Why I Opposed Right to Work Legislation in Indiana This Year

[Editor's Note: I wrote to Governor Daniels yesterday explaining that he'd riled up quite a few folks here at Ricochet and asked him if he'd like to explain his decision to oppose the right to work bill that was proposed by the Republican legislature in his state.  I didn't expect to hear back right away from a man who'd just had shoulder surgery, had to contend with Democrats walking out of his legislature, and was preparing to fly to Washington for the National Governors' Association annual meeting, but --lo!-- he wrote right back. Below, his response as e-mailed to me. --Diane Ellis, Ed.]

Diane, I’ve explained myself in the home state press for weeks, but since you asked:

Here in Indiana we have a very extensive 2011 agenda that these critics, if they took the time to look, would strongly applaud: another no-tax budget, an automatic refund to taxpayers past a specified level of state reserves, sweeping reform of archaic and anti-taxpayer local government, reduction of the corporate income tax, and the most far-reaching reform of education in America, including statewide vouchers for low and moderate income families.  We laid all this before the public during last year’s elections.

Into this a few of my allies chose to toss Right to Work (RTW).  I suggested studying it for a year and developing the issue for next year.  No one had campaigned on it; it was a big issue that hit the public cold.  I was concerned that it would provide the pretext for radical action by our Democratic minority that would jeopardize the entire agenda above, with zero chance of passing RTW itself.  And that is exactly what has happened.

We’re not giving up on the agenda we ran on, but this mistake presents a significant obstacle.  RTW never had a chance this year and now the task is to make sure that it doesn’t take a host of good government changes down with it.

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  1. Sisyphus

    Thank you for the explanation, Governor. In the absence of supporting polling data or election feedback, having the patience to debate and consider the will of the governed does seem prudent.

    Not being in or from Indiana, the threat of non-cooperation from the minority party lacks specificity. Is anyone in the room familiar with minority tactics as they apply to Indiana?

  2. Kenneth

    Well said, Governor.  It’s easy for folks who don’t live in Indiana and don’t know much about your agenda and the consequent political challenges you face to carp.  And frankly, many of them didn’t even know that you’d taken on public sector unions six years ago. 

    I’m glad you cleared the air. 

  3. Kenneth

    Diane, thanks for contacting Governor Daniels.  We sure get a lot of value for $3.47 a month.

  4. Rob Long
    C
    Kenneth: Diane, thanks for contacting Governor Daniels.  We sure get a lot of value for $3.47 a month. · Feb 24 at 10:49am

    We’re going to pull that quote and use it in our next investor’s fundraising deck!

  5. Mel Foil
    Kenneth

    etoiledunord: RTW, I consider a dignity-of-Man issue, just like fighting slavery was 200 years ago. You do it whenever and wherever possible. To me, it’s never a backburner issue. I don’t want unions forcing me to do anything, whether it’s staying home from work, or giving them money so they can give it to my political enemies. If they were really of service, they wouldn’t have to force people to join. · Feb 24 at 11:47am

    Right to work is an issue that affects about 7% of the population – those currently enrolled in private-sector unions.  Governor Daniels has bigger fish to fry for the people of Indiana. · Feb 24 at 11:52am

    Well, we all have a hill that we’re willing to die on, and RTW is mine. Modern unions reek of socialist conformity, and I hate everything about them. Period.

  6. LowcountryJoe

    Whether it’s Right to Work, trade liberalization, reforming the Ponzi scheme known as Social Security, etcetera, some things are worth championing.  One can make excuses for not doing the politically tough things by suggesting pragmatism, wishes of constituents, or picking one’s battles but that will only make the smaller things just as tough while nothing worth doing [or, rather, undoing] get done/undone.  Besides, if one has been elected, they’re already representing their constituents…until the next election.  Perhaps the voters will actually re-elect you if you grow a spine?

