The next four weeks end an epic era – two for that matter – in Indiana politics as U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar and Gov. Mitch Daniels prepare to leave elective office for what they say will be the final time.
For the last half century, Lugar and Daniels, once mentor and acolyte, ushered in profound changes to the Indiana political and policy landscape. It is unlikely that any future tandem of public officials will offer the width and breadth of dramatic policy and the good politics they rendered. Together they polled almost 10 million general election votes (Lugar 7.13 million; Daniels 2.8 million).
The story of this tandem exit has an intriguing alpha/omega quality to it. Both Lugar and Daniels were spawned out of the L. Keith Bulen political machine. But when it came to an end this year, the GOP machine came stunningly close to seizing up with potential catastrophic results for the party.
Daniels observed on Wednesday, “We ran on a very explicit and very detailed agenda. We did most of it.” Daniels cited “70-odd things” he promised to achieve in 2005.
Daniels cited the “skills gap” – the needs of high-tech employers and not enough available workers as an aspect unfulfilled. “Most of the other factors, we’re pretty good at, you know, cost, infrastructure, taxes and regulatory climate. We’re as good as the competition or better on most of those. We clearly aren't there with match of skills and jobs. It’s become more visible because of the recession and the non-recovery we’re in. With that many people looking for work and that many jobs available, you've got a real problem.”
He also cited “opening doors to building a better business climate” as his most important contribution. “If it does have staying power, it will lead to all the other good things,” Daniels said. “It will lead to jobs, therefore to revenues to do the things governments should do. It will underpin the success of the state. “
Asked how he has changed the office of governor during his eight years, Daniels said, “We did have a more activist approach, I think it’s fair to say, than our recent predecessors. I felt, and it’s the reason I ran in the first place, that Indiana was drifting and slipping and we needed to get in motion against a lot of big problems.”
As I observed a couple of weeks ago, the Daniels governorship can be viewed as “transformative” because of its audacious scope and conspicuous use of political capital.
The Lugar legacy, with the exception of his roles in the George W. Bush Iraq and Afghanistan wars, is already burnished. For instance, his freedom to farm legislation has opened a prosperous era of higher commodity prices and rising land values. That rural Republicans were so quick to turn on him is fascinating.
President Barack Obama called the Nunn-Lugar program “one of the country’s smartest and most successful national security programs.” Obama told an audience this month at the Pentagon, “Early in the Cold War, Einstein warned of the danger of our wisdom not keeping pace with our technology. And with Nunn-Lugar, our wisdom began to catch up.”
Obama added, “Your legacy will endure in a safer and more secure world, and a safer and more secure America. And we pray that this nation produces more leaders with your sense of decency and civility and integrity. We are grateful to you.”
The irony is that as he exits office, the Syrian regime appeared poised to use chemical weapons that Lugar fought so ardently to contain.
In Lugar's farewell address on the Senate floor, he warned, “The potential catastrophe remains of a major terrorist attack on American soil employing weapons of mass destruction. If that happens, in addition to the lives lost, our expectations for economic growth and budget balancing could be set back by a decade or more.”
Lugar observed, “It takes courage to declare dozens or even hundreds of positions and stand for office, knowing that with each position, you are displeasing some group of voters. But we do our country a disservice if we mistake the act of taking positions for governance. They are not the same thing. Governance requires adaptation to shifting circumstances. It often requires finding common ground with Americans who have a different vision than your own. It requires leaders who believe, like Edmund Burke, that their first responsibility to their constituents is to apply their best judgment.”
Lugar continued, “My hope is that senators will devote much more of their energies to governance. In a perfect world, we would not only govern, we would execute a coherent strategy. That is a very high bar for any legislative body to clear. But we must aspire to it in cooperation with the president because we are facing fundamental changes in the world order that will deeply affect America’s security and standard of living.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell observed, “He has excelled at everything he’s ever done. And, most incredibly, he’s done it with perfectly smooth elbows. Walk into any office on Capitol Hill, and you won’t find a single person who’d say a bad word about Dick Lugar.”
Indiana has evolved because of these two men. It might be a long time before we see anyone like them.