Mitch Daniels Clarifies "Perfectly Legitimate" Comments

Guy Benson

2/24/2011 10:14:00 AM - Guy Benson
Regular readers will recall my lengthy screed about Governor Daniels' Tuesday press conference, at which he made a series of seemingly infuriating remarks on the debate over Indiana's controversial union-related bill.  By Wednesday, the Governor's office was in full damage-control mode, issuing a series of welcome clarifications.  Why it took nearly 24 hours for Team Daniels to correct the record is a bit vexing, but better late than never.  First, on the question of not offering sufficient support for Governors Walker and Kasich, Daniels press shop released this statement:

There’s been a lot of mixing up what’s going on in Indiana with what’s happening in Wisconsin. Governor Mitch Daniels ended collective bargaining for state employees in Indiana six years ago. He issued Executive Order 05-14 on his first day in office. Now, the governor is working on codifying in state law what’s been practiced here since then:  that it takes legislative action for a state to allow its employees to bargain rather than the stroke of a governor's pen, that state employees may choose to deduct union dues directly from their paychecks but can't be forced to do so (our practice now, and 95 percent of our state employees choose not to pay union dues today) and that current due process for employees continues. This proposal does not extend beyond state employees.

Here’s what Governor Daniels said about public unions and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts on the Diane Rehm show on NPR two days ago: 

The most powerful special interests in America today are the government unions. They're the leading financial contributors. They have the biggest PACs they have muscle, a lot of times their contracts provide for time off to go politick and lobby, and over the last few decades, if there were ever injustices or shortfalls in how we took care of government employees, it's been fixed and over-fixed. I think that what Scott Walker is trying to do is in the public interest.

Not exactly a guns-blazing, full-throated defense, but certainly supportive.   The bulk of my criticism surrounded Daniels approving comments about Indiana Assembly Democrats' decision to follow their Wisconsin comrades' example and flee the state rather than debate a bill they oppose.  I was flabbergasted that Daniels appeared to call this tactic "perfectly legitimate."  The Governor now says he spoke imprecisely, which led to a distortion of his position:

...I need to clarify a confusion I personally caused yesterday. I didn’t realize it at the time; most of you were not confused; yesterday I began extemporaneous comments by saying that the activities of the last two days - and I think I gestured to the atrium - were entirely appropriate. I was talking about the protestors and those who came to express their views and the strength of those views. They are welcome here, today and every day. What they’ve done is completely appropriate. It was not to condone the activities of the house Democratic caucus; which is completely unacceptable of course. Rereading my own comments, I could see how they could have been misconstrued and a couple of people did. So just for those of you who did misunderstand, my bad, but I don’t want any question left.  Huge distinction between people exercising their first amendment rights and people who take a public paycheck, walk off the job, go to another state, and try to wreck the democratic process.  

The House Democrats have shown a complete contempt for the democratic process.  The way that works—as we all learned in grade school—is that if you seek public office you come do your duty, you argue, you debate, you amend if you can, you vote “no” if you feel you should.  If you are not successful, you go home and take your case to the voters.  You don’t walk off the job, take your public paycheck with you, and attempt to bring the whole process to a screeching halt. You know if they persist, the Democratic Party of Indiana will need a rebranding effort because this is as anti-democratic as behavior can be.


I'm glad, and frankly relieved, that Daniels has corrected the record.  One nagging question remains, though:  Didn't Daniels partially reward Democrats' poor, "anti-democratic" behavior by recommending the object of their tantrum be taken off the table?  I appreciate that he has other priorities, but couldn't he have taken up a bill he's not wild about just on principle to serve notice that these manuevers will not be tolerated?

UPDATE: An emailer passes along this story, indicating that Daniels is prepared to take a hard line with renegade Indiana Democrats if their tactics persist:

Gov. Mitch Daniels says he will hold special sessions from now until the New Year and send the bills to the House Democrat’s leader if the Democrats persist in killing bills with their walkout.

Democrats are in Illinois, in their third-day of a walkout that began Monday in a protest over a bill targeting labor union talks but which encompasses many more labor and education bills. House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said Democrats would not return today, and that it was a “day to day” discussion about when they would return.

Democrats issued a list of 11 bills they say are concerns, including one which already has passed the legislature and is on its way to Daniels’ desk: a fix to the state’s busted unemployment fund. That legislation cuts benefits to the jobless while also raising taxes on businesses.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Republicans would not negotiate and that the Democrats needed to return from Illinois to do their jobs.  Daniels said the Democrats actions are “un-democratic” and that they simply are trying to re-fight the November elections, in which voters put Republicans in charge.  “You don’t walk off the job, take your public paycheck with you and bring the whole process to a screeching halt,” Daniels said.

UPDATE II - Daniels traveled to Ohio yesterday, where he hailed Buckeye State GOP leaders for their leadership in the fight against public sector unions:

He praised Ohio Republicans, who this year took over control of the governor's office and the House of Representatives...When he brought up collective bargaining reform in Ohio -- an issue that's drawn thousands to hearings in Columbus in the past two weeks -- people listened.

"There may have been a time when government employees needed protection and needed reform, but that was a long time ago," Daniels said.  He called the unions "the privileged elite."

"Public jobs grew, while private jobs were lost. Public salaries went up, while private sector salaries are shrinking," Daniels said. "It's time to interrupt that loop in the public interest."