Governor sets ‘back to business’ example as probe unfolds

Two days after a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair, Gov. Mitch Daniels told a crowd of mourners it was their job to get back to business.

"Our first job is to get back in the business of living, get back in the business of the state fair and back in the business of caring for each other," he said at a memorial service for the victims.

Daniels appears to have taken that advice to heart.

Three days after the collapse that has claimed six lives, Daniels was announcing the creation of 500 jobs at the Indianapolis-based Angie's List. A day later, he was back at the fair, cheering on wife Cheri in the cow-milking competition.

He pitched his forthcoming book on C-Span on Thursday and appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday to weigh the 2012 presidential candidates.

Daniels' response has closely mirrored the model laid out by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Jason Maloni, chairman of the sports and entertainment practice at Washington, D.C.-based Levick Strategic Communications Group.

Part of the getting-back-to-work strategy laid out by Giuliani is letting investigators do their jobs, he said.

"You don't want to rush to characterize a great tragedy, you don't want to overstep the facts," Maloni said.

Daniels, however, has done some characterizing.

In interviews since the collapse, Daniels has focused largely on the "freakish" nature of the collapse. He taped a radio ad that acknowledges the tragedy and asserts "no one can undo what nature has done." The spots were followed by upbeat ads urging people to attend the fair.

"This is the finest event of its kind in America, this is the finest one we've ever had, and this desperately sad, as-far-as-I-can-tell fluke event doesn't change that," Daniels said of the state fair, roughly 12 hours after the stage collapsed.

As the week progressed, Daniels began couching that statement, focusing on the "localized" nature of the wind gust that knocked over the stage but left nearby structures largely untouched.

Erlanger, Ky., attorney Jerry Miniard, who is representing the family of a 10-year-old girl whose skull was crushed by the falling stage, said Daniels' words are carefully chosen.

"Those are words to make it into a natural event. And no one can control nature. Therefore, the state of Indiana shouldn't be held responsible," Miniard said.

Daniels' management of the stage collapse aftermath ultimately may be judged by how it compares with other governors' actions in times of crisis.

In Minnesota, then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty found himself defending his administration's record on transportation maintenance and reassuring an anxious state after a 40-year-old Minneapolis freeway bridge buckled and collapsed into the Mississippi River on Aug. 1, 2007, killing 13 and injuring 145.

Pawlenty initially focused on state bridge inspections, saying they had found "no immediate or structural problems with the bridge." In the hours and days after the disaster, he enlisted a private consulting firm to determine the collapse's cause, ordered an immediate inspection of all state bridges ith a similar design and announced an independent investigation of the state's transportation department. His administration moved quickly to replace the collapsed span and request federal disaster aid.

"If anybody would have told me this bridge needed to be closed, it would have been closed," Pawlenty said two days after the collapse, explaining that he wasn't privy to discussions over repairs until after the disaster.

In the collapse's immediate aftermath, the anti-tax Republican also said he was willing to reconsider his opposition to a gas tax increase to pay for infrastructure improvements, but he later added conditions Democrats didn't want. The Democratic-controlled Legislature, with the help of several Republican lawmakers, ended up overturning Pawlenty's veto of their transportation funding package in a historic veto override in 2008.

Daniels is only at the start of the investigations into the stage collapse, and many details are still unclear. On Thursday, he hired a national investigative firm run by former Clinton-era Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Witt to look into emergency preparations made before the stage collapse.

But it could be months before any answers emerge. Even then, the answers may not bring solace, said Ashlee Rollings, 21, of Indianapolis, who escaped injury when the stage collapsed.

"You can search and search and search (for answers) and I don't necessarily think there is one," she said.


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