COLUMBIA CITY — Gov. Mitch Daniels’ flair for levity and sarcasm drew countless laughs as Indiana’s top elected official poked fun at boycotting House Democrats, the President and even himself Wednesday night as the keynote speaker for Whitley County’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner.
“Wherever I go, I get asked a lot of questions about Indiana,” said Daniels, adding that he fields numerous inquiries about the state’s budget surplus. He said he tells people there’s a reason why Indiana is different from some states whose financial ledgers are in the red.
“I tell them it’s because there’s something different about the Indiana Republican Party,” Daniels said.
“How much more different can we be? We show up for work.”
Daniels referred to the walkout of House Democrats which occurred Feb. 22 as the members of the House minority fled to Urbana, Ill. to prevent some GOP-backed bills from passing.
The state senate, with a Republican super-majority, has been able to stay functional.
Daniels also addressed the issue of education reform, which has drawn fire from educators statewide.
The governor said many teachers are upset because he says they’re being given misinformation.
“They were told I called them deadbeats,” he said. “They were told I said they were overpaid. Those things were never true.”
Daniels said Indiana spends the highest percentage of its state budget on K-12 education.
“Second place isn’t even close,” he said.
He added that those opponents of proposed ideas like school vouchers, charter schools and teacher merit pay are welcome to roll up their sleeves and present solutions themselves.
“In this entire barrage, there’s one thing you haven’t heard and that’s one constructive idea from the other side,” he said.
The governor also said there was a misconception about his idea to reward teachers on performance.
“We’ve got to get better, we’ve got to improve,” he said.
“The campaign against education reform has been dishonest.”
He said the measure of a teacher will be based on the level of the students the teacher has in the classroom.
“Did the kids learn? No matter where they started, did they improve?” he said.
Daniels avoided any hint of throwing his hat into the ring for the U.S. presidency, but did say he was concerned about the fiscal health of the nation.
“It’s like they (the current administration in Washington, D.C.) have a game plan to kill jobs,” Daniels said.
“It’s (national fiscal crisis) coming on inexorably as an iceberg or a waterfall,” he said, adding that sound fiscal management might come too late.
“It won’t matter if this nation goes over the falls,” he said.
Daniels said he thinks the Democrat boycott will help his party in the long run, being counterproductive to those who are taking the stand against the House majority.
“Our opponents have consigned themselves to long- term minority status in this state,” he said.