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January 6, 2013

HAYDEN: A conversation with Gov. Mitch Daniels

INDIANAPOLIS — With just few days left in his second and final term, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels sat down with CNHI Statehouse Bureau Chief Maureen Hayden to share some thoughts about his eight years in office.

Much of the conversation focused on the Daniels’ philosophy about limited government and his efforts to bring more efficiency and accountability to state government spending.

Daniels’ tenure as governor followed a career spent in and out of public service, working for former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. He was also head of the Hudson Institute think tank and a top executive at Eli Lilly & Co.

Supporters and critics alike agree that the Republican Daniels transformed Indiana state government; through a series of measures he brought from his work in the private sector, he slashed state spending, cut the number of state employees, implemented performance metrics, outsourced some public services and took other steps that resulted in a financial turnaround for the state.

He came into office facing an $800 million budget deficit. As he leaves office, Indiana has a $1 billion budget surplus.

Here are some excerpts from that interview:

On his first experience working in government, as an intern and later chief of staff for then-Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar in the early 1970s:

“It was very useful…You see how important good government can be to an ordinary person; the protection of life and property, the basic services that we sometimes take for granted, though we shouldn’t. I loved local government as a young person. I used to say, ‘If it was only getting a dead dog dragged off somebody’s yard, at the end of every day, could say I did that. That mattered to them.’ ”

On his later experiences working in Washington, DC., as a Senate staffer for Lugar and later in the White House:

“I saw the other extreme, the federal government, which is just a dysfunctional wreck and in so many ways, just a disgrace. And I think somewhere in there, (I developed) this obvious thought …which has been especially important to say to Republican audiences: If government should be doing something, it should be doing it very well and we should all agree on that.

“You know it bothers me how divided people are these days, so quick to throw rocks at each other, so I look for things that everyone should agree on. So here’s one: Let’s agree to find a way to build infrastructure. But here’s another one: whatever government does, it should do really well.”

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