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July 23, 2013

TOM LoBIANCO: Emails give better view of master politician Mitch Daniels

He was Reagan's political director for a reason.

It’s ironic that a debate over the complete and accurate telling of history, and whether Howard Zinn fits in that picture, is what is ultimately bringing out a more complete picture of Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, who sought to keep the liberal historian’s work out of Indiana K-12 classrooms while governor.

In a series of emails sent on Feb. 9, 2010, the former governor advised his education team to “disqualify the propaganda,” like Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” from credit for teacher training on the premise it is “execrable and anti-factual.”

In the days since the emails were first printed by The Associated Press, academics nationwide, including the standards-setting American Historical Association, have condemned Daniels’ move. He contests he never tried to stifle academic freedom and simply wanted to keep the textbook out of the hands of K-12 students.

But much like Zinn’s book was used to present another side of history, internal notes Daniels sent to his education team between 2009 and 2012 show another side of the man presented on the national stage as one of the Republican Party’s most reasonable offerings.

Publicly, Daniels had backed away from much of the rhetoric that had marked his early days as governor, when he charged that Democratic lawmakers “car-bombed” his first legislative agenda. But from the start of his second term, he played a sharp-elbowed role behind the scenes, ensuring his agenda was enacted. In an April 10, 2009, email, he requested an audit of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor Charles Little, a sharp critic of his education plans. And when his staunchest opponent, the Indiana State Teachers Association, upped the amount it collected from members, Daniels saw an opening.

“Time to challenge them publicly on this?” Daniels wrote in a July 14, 2009, email.

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