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Saturday, August 30, 2003
By LUKE MESSER
The Mitch Daniels “100-Day Tour of Indiana” came to Shelby County earlier this week. The Republican candidate for governor arrived in a white motor home covered with signatures of supporters from around the state. It was old-fashioned grass-roots campaigning at its best.
About six weeks ago, Daniels, the former budget director for President George W. Bush, began his campaign for governor vowing to hit all 92 Hoosier counties in 100 days. He has already visited more than 60 counties and will hit all 92 by mid-September. Then, he plans to go right back out and visit all 92 again.
I traveled along as Mitch Daniels visited Shelby County. He met with local government officials, toured the PK USA facilities, explored Major Hospital, interviewed with local newspaper and radio reporters, had a milkshake at Compton’s Cow Palace, spoke at a luncheon at the Elk’s Lodge and met with students in Morristown. Along the way, Mitch managed to stop by a roadside flea market to buy a couple of pairs of sunglasses. It was a very full day.
Mitch Daniels calls his campaign a “16-month job interview.” His current campaign swing is designed to introduce himself to voters and to listen. During his speeches, Daniels makes it clear that he believes the ideas needed to turn our state around are already out there in the wisdom of everyday Hoosiers.
During his trip to Shelbyville, Daniels received his share of Hoosier wisdom. Local government officials spoke of the burdens resulting from property tax reassessment. The workers at PK USA showed how the values of corporate teamwork and a diverse work force can combine for a strong 21st century company. Major Hospital demonstrated how solid business planning, dedicated professional staff and state-of-the-art technology can bring world-class health care to small- and mid-sized communities. Representatives of Intelliplex Park spoke of the value of private-public partnerships and the need to bring more life-science jobs to Indiana. And those were the lessons he learned in just one morning.
Mitch Daniels has a very impressive résumé. His government experience includes stints working for presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and U.S. Sen.Richard Lugar (R-Ind). His private-sector experience includes serving as president of Lilly’s North American pharmaceutical operation and chief executive officer of the Hudson Institute.
But when you meet him, Mitch Daniels’ sense of purpose is even more impressive than his experience. His speeches are filled with a Reagan-like sense of optimism for the future of our state. He acknowledges Indiana’s recent economic decline, but believes that the “decline does not have to be inevitable.” He wants to help build a state in which all six million Hoosiers have the opportunity to succeed. Democrats and Republicans. Men and women. People of all races and religions.
Maybe even more impressively, Mitch Daniels listens. As Shelby County Sheriff Tom Debaun said to me after Mitch’s visit to the Elks Lodge: “In the past, candidates for governor have arrived from Marion County, said a few words and left. But Mitch really took the time to greet everybody and listen. You get the sense that he wants to learn about local problems and work with us to solve them.”
There are many months to go between now and the 2004 governor’s election. But as the old saying goes, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” During this trip to Shelby County, Mitch Daniels made a very good one.
Messer represents the 57th District, including most of Shelby County, in the General Assembly.
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