It isn't that he has simply accomplished economies. Daniels believes in improving government's performance -- cutting less important spending in favor of more important, and keeping close tabs on results. Under his leadership, the state has increased K-12 education funding by 12 percent, hired 800 new child welfare workers, added 150 more state troopers, provided free or reduced price medications to 288,000 Hoosiers through the Rx for Indiana program, reduced wait times at the DMV to fewer than eight minutes, funded a $10 billion infrastructure improvement plan to repair roads and bridges, and improved health care for the low-income through the Healthy Indiana Plan, which encouraged healthy behaviors (and which may be unsustainable if Obamacare is not repealed).
If there is one way in which Daniels differs from many conservatives, it isn't on the importance of social issues; it's on government. Hanging on the wall of his office are portraits of illustrious Hoosiers, from Eli Lilly to Cole Porter to Gus Grissom.
"Our job (in government) is to make it easier for them to do what they do," he explains.
And it's worth doing well. It matters to Daniels that people have faith in their elected leaders -- in the system.
"Oh, it's easy to trash government," he acknowledges, "I could do it all day. But you have to be careful not to suggest that all of government is corrupt and wasteful and full of knaves. We have some huge problems to solve -- many created by government -- but government is going to have to solve them, too."
And that brings us back to his reluctance to run for president. Daniels wrote all of his own campaign commercials -- as he writes all of his own speeches (or composes them, since he is one of those natural public speakers who needs only a couple of index cards). His final commercial in 2008 promised that if voters re-elected him, "This is last time you'll ever have to see me in a commercial." It was typical of Daniels' self-effacing humor. But he meant it. And he really hates the idea that Hoosiers would think he was insincere.
My 14-year-old son, Ben, upon hearing this, said, "Well, OK, tell him not to run commercials in Indiana!" -- a solution that might seem a bit lawyerly to the straight arrow from the heartland. For now, he remains undecided, focused for at least the next four months on dramatically improving education in Indiana. After that, perhaps Hoosier voters can extend a waiver about that last commercial ...