Governor Mitch Daniels Aiming Higher Event Indianapolis, IN

Transcribed from extemporaneous remarks 

First, I think we better deal with this business of this tie. And get this out of the way because I lost count after 26 or 27 of you brought this up, because many of you asked questions. No, it is not a clip on. Yes, I actually did pick it out myself, but just to reassure you, it was on sale.

It is right that our program is led by young people tonight, because this movement of ours is all about young people. It is all about youth and renewal, it is about building the kind of state in which young people are treasured and valued and favored and where their future is our principal concern. We were not that sort of state a few years ago, or at least some of us did not believe we were, and that is why we organized as we did.

I was trying to remember where I first used this phrase, “Aiming Higher.” I think it was a quite possibly a night in Columbia City. Angel was there, he was one of the organizers. Jim Banks was there, it was on his family farm. What was unforgettable about that evening was the banner that awaited us. There were about 300 young people there and the RV rolled in, and there was a banner that said “We Want to Stay,” meaning they wanted to stay in Indiana if Indiana could grow enough in a way that was big enough and modern enough to meet their aspirations and offer them the sort of opportunities that their talent and initiative deserved. No one has summed it up any better. It was our whole reason for being and the whole reason for this little adventure of ours.

At the outset we said something else that is relevant tonight. We said that we wanted to unite as many people as we could. Not just because life is more fun when you are not fighting and saying harsh things about each other, but because to be effective, to make the kind of change that this state needed, we wanted to bring as many people together as possible. And along with the prevalence of young people here tonight, the presence of so many people—and I have met dozens where this is their first such event of its kind—there are people of both major parties, and some that have no party preference at all. I just want to say to each of you who fits in any of those categories, I hope you feel as welcome as we want you to feel. I am so glad you are here.

To be the kind of state we want to be, we will need everybody’s help. I said in the parking lot of Hinkle Field house on day one that there was room on that RV for anyone who believes in this state enough to change it, who loves this state enough to make the changes necessary. So the phrase “Aiming Higher,” as simple as it is, I hope connotes to you the notion that Indiana is done settling for mediocrity. We may be Middle America, but we refuse to be in the middle of the pack. We are determined to pursue excellence and not settle for anything less and that was going to take change. I found that did not come naturally, it’s something you won’t find in the history books about our state. It is not supposed to be in our genetic make-up, in our personalities, as Hoosiers.

In this world, we have said so often, if you stand still you will be passed by. If you tread water you will sink. And so the purpose for which we have invited you here, and on so many past occasions in many of your cases, has always been about that. Party and election and all that is just a prelude, it is just the means to the end. Winning means nothing unless you do something meaningful with it.

And thanks to you change has come to Indiana. This movement—the people who are in this room—have always looked forward, tried to think what the next change is and the next reform. Reform movements must never rest. We will never run out of things we want to do to be the state we want to be.

It has been on my mind a lot lately what a year of “almosts” this has been. It is driving me crazy. If I roll it all the way back, Kenny Perry almost won the Masters, Tom Watson almost won the Open, the Colts almost won the Super Bowl, and Butler…oh my gosh, so close! [Applause] Scott Brown almost saved America from the Healthcare disaster, and then that did not happen either. History is having a hard time finishing lately. We have to resolve ourselves that we are not stopping with almost.

I want to think for a few minutes about 2011, and I want to tell you why we invited you here, why we are doing this unusual thing of trying to bring together people again of the variety that is in this room. We are united maybe only by your commitment to change and the dreams about the kind of state we have the potential to be. 2011 is the year in which we will determine together whether this is an interlude in Indiana’s history or whether it will last. Whether we are just another “almost,” or whether we have done something fundamental that has staying power by making changes that cannot be rolled back, not easily. And, most important, the reason we took the time to let you see the beautiful array of idealists that came up here on stage, whether we have left behind people who are committed for this to be a way of life in Indiana, to Indiana being a leader and making changes ahead of the rest of the country. Let the rest of the country emulate us for a change. [Applause]

Let me just rattle off some of the things that hang on our success in bringing this new crew of people to state government, specifically to the House of Representatives, which has been the obstacle I am sad to say to so many of the changes we have attempted and those we might yet.

A state’s greatness in this era must start with its fiscal health. We came in this state from bankruptcy to solvency, almost unique solvency among those states not sitting on oil and gas, and we have no intention of going back.

