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June 26, 2012

BEAM: Cheri Daniels: Doing it her way

NEW ALBANY — Cheri Daniels isn’t your typical political wife. In the seven years she’s been Indiana’s first lady, she’s managed to stay true to her own beliefs and way of life despite intense media scrutiny and political pressures, something not easily done in today’s 24/7 headline news type of world.

In a time when the public tends to view many political spouses as an extension of their husband’s opinions and aspirations, Mrs. Daniels bucks the trend and maintains herself as a person separate from the partisan fray. She rarely hits the campaign trail and refuses to stump for legislation. She doesn’t seek the limelight and normally speaks to the media only to promote one of her many public service initiatives. In fact, she admits politics doesn’t interest her.

In other words, Mrs. Daniels refuses to let someone else define her. She’s the author of her own life, not the blog writers or statehouse reporters or political pundits that so readily like to comment on it.

Last week, I sat down with Mrs. Daniels at the governor’s residence in Indianapolis and discussed her tenure as first lady as well as other aspects of her Southern Indiana upbringing. I left with a newfound appreciation of what being a political spouse means and, moreover, the difficult balancing act one must accomplish in order to serve the state while still finding happiness in a situation not entirely of one’s choosing.

You don’t apply for the job of first lady. Nor are you personally elected by majority rule. Like few other positions, you only acquire the office when your spouse becomes president or governor. On the basis of marriage alone, the responsibility suddenly finds you.

Sure, the position offers perks. You are able to meet fantastic people and attend some pretty stellar events. Occupants of the office have the ability to help others through community service initiatives like Mrs. Daniels’ heart health awareness and literacy advocacy initiatives.

But there are drawbacks as well. Expectations are formed. Schedules are followed. Stories are written — some true, some not.

At times, people may attribute some of your spouse’s political views as your own without consideration that you are a separate person with separate beliefs. You give up some of the anonymity of your everyday life.

Nothing epitomized this lack of privacy so much as when speculation of her husband’s prospective White House run dominated the news last year. The Web buzzed with gossip and innuendo, many of the items having little to do with Gov. Daniels’ professional life and more to do with inquiring minds wanting to know about his personal life.

In all actuality, it was no one’s business.

In addition, the media dissected the governor’s and his family’s every move. When Mrs. Daniels gave the keynote speech at last year’s state Republican dinner, supporters and other onlookers took it as a sign from above that the governor would indeed seek the Republican nomination for U.S. President.

They were wrong.

Some media then tended to almost credit Mrs. Daniels as the sole reason her husband chose not to run. They presented her as a modern day Delilah, which is an unfair assertion given the complexity of the issue.

Yes, she said she and the rest of the family did not want him to seek the nomination for president. Life never returns to being the same after serving as leader of the free world.

Yet, in the end, it was still her husband’s choice not to run and put his family through the hardship, a choice that speaks volumes to his own moral fabric as much as to her own. Even if you don’t like Gov. Daniels’ policies or politics, you still have to respect his decision. How many of us could say we would have done the same?

Likewise, I respect Mrs. Daniels’ unapologetic way she executes her voluntary job as first lady. She picks and chooses her schedule and selects activities and initiatives that make her happy. She’s realized early on that life is too short to do things that cause misery or grief. Above all, she hasn’t changed who she is just because her husband happened to be elected governor of Indiana.

Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman best summed up Mrs. Daniels in a May 12, 2011, Washington Post article: “It’s not that (Mrs. Daniels) doesn’t do politics, she does politics in her own way, a way that’s enjoyable for her and that’s meaningful for her,” Skillman said to reporter Rachel Weiner.

“Don’t expect Cheri Daniels to change. She will be herself regardless of what comes in the future,” Skillman added.

Thank you, Mrs. Daniels, for serving Indiana these last seven years and best wishes in all your future endeavors.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at hoosiermandyblog@gmail.com or visit her blog at HoosierMandy.com.

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