Daniels’ annual speech could reach wider audience

Mitch Daniels

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels may have a bigger audience for his State of the State address this year as political observers around the country search the speech for clues on whether the Republican will run for president in 2012.

Daniels told reporters Monday that he hopes people watch Tuesday night's address because he wants them to pay attention to Indiana. He says people have already noted the progress the state has made in terms of financial responsibility, transportation and property taxes.

"We want people to notice Indiana so they'll bring more jobs here," Daniels said.

The governor says he won't announce his decision about a White House bid until after the Indiana General Assembly wraps up its session in late April. Those hoping for hints Tuesday may not find much to go on.

"I don't think there's going to be a big signal that he's launching something on the national stage," said Ray Scheele, co-director of the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University.

The governor often uses the speech as a chance to tout Indiana's fiscal strength, so that won't be a telling sign. Indiana is in better financial shape than many other states dealing with huge deficits, though Daniels has had to cut millions of dollars from state agencies, public schools and universities to keep the state budget in the black.

"He's always trumpeting what he's doing and holding up Indiana as an example as a state that has avoided the worst of the recession," said Robert Dion, who teaches politics at the University of Evansville. "Long before anybody thought he would run for president, he's been doing that. Any governor would."

The speech is sure to spur more rumors, Dion said, but without explicit mentions of early primary states Iowa or New Hampshire the address won't predict Daniels' future.

"It's going to fuel speculation but it won't really reveal what his plans are," Dion said. "That's fine for him either way. It brings attention to the state and him, and that's never a bad thing."

Daniels says the bulk of his address this year will make the case for education changes he's already proposed. Daniels wants sweeping reform including merit pay for teachers, private school vouchers, curtailed teacher union collective bargaining agreements and a scholarship program that would give state money to high school students who graduate a year early.

Daniels says he's excited about the prospect of Indiana becoming a leader in education. If he can get his massive education agenda passed, it would also boost his reputation nationally, Scheele said.

"One of the major underpinnings of any governor running for president is what has that governor done for education in his or her state," Scheele said. "This is a chance for Gov. Daniels to really make his mark with a reform proposal for public education."

The governor has a friendly audience in Indiana since Republicans maintained control of the Senate and won control of the House in November's elections. Still, the governor will have to sell his proposals to get them moving through the General Assembly and has already started laying the groundwork. Daniels said there will be few surprises in this year's speech.

In 2005, Daniels surprised lawmakers by proposing a one-year income tax increase on those making $100,000 or more, and waited until his speech in 2006 to pitch a cigarette tax increase. Republicans who controlled both the House and Senate balked at those ideas, and Daniels said later he learned it was better to present major proposals before the speech so lawmakers could get a handle on them and make suggestions.

Daniels and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett have been pushing their education proposals for weeks. Democrats and public education groups oppose some of the ideas, especially vouchers that use taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private schools.

The speech is scheduled to begin shortly after 7 p.m., as Daniels addresses a joint session of the General Assembly convened in the House Chambers. His remarks will be available live on the Internet. Watch it by clicking here.

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