Pat Bauer is an expensive date, and I don’t mean for me—I mean for the taxpayers of Indiana. [Laugher] Let me give you a very fresh illustration. His majority passed a budget a year ago—fortunately it was changed dramatically before we let anything become law—but the budget they passed a year ago interestingly was a one year budget. They insisted on a one year budget, and now I know why. If we would have spent at the level of that budget, Indiana would be flat busted as of last Wednesday. All of the reserves would have been gone, in nine months. We wouldn’t have needed that second year as it turned out.

Now if you want to just measure or tell someone about the extent of change you have helped us to bring—you enabled to bring—to the finances of the state, you can sum it up in this sentence: “In the middle of the worst recession in memory, we took Indiana from bankruptcy to a triple-A credit rating which we now enjoy today from every agency.” If we no longer do our job, we will no longer be triple-A but triple-B. It stands for Broke, Bankrupt, and Bauer, and let’s not go there. [Applause]

Next year will be the hardest year. We will need allies in both houses of the Indiana General Assembly, or your taxes will go up. As economy-minded as we have been and as reform-minded as we have been, we will use most if not all of the reserves we built up in this two year period and we will have to write an incredibly difficult budget next year. And if we are going to do it without tax increases, we are going to have to have new leadership in the Indiana General Assembly.

That brings us to our greatest goal. When you stop and think about fiscal solvency, it beats the alternative, but by itself it does not accomplish much of anything. Except as in Indiana, where it leaves more money in the private economy, in the pockets of consumers, and in the earnings of companies so that they can create the growth and opportunity to keep our young people here—that will allow them to stay.

We have worked from the very beginning on this, and our colloquialism for this is “The Best Sandbox in America.” We will do everything we can to make the conditions optimal here for people of initiative and enterprise to take risks, to invest and innovate, and to have a better chance than anywhere else in the country to get their money back.

We have made a lot of progress; we are on everybody’s map now. We have been called “an island of growth,” but you know it does not take long to mess up a sandbox. We once looked up to Michigan, we looked up to Ohio, and we looked up to Wisconsin as places of economic growth and progress. That is all flipped now. There are people running for governor in every one of those states saying that they want to look like Indiana, that they want to be like Indiana. I like them looking up to us, and I do not want that to change.

Across the board, no matter the issue, the preference of our opponents is still to spend money that we do not have and tax people, to tax companies for higher unemployment premiums, to tax property higher. There will be a concerted effort this fall to undo the property tax caps which we are this close to making permanent, to leave behind as a legacy of the Aiming Higher movement. It will not only make home ownership so much more affordable for young people in this state, but they will make us right now so much more attractive to businesses than our neighbors are.

Our friends on the other side of this argument give themselves away every time they talk about the subject of the economy or reforms of government. Listen to the inflection of their voice and the adjectives that surround the words like “private” or “profit.” When they talk about it, it is a pejorative, almost a profanity.

The big national debate going on right now, a fundamental one that I hope we get right in the end, is about which sector of society serves the other. Is the public sector of America, which we have typically thought of to support and serve as public service as we call it, to serve the private sphere of life?

To remain its servant or be its master? As we have watched industry after industry, company after company taken over, owned by the federal government, we have to say that question is up for grabs for the first time in history. I do not know how the national argument is going to go, but a goal of this team, and this evening and I hope each of you, is to say wherever everyone else goes, in Indiana, at least, government will remain the servant of the private sphere and not the other way around. [Applause]

This is the movement that has brought reform to Indiana government and we still have so much more to do. If I can remind you what we found when we got to Indiana state government: a big bloated government, cronyism, patronage, no businesslike practices that you would recognize, lots of attention to the needs of special interests, and government itself being the biggest special interest of all.

With the help of the best, most able, most idealistic people, who looked a lot like the candidates that came up on this stage, who came from private life, who came with different experiences, who came with different business skills, it has been a tremendous transformation. Now we have cleaned up procurement, we measure everything, we pay people by how well they have performed or not, we have an Inspector General to make sure the whole system stays squeaky clean. Contemplate this fact: although we can prove to you statistically that the services provided to Hoosiers are the best they have ever been, we have fewer state employees than we had in 1981.

That is fragile too. There is nothing to prevent this from going right back to the same old patronage arrangement that we found. We will protect, if given the chance, the public employees of this state from ever again having 2% of their pay confiscated by a government union which then recycles the money to political cronies in order that they can create more workers and more political contributions. If you did not know before, just watch what happened to New Jersey, to New York, to California, to state after state in this country, how destructive such a vicious political cycle can be. We have broken that cycle in Indiana, and we need to protect this state from ever going down that path. That is another way we will use the dollars you are making available to us tonight.