  7. Kenneth
    etoiledunord

    Kenneth

    etoiledunord: RTW, I consider a dignity-of-Man issue, just like fighting slavery was 200 years ago. You do it whenever and wherever possible. To me, it’s never a backburner issue. I don’t want unions forcing me to do anything, whether it’s staying home from work, or giving them money so they can give it to my political enemies. If they were really of service, they wouldn’t have to force people to join. · Feb 24 at 11:47am

    Right to work is an issue that affects about 7% of the population – those currently enrolled in private-sector unions.  Governor Daniels has bigger fish to fry for the people of Indiana. · Feb 24 at 11:52am
    Well, we all have a hill that we’re willing to die on, and RTW is mine. Modern unions reek of socialist conformity, and I hate everything about them. Period. · Feb 24 at 12:04pm

    That’s fair enough.  But don’t expect Governor Daniels to bend his priorities to suit your preference.

  8. katievs
    Kenneth

    Well, that may be how it struck you.  It certainly isn’t how I perceived it. · Feb 24 at 11:29am

    Well, no.  Obviously.  But you have made clear that you don’t really care about the social issues. His attempt to neutralize those wouldn’t bother you.  

    The point is it does bother a huge portion of the base, which the next Republican nominee will need to win the White House.

  9. Rob Long
    C
    etoiledunord

    Well, we all have a hill that we’re willing to die on, and RTW is mine. Modern unions reek of socialist conformity, and I hate everything about them. Period. · Feb 24 at 12:04pm

    I agree, and I’m a union member.  Part of my Writers Guild dues are kicked up to the AFL.  Part of my paycheck is paying for the ham sandwiches they’re passing out in Madison.  

    On the other hand, for me, it’s not as pressing a national issue as public union pension/benefit reform, tax cuts, budget slashing, and education reform.

  10. katievs

    In other words, that portion of the base was already uneasy with Mitch Daniels.  Right now they’re rallying enthusiastically behind Scott Walker. 

    It was bad timing.

  11. Peter Hintz
    katievs:

    But there’s also a national narrative unfolding.  And if Governor Daniels hopes to enter the presidential race, he will have to appeal to the base nationwide.· Feb 24 at 11:22am

    Let’s hope he doesn’t throw all of his camaign promises under the bus in order to appeal to ideological purists who don’t even live in Indiana.

  12. Andrea Ryan
    Mike Visser:  …

    Mitch Daniels:

    Into this a few of my allies chose to toss Right to Work (RTW).  I suggested studying it for a year and developing the issue for next year.  No one had campaigned on it; it was a big issue that hit the public cold. 

    Governor Daniels, forgive me for being naive, but why the heck would the state legislators launch this huge and incendiary effort without involving you in the strategy first and making sure you were all on the same page?  Regardless of who did what, it makes you all look bad in the eyes of the rest of the country.  It just looks bad and removes the spotlight from all your outstanding accomplishments.

  13. Kenneth
    LowcountryJoe: Perhaps the voters will actually re-elect you if you grow a spine? · Feb 24 at 12:06pm

    Was that really necessary?  Have some respect for a man of accomplishment.

    Besides, Governor Daniels isn’t eligible for re-election; he’s just trying to do his best for the citizens of Indiana.

  14. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    In my two posts on Daniels, I chose not to make much of the Right to Work issue because I knew that I did not know very much about the local situation. Before deciding what I think, I would want to hear the other side in Indiana.

    One thing is clear. Daniels failed to rein in his fellow Republicans. Whether they are out of control or he is remiss I cannot say. And he did make a statement to the press that seemed to all concerned to be in praise of the Democratic legislators fleeing the state. This may hurt him; it may be a blip on the screen. We shall see.

    I am struck by the failure of his admirers in the Ricochet community to address the question of his handling of the repeal of the Missouri Plan and court appointments. Is that, as I suspect, indefensible?

