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Adjust Your Rear-View Mirrors: We're Taking Our Own Look Back At The Year Of Mitch

Partyhat_1It's the day after the day after Christmas fell on a Sunday, so there is, predictably, not much in the news. Which means it's one of those rare times TDW is going to have to come up with something to say that's not based on one particular story but rather on our thoughts generally about politics and the creatures who live for it.

One thing that's been bugging us for the last couple weeks is the appearance of so many year-end summary stories about Mitch Daniels. Now, to be clear and conspiracy-free, you have to understand that there's usually no media bias in these stories. Quite often, it's just an editor saying, huh, look, there's a huge hole in the news budget. You know, let's go talk to the Governor about what he's done this year.

And the Governor, for his part, isn't going to sit there in his Cosby sweater talking about all the folks he's pissed off.

But we will.

In a post that, for lack of a better title, we'll call "The Thousand Ways And One Way That Mitch Daniels Snowed The Media But Alienated The Electorate: A 2006 Retrospective."

Way back 18 months or so ago, the Guv rode around the state in an RV, wearing regular-people clothes and staying in spare rooms. He ate pork tenderloins while doing his best to keep both his snooty wife and fluffy LG candidate hidden in the background. He talked like and about normal Hoosiers. And lots of them, through no real fault of their own, bought into the Everyman white noise and overlooked the undertones.

Which brings us to the most frequent thing we hear media and political insiders say: "Well, the Governor hasn't done anything since taking office that he didn't say he'd do."

Technically, that's not an incorrect statement, though we take issue with the fact that Daniels did, in fact, tell people during the campaign that he was for Central time. Oh, and he didn't flesh out many specifics of his plans, leaving them shrouded in half-legalese, half-twang.

But there's a clear disconnect between the media and insiders and real voters on this point. Real voters, if you ask them or just tune into any given editorial page, are pretty mad about this Governor. His SurveyUSA poll numbers reflect that. They're ticked because this ain't what they bargained for. This is a guy who, in his first week as Governor, stripped state employees of their collective bargaining rights and embarked on a campaign to smear his predecessors, despite having promised, just a few weeks earlier, that this would be a new day in state government, free of slime and nasty rhetoric.

The media, on the other hand, spent months and months covering this guy, looking, as reporters on the campaign trail do, for any shred of news to report. They caught the Toll Road lease story. They caught the time zone debacle. They caught all his pre-election comments about privatization, reducing government, streamlining agencies, cutting services and yes, even whacking the reputations of prior Governors. These things do not surprise them at all.

Therein lies the disconnect: The media are too close to it to see what Hoosiers have taken and continue to take away from the morning paper or the evening news.

We buy trends. We buy positive feelings. We make decisions from the gut. And before November 2004, we believed -- the collective "we," not the folks at TDW, since we're born cynics -- that Mitch Daniels, as a product, would be good for Indiana. He told us he loved this state and that running it in our best interests would be his Number One priority. We somehow glossed over the details and invested in the finished widget. Turns out, we bought a Pinto.

Unfortunately, manufacturer's defect or not, we can't return our faulty goods until 2008.

In the mean time, though, we wish the media would take a step back and look at what this Governor has really done to the state in the year he's been in office.

On jobs
We have the same number of jobs now that we had at the beginning of the year, and we've suffered record-setting losses the last two months in a row. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. can claim all the victories it wants, but when you ignore an entire region -- a region that includes one of the poorest counties in the state -- for 11 months straight, you might want to rethink your plan of action. Oh, and your outdated 1930s vocabulary, for that matter. Also, try not to call $9 an hour jobs "excellent" and say things that make working-class Hoosiers feel like you only care about their bosses' bank accounts.

On state government
The Governor claims to have reduced the size of state government through attrition, layoffs and privatization. True enough, though more accurate if you replace "layoffs" with "unceremonious terminations of good employees who happened to have worked, though not necessarily to have voted, for Democrats." He's sent thousands of jobs and contracts to out-of-state companies, breaking his most central campaign promise to rebuild an allegedly broken public bidding system. But hey, all you state employees who're left treading water within this miserable structure, here's a 2 percent raise that won't even cover your cost-of-living increases from this year to next.

On government services
You can only hide so long behind the word "streamlining" before people begin to notice that "streamlining" is hurting their ability to interact with government. Which is something the Governor seems to have forgotten is an essential function of the "company" he currently heads. Government isn't a corporation, though we note that Daniels' track record running companies isn't exactly stellar. You can't come in and make sweeping changes without thinking first, and you don't get to choose your customer base, no matter how much easier that would make your job. But that's what this guy has done, and Hoosiers now have fewer BMV branches, restricted voting access and downgraded family and social services, to name a few. They're also about to lose control of one of the state's largest assets, the Indiana Toll Road, if lawmakers buy the same malarkey Daniels fed the electorate last year.

On character
Daniels rarely misses a cue to bash former Govs. Joe Kernan and Frank O'Bannon. He just can't help himself. And, as we all know from the car-bombing comment, he frequently insists on writing his own material. A smart political operative -- Mark Lubbers, you were no bargain at free, but your not-so-savvy brain has cost taxpayers $126,000 in bad advice -- would know that we're in Indiana. We don't like smear during campaigns, and we especially don't like it from people after they win. The only reason the Governor persists in sliming Kernan and O'Bannon is to deflect attention from his poor track record. To himself: "If I continue to trash them, I will look better, because it will look like I am fixing things that are broken. Driven into a ditch. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera." Note to the Guv: Start leading, stop whining.

On ethics
This might not be a big issue for most people, but it should be for the media. This is a guy who rallied the troops with a cry that made state government look like a stomping ground for the critically dishonorable. And yet, he doesn't seem to mind, now that he's in office, doing the very same things he accused his predecessors of doing. Using state property for fundraising? Letting agency heads host private, partisan "meet-and-greets" with contractors? Hiring a couple dozen unemployed corporate douches with degrees to displace institutional knowledge? Bring it on.

On campaign promises
Maybe he's technically keeping them, though we again take issue with that assessment. But what Mitch Daniels has completely forgotten is that most people, pedants and lawyers aside, don't give two hoots about technicalities. We want the truth. Don't try to define what "is" is. Just shoot straight with us, and we'll be okay with you. But once you start back-peddling and reconstructing issues, you can pass "Go," but hands off the two hunny, honey.

On governing
This is harder than it looks. You have to play nicely with the General Assembly. Remember, you need them more than they need you. You need to remember that the media don't have to be coddled, but they need not to have you insult them and their intelligence. When writing letters to the editor, for example, try to be thoughtful, not rude. And get a new press secretary, for God's sake. Not only do you need to remember lawmakers and the Fourth Estate, but you'd be wise to understand that you're not in power to be in power. You're there because you convinced people your vision would lead our state forward and change it for the better. You say change is painful. We say change doesn't have to be, but pain tends to ensue when you cram anything down someone's throat without asking first. You do not have a mandate from heaven; you have a few more percentage points than the other guy, and you serve both sides of that split. Remember that even though you hate us, you still owe it to us to be a good Governor.

Which brings us to the end of our rant. We're not unhappy with the media generally, and we don't ever expect to see a story headlined, "Mitch Daniels Breaks All Campaign Promises And Eats A Live Kitten At State Fair." We just want to put our year-end spin out there into the mix for the few hundred folks who stop by each day to see what's going on in our little corner of cyberspace.

We'll be checking in and posting new items all week, though we might take off the part of the weekend that involves champagne toasts, midnight kisses and aspirin. Thanks, as always, for chillin' with us.


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Right (I mean write) on!!!!

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