November 3, 2008


Blade Runner (RiShawn Biddle, 11.3.08, American Spectator)

A PRINCETON, HARVARD, AND GEORGETOWN law grad, [Indiana Governor Mitch] Daniels parlayed his father's ties to the political machine of Sen. Richard Lugar into behind-the-scenes stints with the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Reagan Administration, and the Hudson Institute. During his tenure in the Bush Administration, Daniels earned two monikers -- "The Blade" and "Mitch the Knife" -- and the ire of pork-loving congressional leaders for his aggressive spending cut proposals and efficiency efforts such as the Program Assessment Rating Tool.

After winning the Indiana governorship -- and ending a 16-year string of Democratic control -- Daniels lived up to both his nickname and his reputation as he looked to cut an $800 million structural budget deficit and cut back a bloated state government of 74 agencies and 319 different boards. On his first day in office in 2005, he cribbed from Ronald Reagan's playbook by rescinding collective bargaining agreements with government employee unions. He then passed a two-year budget that cut back spending, implemented a plan to base employee raises on performance improvements, and allowed him to be more aggressive in improving government efficiency than he could ever do during his White House service.

An overhaul of the state's notoriously inefficient Bureau of Motor Vehicles later that year, which included shutting down 27 of its branches, angered legislators, who have long-used the agency as a patronage tool. They raised even more flack after Daniels began a wave of privatizations, including handing off prison cafeteria services to food services giant Aramark, contracting Medicaid operations with firms such as technology consulting giant IBM, and leasing the newly built New Castle state prison -- which the state couldn't afford to operate despite spending $135 million to build -- to the Corrections Corporation of America.

Then in 2006, Daniels struck a deal to lease the Indiana East-West Toll Road for $3.8 billion to Macquarie-Cintra, an Australian-Spanish consortium. This enraged Democrats, citizens who lived along the highway in Northern Indiana, and even some Republicans, who accused him of placing a precious state asset into foreign hands. Legislators approved it by a narrow margin. A year later, they rejected his plans to privatize the state lottery and contract with private firms to build and operate another state highway.

Despite facing re-election this year, Daniels couldn't keep himself from riling another faction of the state's political establishment. As part of a property tax reform plan, he proposed to eliminate the state's 1,008 townships, whose officials control the patronage that fuels statewide politics. Although Daniels didn't win that battle, he eventually succeeded in eliminating 964 township tax assessors; on Tuesday, voters in five counties will decide whether to eliminate 44 other such positions.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 3, 2008 11:01 PM
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