Gov. Mitch Daniels spoke to The News-Sentinel about his tenure as governor Wednesday while in Fort Wayne for perhaps the last time before leaving office in January.
Here are some highlights from the interview, which ranged from last Tuesday's election to the Republican governor's agenda over the last eight years – including his successes and failures – to national politics and his new job as president of Purdue University.
On his own legacy and advice for Governor-elect Mike Pence
“I personally avoid the “L-word,” Daniels said, speaking of the legacy he will leave. “I hope in these eight years, Indiana has permanently lost its inferiority complex. I hope what will continue is a constant quest for innovation, new reforms and new steps forward.”
Daniels touted Indiana for having what he called the best business climate and lowest taxes in the country, and he said his administration and the state legislature achieved more reforms in eight years than he ever imagined possible before taking office.
He mentioned education reforms, the turnaround of the state budget and overhauls of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and Department of Child Services.
President Obama's health care law
Daniels said big issues at the national level – particularly a slow economic recovery, the $16 trillion debt and President Obama's health care law – will pose challenges for the next governor.
“This is a pathetically weak recovery now, and we have big problems looming,” he said. “The health care law is going to be extraordinarily difficult to implement and is already causing problems of its own.”
Daniels pointed to reports that some companies are cutting employees back to part-time work to avoid being required to provide health insurance.
At the state level, Daniels left his successor with the decision on whether to opt for federal government-run insurance exchanges or set up a different system, and whether to put more individuals on the Medicaid rolls. He said it wouldn't have been fair for him to make a decision just months before leaving office and saddle his successor with the job of making it happen.
“This law is going to be a nightmare to implement,” he said.
When asked about Mitt Romney's loss and how the Republican Party can reverse its fortunes, Daniels said he tends not to think of politics strictly along party lines. Using his two terms as governor as an example, Daniels said the GOP should not just turn out its base but reach out to everyone who believes in free market-oriented reforms.
“I never use the words 'conservative' and 'liberal,' and you seldom hear me talking in party terms,” he said, adding that Republicans should be inviting to anyone who believes in reform. “If you leave the door unlocked, a lot of nice people might drop in.”
He expressed optimism about the GOP's bench of possible presidential candidates in 2016. Daniels jokingly said the fact that he was asked to run for president showed how thin the options were, but he said Republicans found themselves “between generations” this year, with a new slate of strong options in four years. He mentioned only Texas Senator-elect Ted Cruz by name.
Daniels also pushed back against the notion that Indiana public school Superintendent Tony Bennett's loss to Democrat Glenda Ritz in last week's election amounted to a rejection of education reforms.
Daniels said Ritz did not campaign against Bennett's policies, but rather on personal criticism against the Republican incumbent and false claims that Bennett would eliminate all funding for arts programs. He pointed out that pro-reform Republicans won the governor's race and big majorities in the legislature.
“You've got a pro-reform governor, a pro-reform House, a pro-reform Senate, and they were all identified with these policies, by the way, and they won,” he said.
He attributed Bennett's loss to a weaker-than-expected showing toward the top of the ticket by Republicans Richard Mourdock and Pence, saying each would need to poll better to give their party's down-ballot candidates a better chance.
Daniels also addressed some of his administration's worst moments, including the failed attempt to privatize the state's Medicaid database by outsourcing its management to IBM and two big glitches in the revenue department that led to the misplacement of about $500 billion.
The governor pointed to the IBM episode as his biggest failure, admitting that the plan didn't work but also pointing out that his time as governor has always been marked by big ideas – which can sometimes fall flat.
“You are not going to hit the bulls-eye in the first try every time,” he said. “If you make no mistakes, you've been too timid. Just don't make the same mistake twice.”
When his term expires in January, Daniels will take a new job as president of Purdue University, where he said his goal will be to provide an “unquestionably excellent education that any kid can afford.”
Because of his new job at Purdue, Daniels has said he will withdraw from talking about politics after eight years as the de facto leader of the Indiana Republican Party. While Daniels said he will miss some aspects of politics, he said he wanted to get out while he was ahead.
“Better to go a day too soon than stay a day too long,” he said. “I think we've had a darn good run.”