Influential person: Mitch Daniels

Purdue University president and former governor

Two-time Indiana governor and current Purdue University President Mitch Daniels doesn’t hesitate when asked to name the toughest problems he’s ever faced.

“I’ve joked that my tombstone will say, ‘He raised four daughters and he fixed the Indiana BMV,’” Daniels said.

The difficulties of fatherhood are well-known, but draining the swamp of patronage, bureaucracy and just plain ineptitude that for many Hoosiers defined the Bureau of Motor Vehicles was something new under the sun. Daniels, who was elected on a slew of promises to fix the state’s finances and make it a more business-friendly place, figured that, if he could do this, voters might think he could honor his other promises also.

“We went after that very specifically,” Daniels said. “I said that if we could ever fix the BMV, people will notice and say, ‘Maybe this gang can shoot straight.’”

The BMV was indeed fixed, with about 40 of its 170 statewide branches closed, the survivors spruced up, and wait times cut by making it possible to handle many routine services via phone or computer.

Other big changes followed. The Daniels administration used budget cuts and the renegotiation of dozens of state contracts to turn Indiana’s budget deficit into a surplus. Daylight saving time was adopted statewide, the state leased the Indiana Toll Road to raise money for road projects, and the state earned a coveted AAA bond rating.

None of this was achieved without a great deal of political maneuvering and some hurt feelings. But Daniels’ goal of making Indiana a more business-friendly state was achieved.

“We went from nobody’s list of the best places to do business to everybody’s list,” said Daniels, who previously headed Eli Lilly and Co.’s North American Pharmaceutical Operations. “Usually, we’re the only state outside the Sunbelt to make those lists. The job never ends, but I think it’s fair to say that Indiana made big strides in those years.”

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