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Daniels brags, justifies as protestors roar

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Gov. Mitch Daniels enters the House chamber to deliver his final State of the State Address.
  • Rebecca Townsend
  • Gov. Mitch Daniels enters the House chamber to deliver his final State of the State Address.

By Megan Banta
The Statehouse File

In his final State of the State Address, Gov. Mitch Daniels laid out his case for why right to work would be good for Indiana even though it is such a divisive issue.

"Because economic opportunity, and building America's best home for jobs, is the central goal of all we do, every year should include a bold stroke to enhance it," he said.

Daniels said right to work is the obvious way to do that this year because it would build a better business climate.

"The idea that no worker should be forced to pay union dues as a condition of keeping a job is simple, and just," he said. "But the benefits in new jobs would be large: a third or more of growing or relocating businesses will not consider a state that does not provide workers this protection."

In a 30-minute speech interrupted by applause 24 times and marked by protests audible within the chamber of the Indiana House of Representatives but not on the broadcast, Daniels urged the General Assembly to consider right to work despite contention over the issue—contention made obvious by 17 absent House Democrats.

He said while he respects the minority's passionate stance against right to work, he spent a year studying the proposal before he decided to support it.

"I did not come lightly, or quickly, to the stance I take now. If this proposal limited in any way the right to organize, I would not support it," he said. "But we just cannot go on missing out on the middle-class jobs our state needs, just because of this one issue."

House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, said he and other Democrats were disappointed that Daniels is backing right to work.

"At a time when so many are looking to the state for help, our governor's only response is to continue to endorse a plan that will result in fewer jobs at lower pay in unsafe workplaces: 'right to work for less,'" Bauer said.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said there are better ways to bring jobs to Indiana, like using the $1.7 billion surplus.

"There's no reason that the governor should keep that money in his drawer so that he can brag about Indiana wearing a nice prom dress," she said.

Protestors, mostly union members against the new right to work bill, filled the third and fourth floors of the Statehouse, jeering at Daniels as he walked into and out of the House chamber and every time he paused during his speech.

One protestor, Mary Millspaugh from Montezuma, is part of the United Steelworkers. She drove an hour and a half after work to make it to the Statehouse.

Millspaugh said she came because Mitch Daniels is anti-union and a right-to-work bill would be another anti-union bill.

"I hope that our lawmakers go with their conscience and do the right thing because it's not just the unions that are going to be affected by right to work," she said. "It will have the trickle-down effect, and people from us to McDonald's are going to suffer from that."

This year, Indiana State Police protection for the governor has been stepped up, and the State of the State Address was no exception.

The protestors were not allowed to stand behind the windows facing the House chambers. Instead, they chanted "No right to work" and "Mitch is a liar" from across the balcony.

Dan Parker, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said what Hoosiers heard was "15 minutes of historic back-patting, a few minutes of storytelling and a load of propaganda about policies that will harm working Hoosiers, set our state further behind."

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, disagreed.

"I know there has been criticism from the other side because that's their job to criticize," Long said. "In all honesty, I thought it was a good speech that touched on a lot of the highlights that have been accomplished and also took some time to talk about where we're going with this year's session as well."

Daniels encouraged lawmakers strengthen legislation against human trafficking before the Super Bowl, pass a smoking ban, make a greater response to the stage collapse at the state fair, make higher education more affordable by addressing "credit creep" and reform local government.

He looked back on past speeches, citing them as evidence that in his eight years, Indiana has grown closer to that dream.

"In one, I recounted telling an East Coast CEO who wondered what Indiana was known for that one day he wouldn't have to ask. Tonight, he doesn't," Daniels said. "In another, I said I hoped we would become bolder in our embrace of chance, take our motto from the inspiring athletes of the Special Olympics, and be a braver state. Tonight, we are."

Daniels said Indiana has come a long way since he first took office, becoming a leader among states with "an honestly balanced budget, a strong protective reserve in our state saving account, and the first AAA credit rating in state history."

But Daniels said his administration will not loaf—because Indiana is "not where we want to be, nowhere close."

He said his administration is working hard to accelerate the Major Moves transportation program, finish the Hoosier Heartland Corridor, overhaul the state's welfare system and complete other projects.

Daniels pulled out an atomic clock, given to him by a former governor of another state. He said it sits in front of him every day, reminding him to "use every moment as well as I can to make Indiana a place of greater promise and prosperity."

"I now have 369 days, 5 hours, 28 minutes, and 9 seconds left as the people's employee," he said. "I pledge to use every one of them, as wisely as I can, in the service of those who sent us to this chamber."

Reporters Timothy Cox, Alec Gray, Olivia Ober, Zach Osowski and Ellie Price of The Statehouse File contributed to this story.

Megan Banta is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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