Indiana: Mitch Daniels’ Dirty Little Secrets

Indiana Senate minority leader Vi Simpson (D-Ellettsville) has called out Governor Mitch Daniels and his administration for their culture of secrecy around state budgeting and spending. Specifically, Simpson and State Rep. Bill Crawford (D-Indianapolis) want to know what services, programs, and personnel have been cut under Daniels’ repeated budget crises. Simpson said, “The governor refers to Indiana as the island of prosperity. We’re the island of secrets.”

Daniels’ budget director, Chris Ruhl, told Simpson that “a comprehensive list of executive branch budget reductions wasn’t available”. If our leaders don’t have access to this information, how can they make informed decisions? And how can citizens cast an informed ballot if neither voters nor lawmakers have any information?

Of course, it isn’t just budget information that the Daniels administration has been unable or unwilling to provide.

As I have earlier posted, Indiana reporters, especially the team at WTHR in Indianapolis, have spent months trying to confirm the jobs numbers that Daniels has been touting, to no avail. Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) head Mitch Roob – last seen presiding over the disastrous privatization of Indiana’s welfare system – said of the jobs data, “We don’t share it with the public. We don’t release it to the news media. That’s confidential information.” States surrounding Indiana, including Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, make that information public.

It’s no surprise that Mitch Daniels doesn’t want the public to have this information – when WTHR went to investigate some of the jobs that Mitch Daniels says he’s brought to Indiana, they found abandoned factories and empty fields.

Mitch Daniels’ culture of secrecy also extends to the much-maligned Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). The Gary Post-Tribune’s Gitte Laasby has done some incredible (and award-winning) work investigating stories about BP’s environmental permits and the pile of toxic steel waste named after former steel executive and current IDEM director Tom Easterly. Laasby’s editor, suspecting that the agency was “intentionally withholding and otherwise seeking to squelch information,” asked her to request records from IDEM that mentioned Laasby. The result?

Note that, other than the note at the top, every single word is redacted because the words are of ultimate import to the secrets of the state Indiana that all words cannot be released. Every article, noun, verb, dependent clause, all fall under the heading of being so much of a sensitive nature that no one should know about it. And even Laasby’s name, which was part of the open records request — if it exists in the blackness somewhere — is too dangerous to release to the public.

Each of these instances of Mitch Daniels hiding public information from Hoosier voters is troubling, but together they form an unmistakable pattern. As Senator Simpson put it, it is a culture of secrecy that pervades the entire executive branch.
Senator Simpson indicated that Democrats will be developing and introducing legislation designed to increase transparency, including  “easy online access to budget and spending information”. And that’s a good start, but it isn’t enough. Indiana’s antiquated public access laws need a wholesale revision. And we need to start supporting candidates who make transparency and open government a key part of their agenda.

Voter Suppression in Indiana

In another rant dealing with my ongoing dislike for Mitch Daniels and his ideas of governance for the people of Indiana, I just have to shake my head at this one.

Governor Daniels has vetoed a bill, just passed by both houses of the legislature, that would have made the process of voting an easier task. And guess what excuse he used? That’s right, fear of voter fraud.

Of course, that is complete and total b.s. The real reason is to try to keep voters, particularly working men and women, away from the polls in this increasingly blue state.

Indiana already has, probably, the most restrictive anti-voting laws in the nation, by virtue of its voter identification provisions, signed into law by Daniels during his first term.

The bill recently vetoed by Daniels would have allowed easier access to the polling places by allowing counties to centralize voter rolls, as well as to open more early voting polling places to ease the burden on working people to get to the polls on election day.

As an example, in St. Joseph County, voters are assigned to one of 230 precincts, and they must cast ballots at their particularly assigned location. Under the so-called “vote center” plan, the county would have 70 precincts, and county residents could vote at any polling place, since names would be stored in an electronic book to ensure no one could vote twice.

The bill would also have eased the burden of opening early voting sites, greatly adding to the convenience of casting a ballot. In many locations last year, early voters had to wait in line for thirty minutes or more, and early voting was instituted to make it easier to vote. Even in counties where multiple sites were available, the wait could be a half hour or more.

Lake County, a heavily Democrat stronghold, and Indiana’s second most populous county, for instance, was only alloted one early voting site, in spite of lines that forced many to wait over an hour. This was because the law would only allow satellite locations if the county election board voted unanimously for that to happen. Lake County’s election board in 2008 voted 3-2 in favor, along party lines, so two Republicans kept a roadblock in place that inconvenienced voters at the least, and may have kept some voters from the polling places entirely, due to time and travel restraints. The law vetoed by Daniels would have allowed majority rule from the election board to be applied when deciding how many satellite sites might be needed, and where they should be located.

Daniels said in his veto statement: “While this bill contains provisions that would make the act of voting more convenient, it does not contain sufficient safeguards against fraud and abuse and removes long-standing bipartisan checks and balances in the conduct of elections.”

This answer, of course, is pure hogwash. Election law expert Bill Groth stated in response to the governor’s claim: “This is really infuriating. Even after signing into law the nation’s most restrictive voter ID bill, the Governor thinks we still don’t have enough protections against fraud. That’s just an excuse to veto a bill that broadened access by voters. SB 209 was a carefully crafted bipartisan compromise. I hope the Legislature will override this outrageous and irresponsible veto in the special session or at least on organization day in November.”