As we try to pursue reform in state government, we will pursue yet again reform of local governments in the state, which also leads to substandard service and to lack of accountability and transparency and the overcharge of taxpayers. This one is really important to talk about here because this will have to be bipartisan, even if we are successful in being able to get our ideas to the floor, get our ideas to first or second base with a new Republican majority in the House. This one cuts across. We have people in both parties in pursuit of change in this area. Step one is the same, to capture the majority so we have a chance to have a fair hearing of these progressive ideas, but we will need to reach out to people of all kinds and persuade them to leave behind an old system that may have served well once but does not anymore

Then most urgently, or most excitingly, the opportunities we have in the biggest area which we cannot claimed to have addressed with any real success in this state, the education of our children and the public schools of Indiana. We have a system today that pretends to be good for young people but sometimes unconsciously—sometimes very cynically—is operated far too much for the benefit of the adults in the system and not the kids that it is there for.

We have begun to make some difference finally. It started with the recruitment of another idealist, Tony Bennett, along with nine other idealists who agreed to serve on a new Board of Education, and good things have begun to happen. We opened up the teaching profession to people who want to bring life experiences other than the conventional education degree the way we have been offering it. From now on, you will have to prove you know the content matter in order to teach in an Indiana classroom. The radical notion that if you want to teach math, you might want to know math. To teach chemistry, you ought to know chemistry. We extended full-day kindergarten to over 70% of our kids; I would love to complete that job before we are done, but it will require the kind of fiscal discipline we talked about earlier.

We have said we want to keep discipline in Indiana classrooms. If your kid causes trouble, take it out on your kid, not the teacher, and not the principal. Don’t waste your time hiring a lawyer because you can no longer sue a teacher or a school who is doing their job in any kind of good faith.

An issue we have had is with social promotion—it is on its way out in Indiana. For a young person, the consensus has been that after third grade if you have not learned to read you are out of luck. Up to that point you can learn to read, after that point you must read to learn. What a cruel thing it has been to shuffle hundreds to thousands of our children through third grade and beyond, almost doomed to failure. School systems get paid $11,000 a year per student, and you would think after four years your kid could learn how to read. If not, we are going to try again until they get it right. We will no longer knowingly handicap young people in this state who deserve much better.

That is just such a partial start. We have so much more to do, and it will require successes that cannot be measured tonight. We have one of the worst records in America in getting dollars into the classroom where they can employ more or better teachers, make textbooks less expensive, keep classes smaller, all of these things. Only 61 cents of your education dollar makes it to the classroom by a generous definition. Too much is intercepted along the way by giant, unnecessary bureaucracy.

We are number three in per student spending in America. Hoosiers dig deeper into their pockets and well into their income more than almost any place else. That is a great thing, and I am proud of that. We are number three in spending, we ought to be better than 23, 33, 43 in achievement, and that is where find ourselves and that has got to end. We need quality teachers in every classroom. That is going to take big change; it is going to be a big fight.

We need to be able to pay teachers who will go to the most struggling schools, to the schools where the kids need them the most, in rural Indiana, in inner city Indiana. We need to be able to pay these teachers. We need to be able to pay—and I am a big sports guy so I am sorry—but we need to be able to pay the physics teacher more than the physical education teacher, but now we are not allowed to do that.

Most fundamentally, we need to move to a system in which we pay for performance in education just as we do now in state government and just how everyone in this room does it—businesses and law firms and associations of all kind. I cannot not wait for the day when we can pay the best teachers in Indiana much more than they are making today. It is one of the most valuable professions and most valuable services. You should not be paid more just for living another year, or just for a piece of paper you have on the wall. The only question is, “Did the children learn?” If the children learned that teacher deserves a big raise and all the support and protection we give them. That is the system we need.

Finally we need a lot more options, and we need a lot more competition and a lot more choices in education. We are going to end the discrimination against charter schools that makes it hard for them to get their operating cash and makes it almost impossible for them to get into a building. If a public school district in this state is sitting on real estate that it cannot use and won’t, it is outrageous, and soon it’s going to be illegal, for them to refuse to sell it or even give it to a charter school who just wants to give kids a better chance than they have got today.

We are talking about surging ahead. I have been thinking about the last couple of years, when there was apparently a really successful political slogan. It said “Change You Can Believe In.” I did not think about it at the time, but I have more recently. What the heck does that mean? I guess maybe what made it an effective slogan was that it can mean whatever you want it to. Whatever change you personally believe in, maybe that is what the fellow is talking about. We will give it an “A” for cleverness.