  15. Rob Long
    C
    LowcountryJoe: Whether it’s Right to Work, trade liberalization, reforming the Ponzi scheme known as Social Security, etcetera, some things are worth championing.  One can make excuses for not doing the politically tough things by suggesting pragmatism, wishes of constituents, or picking one’s battles but that will only make the smaller things just as tough while nothing worth doing [or, rather, undoing] get done/undone.  Besides, if one has been elected, they’re already representing their constituents…until the next election.  Perhaps the voters will actually re-elect you if you grow a spine? · Feb 24 at 12:06pm

    I agree.  And Daniels is a perfect example.  His popularity was in the low 30′s for his first couple of years in office — precisely because of his budget-cutting and union reform.  But then, voters saw his plans work — they saw Indiana’s economy doing better than its neighbors — and voted him in for a second term.  He won 58% of the vote in a state that went for Obama.

  16. Casey Way
    Stuart Creque: Gov. Daniels, I am confused.  You worried that Indiana Democrat legislators would be so provoked by RTW — something you say had no chance of passage — that they would take radical action.  Why would you then be confident that school vouchers would be less inflammatory and be able to pass without precipitating the same radical response from Democrat lawmakers? · Feb 24 at 11:04am

    School vouchers would be less inflammatory because throughout the course of the election, the topic had been made part of the discussion.  In the broader debate that is an election, the voters chose to vote with the party that argued for vouchers.  They consented that this legislation might be a possibility.  This is by no means to restrict legislation to election platforms or the contrary but the danger is a “We won the election.  We write the bill” mentality.  The election provided an initial reference point on which Daniels and his opponents could gauge public opinion and future strategy.  RTW didn’t have this and now this point is set at Democrat walkout.  I understand the frustrations from an outside viewpoint but I think the reasoning is sound, succinct, and frankly a smart approach. 

  17. Kenneth
    katievs

    Kenneth

    Well, that may be how it struck you.  It certainly isn’t how I perceived it. · Feb 24 at 11:29am

    Well, no.  Obviously.  But you have made clear that you don’t really care about the social issues. His attempt to neutralize those wouldn’t bother you.  

    The point is it does bother a huge portion of the base, which the next Republican nominee will need to win the White House. · Feb 24 at 12:08pm

    Really?  Where else are you going to go?  Vote for Obama?  Sit on your hands? 

    Empty threat.

  18. LowcountryJoe
    Peter Hintz

    katievs:

    But there’s also a national narrative unfolding.  And if Governor Daniels hopes to enter the presidential race, he will have to appeal to the base nationwide.· Feb 24 at 11:22am

    Let’s hope he doesn’t throw all of his camaign promises under the bus in order to appeal to ideological purists who don’t even live in Indiana. · Feb 24 at 12:11pm

    Ideological purist = someone who champions for liberty and wants/expects politicians of the GOP stripe to do the same?

    Forgive me for trying to be a purist; trying to free myself from anti-liberty tainting where it exists.

  19. Kenneth
    Paul A. Rahe: In my two posts on Daniels, I chose not to make much of the Right to Work issue because I knew that I did not know very much about the local situation. Before deciding what I think, I would want to hear the other side in Indiana.

    One thing is clear. Daniels failed to rein in his fellow Republicans. Whether they are out of control or he is remiss I cannot say. And he did make a statement to the press that seemed to all concerned to be in praise of the Democratic legislators fleeing the state. This may hurt him; it may be a blip on the screen. We shall see.

    I am struck by the failure of his admirers in the Ricochet community to address the question of his handling of the repeal of the Missouri Plan and court appointments. Is that, as I suspect, indefensible? · Feb 24 at 12:13pm

    It’s not our “failure”.  We just don’t happen to share your animus towards Governor Daniels – perhaps the most successful Governor of the past several decades.

  20. LowcountryJoe
    Kenneth

    LowcountryJoe: Perhaps the voters will actually re-elect you if you grow a spine? · Feb 24 at 12:06pm

    Was that really necessary?  Have some respect for a man of accomplishment.

    Besides, Governor Daniels isn’t eligible for re-election; he’s just trying to do his best for the citizens of Indiana. · Feb 24 at 12:13pm

    Yes, it was, I think.  Especially since he’s not eligible for re-election — a fact I did not know.

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