Why do Illinois Republicans look to Indiana's Daniels?

Trying to convince voters they can help fix Illinois' deep fiscal woes, most of the Republican candidates for governor look one state to the east and cite as a role model the man George W. Bush nicknamed “The Blade” — former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Winnetka businessman Bruce Rauner in particular called Daniels “the best governor in the country” in a Daily Herald survey and has cited his work often on the campaign trail.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale says he was with Daniels as he packed up his things to leave office at the end of his second term, and state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington says he often talked to Daniels during his 2010 campaign for governor.

Indiana political experts say Daniels' legacy as a governor is finding a way to achieve more executive power and get big things done, even when those ideas are controversial.

Kept to two terms by term limits in Indiana, Daniels earned a reputation for creating a business-friendly state and warring with union leaders to approve “right to work” rules that bar requiring union membership of workers. He also leased his state's toll roads.

Much like the Republicans in Illinois' race, Daniels has a history of needling our state's Democrats, saying after the January 2011 tax increase that being governor of Indiana was like living next door to “The Simpsons.”

But it could be hard for an Illinois governor to replicate some of Daniels' accomplishments, as the state's Democratic lawmakers likely wouldn't allow similar anti-union rules to go forward.

Daniels also never faced a legislature where the opposite party holds historic majorities and a famously powerful leader in House Speaker Michael Madigan.

“There is no Michael Madigan in Indiana,” said Ray Scheele, a political scientist at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

In addition, Illinois' budget troubles are far steeper.

“At no time has Indiana had the budget problems we have,” said Chris Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

Still, Daniels' overall reputation is one Republican candidates for governor in Illinois can find attractive when seeking support from primary voters, especially because his standing put him in the conversation for a 2012 presidential bid.

But candidates who point to Daniels as a model aren't necessarily trying to sell voters on the details of the governor's accomplishments.

Rather, they're name-checking a generally popular governor with a reputation of financial responsibility and business friendliness when many voters — and Republican primary voters in particular — view Illinois with the opposite reputation.

Dillard says he spent time with Daniels as he was working to close his Indianapolis office and talked to him about speeding up government's dealings with businesses.

“Gov. Daniels imposed upon me that government must regulate at the speed of business, not at the speed of government,” Dillard said.

Rauner has pushed term limits in Illinois, which in Indiana kept Daniels to two terms in office.

At a meeting with the Daily Herald editorial board earlier this month, Rauner wouldn't say if he'd try something like Daniels' move to cap property tax growth and raise the sales tax in exchange.

Rauner has pointed to Daniels' use of executive orders to bypass lawmakers and get things done. In Illinois, though, lawmakers can have the final say on executive orders, perhaps tying the hands of a governor.

Brady said he talked with Daniels often after winning Illinois' 2010 GOP primary for governor. The Republican Governors Association set Brady up with Daniels to campaign together occasionally and let the two talk if Brady had questions or ideas.

Brady praised Daniels' use of a public-private partnership to run Indiana's economic development agency.

In Illinois, the corresponding state agency has been in the spotlight in recent years as high-profile companies like Sears Holdings Inc. have asked for tax breaks managed by the agency.

In the Daily Herald survey, Brady also points to Louisiana's Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin's Scott Walker as possible models, as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Dillard looks up to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford of Chenoa didn't list anyone in particular, saying he'd look for any ideas that work.

Not everyone in Indiana was a Daniels' fan, of course. Budget cuts have consequences, and Daniels' moves caused trouble for local governments and schools, a fight that should sound familiar to people who follow Illinois politics.

“There was a lot of pain associated with it,” Scheele said.

Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, said Daniels' reputation for independence comes from launching proposals at which some Republicans might balk. His first push for property tax caps came with a 1 percentage point hike in the sales tax.

Daniels also proposed raising income taxes on people making more than $100,000 per year.

Daniels had never held elected office when he first became governor, but he had worked in former President George W. Bush's White House as a budget director.

“He brought that business frame of mind to government, but also knew government.” Mooney said.

Downs said that, ideology aside, Daniels' model of making the governor's office more powerful is one that executives of both parties might seek to mimic.

“You don't have to be a Republican to look at him as a road map,” he said.

Bill Brady, Kirk Dillard, Dan Rutherford and Bruce Rauner are seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2014.
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