We believe in offering people more than that, so I was thinking about what could have been said or at least what we would say. As opposed to “change you can believe in,” I think the best summation of what we are about in this room is “Change that Believes in You.” Change that believes that you as a free citizen of a free country ought to make the maximum number of decisions about your life, about your children’s education, or the pace of education. If a kid in this state wants to get out of high school in less than 12 years we ought to encourage them and make that possible and not prevent them from doing so. If they want to get out of college in less than three years and save their family a lot of money then we have to make that possible too. Put those on the list.

Choices about your education; choices about your own healthcare; choices about your paycheck—do you want to pay dues or not? We made union dues on the first day in office voluntary. Not much happened. The things I feared did not happen. There were not protests; there were not riots. The only thing that happened was that over the first few weeks 90% of the workers stopped paying dues. Decided they would give themselves a two percent raise.

We look for change that believes in you, that believes in individual people to make these decisions for themselves about their private lives, about their families, about their businesses. Those are the kind we stand for and push for. As appealing as that may sound, as obvious as it may sound, these are exactly the kind of changes that are the most fiercely resisted by people who I think sincerely believe they are smarter than you are, wiser than you are, and who will protect you against your own folly and own lack of judgment. And no there is never anything easy with change that believes in you.

Let me finish with this. There has been a lot written lately about trust in government, or rather the lack of it. A new study by the Pew Institute found it has never been so dismally low. Some people who believe in government and dislike what is going on read that with a little bit of jubilation. I don’t. It might be helpful short-term in some tactical way that people are aroused and dissatisfied and discontented and distrustful of their government. That is not the way we want our society to be over the long-term. But that is not the way we want our state to be.

I read this article last year about the current Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. Some sage Italian political science professor in the article said, “You must understand, the prime minister came from the world of business where he learned that if you don’t do what you say, you are finished. But now he’s in Italian politics, where if you do what you say, you’re finished.” There is another reason I don’t want to be European. [Laughter]

We have always tried, and I don’t think we have fallen short too often, to be open and honest with a people of this state to tell them what we do. I always say we play the game with the cards face up. Tell people what we believe, what we think will make us a greater state, and then do what we say we will do, at least do our darndest to do that. I think that is how change gets successfully made, and I think that is how excellence is finally achieved.

I want to say a couple of things to my future teammates that you just met, many of whom I am convinced will be here in a new generation of leadership just nine months from now. This is going to take a little fortitude. You have already shown some by putting yourself on the line, your neck on the line, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.

When you think of excellence in this town, sometimes you think about the finest quarterback in pro football, maybe the finest one ever. Like all great practitioners of this art, you never see Peyton Manning with what they call “happy feet.” In other words, to be a star at what he does, sometimes you have to stand in the pocket and feel the heat coming. If you flinch, if you bolt, if you leave the pocket, something bad will probably happen. Sometimes you will have to stand in, you might have to take a hit, but sometimes that is when the greatest touchdowns are scored. This is the way I hope you will come to your duties, with no happy feet.

The brightest ideas we have and the most important changes and the most obviously positive steps we can take will all be fiercely resisted. I ask every one of you here tonight to be there with these candidates. They’ll hear from all the opponents, believe me. There will be pressure from every direction. They’ll need your support, moral and otherwise.

I heard the greatest little anecdote recently. Maybe somebody here knew, as I did not, that about a century ago there were three brothers who – this is probably never happened before or since – were simultaneously presidents of major universities, and one of them was IU. The Brothers Bryan were presidents at the same time of Indiana University, Washington State University and MIT, and I guess they all served with great distinction. But get this; I met the current president of Washington State who had found in the archives a note from the IU Bryan to his brother at WSU right after a very successful gala retirement party as he stepped down from his duties in Bloomington. The IU Bryan wrote to his brother, “If I had pushed this place like I should have, the crowd would have been a hell of a lot smaller.” Now that is a useful insight. [Laughter]

I just want to promise you, as for me, I am not worried about the size of the retirement dinner. It can be very, very small if it has to be. We are going to push this place as we should. We are going to need the help you just gave, the help of the people who just stepped up on this stage, we are going to need the idealism of young people and the judgment, fortitude and taking the spare time of our elders. But we are not going to be an “almost” administration. We are not going to be an “almost” movement. We are going to finish the job at least with the time we are given.

You candidates, you come prepared. You pack your idealism, you pack your courage. With the help of the people here and people like them all over the state we will leave behind an Indiana that makes change because it wants to, not because it is forced to; that puts young people and their futures ahead of the selfish interests of their elders; that believes in and trusts people and therefore operates a government in which the people of Indiana can turn and invest their trust and confidence. May God bless you all, and bless this cause.