Indiana's Daniels sees path for Rauner to advance agenda
CHICAGO -- The state leader that Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner most admires - former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels - says Rauner faces steeper challenges, but also has a path to enact real change.
Rauner, who takes office Monday, says Daniels is the person he "studied under" and wants to emulate during his stint as chief executive.
Both are Republicans and successful businessmen. Like Rauner, Daniels inherited a budget shortfall when he took office in 2004, but he turned the deficit into a surplus, largely through spending cuts. Along the way, he privatized the Indiana Toll Road and angered labor unions by using an executive order to strip state workers of their power to collectively bargain.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Daniels acknowledged that Rauner faces budget problems far worse than what Indiana had, and has to deal with a heavily Democratic Legislature. But the current president of Purdue University says there are ways for Rauner to push through his agenda. The following are edited excerpts of the interview:
Q: What does it mean to you when Rauner says he wants to model his tenure after yours?
A: There's nothing mysterious or too complex about the things we did in most cases. ... But what I hope they're talking about is a level up, meaning go for big change. Try to jolt your state into a higher gear, where not just specific things you do but a mentality of progress will carry on after you move on.
You've got a political culture over there, I'm sure it's not as bad as sometimes presented, but you know what I'm talking about. ... So I hope that what he aspires to is to jolt Illinois into a whole different culture and mentality that says goodbye to all that.
Q: What do you see as fundamental starting points?
A: We did a lot of things first by executive order that we then, when we could, converted to statute. Ethics measures for sure. Also regulatory changes. My impression is ... whether it's energy or environment or agriculture or just general business, things are much more restrictive there than they might need to be.
Q: You cut spending in many instances by reducing or eliminating line items from the budgets legislators sent you. Can that be duplicated in Illinois?
A: It's not the worst thing at all if you're a legislator - especially if you've got a real mess fiscally - to vote for money, which then this big bad guy in the governor's office doesn't spend. You get the best of both (worlds). You get credit from whoever wanted the money spent, but you're not on the hook for a continuing fiscal disaster. So I learned to sort of roll with that.
Q: Any final advice?
A: I'm excited for Illinois because in direct proportion to the difficulties that are faced over there, it's a great state that I think has assets that most states would be thrilled to have, and could be performing at a higher level. I just hope for everybody's sake that he and folks on the other side of the aisle seize that opportunity.
It's exactly the moment when states, sometimes countries, rise to their best. So maybe it will happen.