Gov. Mitch Daniels is already under fire for his decision to refuse to push for the passage of the right-to-work laws in Indiana. But supporters are pointing to two factors that they feel make Daniels’s action understandable: his 2005 executive order that banned collective bargaining for state workers and his determination to make education reform a priority in 2011.
In other words, comparisons to Wisconsin are unfair: right-to-work laws aren’t the same as collective bargaining powers. In addition, Daniels has publicly declared his support for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts.
“His reluctance on the right-to-work [law] right now is rooted in his desire to see this education [reform] work,” says Ryan Streeter, editor of ConservativeHome.com and a former colleague of Daniels in the White House. Streeter argues that Daniels has been planning for a long time to make this year about education reform — and that a huge battle over right-to-work laws could jeopardize that.
“He’s gearing up for a fight. This is not going to be an easy thing. He’s received a lot of criticism just in the local media for his plans,” says Streeter, talking about how Daniels wants to introduce vouchers and expand charter schools.
Daniels also wants more teacher accountability. “Teachers should have tenure, but they should earn it by proving their ability to help kids learn. Our best teachers should be paid more, much more, and ineffective teachers should be helped to improve or asked to move,” Daniels argued in his State of the State speech last month.
“In general, he wants to be able to rewrite the contracts so that people can be fired and moved along on merit,” Streeter remarks. “And that in itself is just a huge deal. He’s already part of the way down a path with the teachers and the unions in these discussions and so I think this whole right-to-work event right now just makes that whole other process all the more difficult.”
As I wrote last year, Daniels invested an enormous amount of energy in the 2010 state campaigns, fighting to gain a GOP majority in the state assembly. (The senate already had a Republican majority.) He personally called up potential candidates and urged them to run. He talked to and strategized with Republican insiders in the state for over a year before the election about how to best ensure he had the GOP majorities he needed to push through his legislation.
Daniels may be making the wrong call in thinking that a push for right-to-work laws will risk the outcome of his education reform. Or he may not be. But it does appear that what he’s doing is prioritizing one goal (education reform, with vouchers, charters schools, and teacher accountability) over another (right-to-work laws), not forgoing all conservative principles.
“This is a huge legacy item for him,” Streeter says, suggesting that education is more meaningful to Daniels than his “fiscal hawk” record or his privatization of toll roads.
“Getting the education part of his administration nailed down before he’s done is a really big deal,” Streeter adds. “It’s a deeply felt passion of his.”