brakes on spending and fortunately we were able to get everything paid off, current, and then had some money in reserve when the hard times came.
We’re paying our bills and we’re holding on. We’ve got a AAA credit rating for the first time in state history, but we’ll be really glad when we can see a recovery coming, because even we will run out of ways to economize eventually.
Tavis: As I mentioned earlier, governor, you happen to be a Republican. There are other governors, your Republican colleagues, I should say, who made all kinds of news for turning down stimulus money. A lot of politics in some of that, but there are Republican governors who turned down stimulus money from Washington. What was your decision in Indiana?
Daniels: No, we said if they send a check, we’ll cash it, and we did. I personally did not quarrel with the idea a year-plus ago of the federal government trying to do something on the fiscal side to go along with what the Federal Reserve was doing. I do feel there were big defects in what they did but we accepted the money, with one or two exceptions, and we’ve tried to put it to the best use we could.
Tavis: What did you make, though, since I raised that, of the politics that were played around that issue by certain Republican governors in the country?
Daniels: I’m not going to criticize anybody who looked at things a little differently. Clearly, there were very serious defects in what Congress did. I’m not sure what Congress produced was really what President Obama had in mind to start with. As you know, a huge percentage of this money hasn’t been spent yet and it’s a fair point that – and you really can’t point to any jobs that this, other than some in government, that this bill ever saved or brought back.
But I understood the need to make some kind of attempt. I wish they’d done it a little more sensibly.
Tavis: I hear your point about not criticizing your Republican colleagues that sit in governors’ offices. Let me ask the question another way. Given that we have seen some Republicans and Democrats, I should say, for that matter, extreme push-back for voting for the president’s healthcare measure, did you get any push-back as a Republican for taking stimulus money from this Democratic White House and Congress?
Daniels: Not much, if any. Again, I hope that our fellow citizens here recognize that we’ve taken the best care of the taxpayer dollar as we know how. We’re not going to waste a single one if we can help it, and that we’re just trying to be good stewards in our 2.2 percent of America.
The best I can tell, folks here do appreciate that Indiana is in a lot better shape than most states and that it hasn’t been easy to do, but they recognize you have to make common sense decisions if you want to stay that way.
Tavis: Since I mentioned healthcare, Governor Daniels, what’s the impact of this newly passed healthcare legislation going to be on the state of Indiana?
Daniels: Tavis, I’m very worried about it. It’s going to be very severe, in my opinion. Let me hasten to add if I thought it was good for America than its impact on Indiana would be a secondary matter to me.
I don’t believe that it will be good for America. I think that it will aggravate the worst problems of high cost and over-consumption of healthcare that put us in this box.
In terms of our state, it’s going to cost us billions of dollars. It’s going to lead to citizens on our plan for low-income uninsured being put into Medicaid instead, which I don’t think will be good for their healthcare or for our economy. So in my judgment it wasn’t a very well-conceived bill and I’m sorry they passed it.
Tavis: I’m going to take, then, from your comment now that you are opposed to this legislation, this healthcare legislation. I’m going to take that to mean that Indiana was doing a better-than-average job of making sure that most Hoosiers had healthcare?
Daniels: Well, we feel we were certainly gaining on it. We have a program of ours which is very different than, for example, this new national program. It’s based on individual accounts for low-income people. They manage their own money, their own decisions and then are totally protected if there’s a very expensive healthcare event. It’s very, very popular with the 50,000 people, the first ones to enroll. Ninety-nine percent of them want to continue in it.
By the way, Tavis, we’re accumulating the evidence now that confirms what your common sense would tell you – that people of all income levels, all socioeconomic levels, can make good decisions for themselves. They don’t need a condescending state to make them for them.
The people in this program are going to the emergency room less, they’re using generic drugs more often, they’re taking care of themselves preventively and I’m just sorry that national policy didn’t trust people with their own – to be autonomous in their own decision-making more than it did.
Tavis: Fifty thousand is better than zero, so it’s not a bad number, but I guess you have to juxtapose your comment now, Governor, against whether or not most Americans, Hoosiers included, do have insurance, and if they don’t, when they run to the emergency medical room and they have to have these last-minute, expensive procedures, the rest of us end up paying for it. So if not this effort to reform healthcare, something had to be done, yes?
Daniels: Oh, fair point. Our program was on its way to maybe three times that size. It’ll now unfortunately be obviated by the coming federal system. We didn’t pretend it was a complete or necessarily perfect answer, only an improvement on what was. Back to the point you made, if this program reaches its full maturity it could handle a third to a half of the long-term uninsured problem in our state.
On the other side, it was not an entitlement, open-ended, that would have devoured the budget, taken money from education and public safety and other functions, which has happened in many other states and is going to happen nationally, because the new healthcare bill is going to cost trillions. Everybody knows it – debt on top of all that that’s been piled up already.
Tavis: I’ve got a minute to go. Let me see if I can get two 30-second responses to two questions. First, the loss of Evan Bayh in the U.S. Senate for Indiana, even though he’s a Democrat and you a Republican, means what, to your mind?
Daniels: Not sure. It depends who replaces him. But there are some very good people running. I know we’ll be well represented, and I believe by somebody in the mainstream.
Tavis: Finally, as I mentioned earlier at the top of the conversation, at least, your name is starting to float around now as being a part of a ticket, number one, number two, but on a ticket as a governor who’s done a pretty good job in Indiana, and of course President Obama won Indiana, which made history in and of itself. But your thoughts about your name being on these lists for Washington?
Daniels: It just shows how slim the pickings are, Tavis. (Laughter) I don’t know what else to make of it. We’re working hard trying to make you home state noteworthy and stronger. We think we’re making a heck of a lot of progress. That’s where my full attention is and will be.
Tavis: Well, your answer notwithstanding, if you end up on that list, I expect to talk to you on this program.
Daniels: You’ll be first to know.
Tavis: Yeah, I don’t believe that, but I’m going to hold you to it anyway. (Laughter) Governor Daniels, good to have you on the program. Thanks for your time, sir.
Daniels: I enjoyed it.
Tavis: Appreciate it.