If Daniels is so concerned about bipartisan checks and balances, he might take note that the Indiana Senate passed the measure 48-0. That means not one Republican senator viewed this bill negatively, in a chamber where there are 33 Republicans to only 17 Democrats. The House passed it 55-43, this despite the fact that there is a near 50-50 split in party affiliation.

His concerns about voter fraud are spurious. Not only does Indiana have an ID law in place, but as the South Bend Tribune noted in an editorial on the matter: “Even the Republican Secretary of State, Todd Rokita, spoke out against the veto, even though he had to do so on economic grounds, not on the basis of enfranchisement:
‘How ironic it is that the one local government reform that actually passes the legislature ends up getting vetoed. Vote Centers is perhaps the only local government reform that so far has been proven unequivocally to save taxpayers money. I would expect, given the serious fiscal condition of the state, that the concept is important enough to find its way into the budget bill so that all 92 counties be given the opportunity to realize the unquestionable taxpayer benefits and savings.’”

The fact is that there is no good reason for this bill to have been vetoed. And there is even less reason for the legislature to uphold this veto.

As long as Indiana law requires unanimous consent of the boards of election, any individual on a board can veto opening an election center. It actually happened in Muncie last year when one Republican blocked a voting center on the Ball State University campus because he feared that “college students’ votes can be bought with free hot dogs.” Seriously.

I am hoping this can be overridden at the special session in June. We cannot allow the un-American practice of voter suppression to be continued by the actions of an oligarch like Mitch Daniels who rules only by whim and edict. The people of Indiana are better than that, and deserve to be treated accordingly.


It’s no secret how I feel about Indiana’s current governor, and can’t believe that Hoosiers were gullible enough to elect him. Twice.

So, having said that, I find it as no surprise that Indiana is performing economically at a rate worse than most other states. In spite of the rosy view Mitch ballyhooed in his misleading (read “lying”) ads during the campaign in ’08. All that talk about finding two jobs for every one that went away, and how other states were looking at Indiana and wishing they were in as sound a financial situation as us.

Now we can see some truth beginning to shine through and only have to guess at how much of this underperformance is the fault of Mitch and his policies. This from the Associated Press 4-6-09:
“Indiana state tax collections were down $157 million in March, with total revenues $755 million less for the first nine months of the fiscal year than lawmakers had approved for spending.
Revenues have fallen short of original projections in eight of the nine months so far in this fiscal year. They were $4.1 million ahead of initial expectations last July, but have been below projections every month since.
A revised fiscal forecast in December predicted the state would take in about $763 million less this fiscal year than lawmakers approved for spending in the budget adopted in 2007. But collections based on that forecast have fallen short of target in the four months since it came out.
Even if revenues hit the downward-revised December forecast in the last three months of the fiscal year, the state would be off an additional $325 million from the budget approved by lawmakers – close to $1 billion less in total.”

Folks, we are in dire shape in Indiana. And it’s not going to get better until we put some progressive economic plans into action. We need to generate tax revenue, and the best way to do that is to create jobs. Oh, I know, Mitch did his part by privatizing everything under the sun, giving away the Toll Road, and look at all the jobs he brought to the state by pushing Daylight Savings Time down our throats.

But wait, we’re losing jobs. At a rate faster than most other states, and certainly faster than any surrounding state with the possible exception of Michigan. How many more jobs would we be losing if we hadn’t passed DST? It boggles the mind to think of it.

I know Mitch and his posse have been talking a big game about downsizing government and all, but the results are underwhelming to say the least. It comes down to the realization that Mitch has been downsizing Indiana’s public realm since he took office, and after five years, the results have come far short of the “island of growth” we were promised.

Look for more cuts in essential public services, like health care, education, transportation, and much else. After all, we’re not bringing in enough to pay the bills. Look for more talk about cutting expenditures through more privatization. Look for gubernatorial vetoes of almost any bill coming out of the legislature that has a price tag on it. We’ll be told we can’t afford these things. That we must tighten our belts and live within our means. We won’t be told how much of the mess we are in is the result of the bad policy and terrible management of the Daniels administration. How much of the mess is steeped in his short-sighted policies and empty promises.

Remember, Mitch Daniels was the Director of the Budget during the first two years of George W.’s regime, and oversaw the destruction of a sound fiscal position left to Bush by the Clinton era. He oversaw the turn around of a $236 billion annual surplus into a $400 billion annual deficit during his 29 month tenure in that job. He oversaw the first Bush tax cuts which accelerated a projected $3 trillion Clinton-era surplus into a $5 trillion deficit. The biggest negative turn around in American budgetary history. And he justified tailoring these tax cuts to overwhelmingly benefit the rich by arguing that the government should return the bulk of “excess” revenues to those in the highest income brackets, whose total tax payments were the greatest, no matter how unabashedly anti-democratic this policy might be.

Now he’s working his magic on Indiana by using his privatization mantra, a surly know-it-all attitude, and a tight reined dictatorial hold over the running of government in the state. We can only hope that there’s enough left in this state when he leaves office for a more progressive, far-sighted administration to be able to put back right by undoing the Daniels legacy.