May 29, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Ex-Indiana Gov. Daniels says Michigan getting its mojo back

Michigan used to have a reputation outside the state as a leader, and it’s good to see it returning, former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told officials attending the Mackinac Policy Conference on Thursday.

“Until not that long ago, most people where I live and most people elsewhere thought of Michigan as a vanguard state, as a progressive state, as a state that often led and innovated,” Daniels said. “Some of the bloom has been off that rose and now you are recovering it.”

Daniels, a Republican, was a keynote speaker during the second day of the three-day policy conference held annually on Mackinac Island. A former budget director under President George W. Bush, Daniels was mentioned as a possible 2012 presidential candidate and is now the president of Purdue University.

For years, organizers of the policy conference have been trying to land him as a speaker.

When Daniels was Indiana’s governor from 2005 to 2013, he cut and capped state property taxes, balanced the budget and cut state workers by 18 percent. He also signed the state’s right-to-work law.

“But no two states are alike and I would not presume for a minute that I know what the right choices are, or the right steps forward for your great state,” Daniels said.

“It’s never going to be easy, it’s never going to be fast,” Daniels said. “Now, the converse is true. ... It takes a long, long time to build a great state. You can tear it down pretty fast.”

Indiana has been rarely, if ever, been known for initiative and innovation, the state’s former governor said.

“This is something motivated those of us who came together a decade ago try to make something different happen,” Daniels said. “And we fought it every day. And we preached it every day. I used to say if you tread water in this state, you will sink. We had that to wrestle with, not a tradition of leadership.”

Great things are possible always, he said.

“It is important to try to find a vocabulary, specific proposals, a style of politics that gathers people together at a time in which we suffer from very discouraging, and in some respects dangerous, divisions across society,” Daniels said. “Big change requires a big majority.”

Public leadership starts with honesty, then simple confidence, he said. It must also be pragmatic.

Daniels said when he was governor, his administration tackled and improved child welfare, the corrections food department, the bureau of motor vehicles and infrastructure.

“Public confidence is important,” he said.

Pay your bills and don’t go broke, Daniels said.

“If you display honesty and a total commitment to integrity and you are very serious about delivering basic public services well and if you are careful about the public’s money, that’s the price of admission,” Daniels said. “The entry price for asking the public to join you and join together do big things, the kind of things you are trying to do here, the kind of things we were intent on doing in Indiana.”

If Indiana can do it, Daniels said Michigan can too.

“It’s great to see Michigan resuming a lot of forward progress and innovative ideas and the kind of leadership we’ve associated with you,” Daniels said. “Seeing Michigan back to leadership is a great thing for us all.”

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com
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