Indiana’s Mitch Daniels highlights Liberty Gala in Tulsa

 Mitch Daniels is speaking for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affair’s annual Liberty Gala tomorrow (Thursday, October 6) in Tulsa.

Daniels has established one of the most successful policy records of any American governor during and after the Great Recession.

At a 2009 meeting of CapitolBeat, a national organization of reporters and editors covering state capitol news around the United States, Daniels demonstrated the wit and political astuteness that has helped him carve out and maintain a strong reputation for conservative governance.

In a lively exchange with reporters from across America, he made the case for the lively pragmatic conservatism that had already made him the subject of thousands of news stories and garnered him what was then a 70 percent approval rating.

The Hoosier State, as he described it, was “still solvent, and we had a modest increase in spending” for government in 2008. The state was one of the few in the nation with a surplus, but a $1.3 billion cushion essentially eroded to $1 billion in the next budget.

Despite the comparatively rosy picture he faced at that time, Daniels proved prophetic, saying that regardless of national or regional recovery, “Indiana will have fewer dollars to work with in 2011 than in 2007.”

When a reporter asked him to share Indiana’s “secret” to fiscal solvency in a time of recession, Daniels took on a seriously demeanor before responding, slowly and with dramatic effect: “We. Spent. Less. Money. Than. We. Took. In.” When the gathered reporters finished laughing, he said, drily, “No. Really.”

Daniels said that during his tenure the state had eliminated an estimated $700 million to $800 million in “structural deficit” and “more or less” froze spending as a whole.

In his first year in office, a tax amnesty was “spectacularly successful” in getting one time money that was used to pay back state government debts and not for any new spending. While Gov. Daniels experienced a substantial decline in popularity early in his tenure, his approval ratings recovered.

He was elected governor of Indiana in 2004 with 54% support, then reelected in 2008 with 57% backing. Daniels came to politics as an aide to U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar. In the 1980s he worked for President Ronald Reagan.

In his 2009 address to the CapitolBeat reporters, he asked, “How can we deliver services at lower cost?” He said some sacrosanct areas of spending must be examined for efficiency and purpose: “Entitlements eat the budget,” a situation that cannot forever be ignored. Speaking of broad economic concerns, Daniels said he was concerned some federal stimulus spending had “taken care of long-standing wish lists” rather than actual economic stimulus.

Daniels is one of the many chief executives taking a critical look at government economic incentive packages in terms of effectiveness. In the end, he told reporters, “the business environment is crucial.” What Daniels described as “the sand box” – the business prevailing culture a state offers to businesses — is more important than up-front incentives and direct subsidies for operations or relocations.

Two years ago last month, Gov. Daniels drew national attention with a September 3 Wall Street Journal column in which he predicted state governments would face years of revenue lower than in Fiscal Year 2008.

Contrary to the expectations of most economists, the “Great Recession” became the longest in modern American history, and Daniels’ assessments became conventional wisdom among most conservative, and some liberal, economists and forecasters.

A recent blog post from OCPA sketched Daniels’ record of conservative policy development:

•                From 2005-2011, Indiana state expenditures have grown by only 1.43 percent annually. This compares to 5.88 percent from 1996-2004.

•                Adjusted for inflation and population growth, Indiana state expenditures have declined by 1.8 percent per year (compound annual rate) from 2004 until 2011.

•                The total number of full-time Indiana state employees is 28,069 (fewer than in 1976).

·      Since 2008, the number of Indiana state employees has declined by 3,747 (11.8 percent), almost entirely through attrition.

Occasionally mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate, Daniels earlier this year cited family concerns in deciding not to see the nation’s top political job.

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK recently, OCPA President Michael Carnuccio said, “We are very excited to have Governor Daniels speak. … At every event, we try to bring in a speaker that will connect with Oklahomans and who shares our Oklahoma values on free enterprise and individual liberty. Governor Daniels has led his state during the recent downturn by shrinking the size of Indiana’s state government and by reducing the role of government in both business decisions and individuals’ lives. He is a true star of the conservative movement, and we are honored to host him in our great state.”

Past OCPA speakers have included former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, General Tommy Franks, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, and the late conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr.

The Liberty Gala will be held at Tulsa’s Renaissance Hotel.