Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

July 23, 2013

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

He was Reagan's political director for a reason.

(Continued)

When the Indiana Professional Standards Board, which used to set teacher licensing rules, demurred on his overhaul of teacher preparation, Daniels asked in a July 29, 2009, email, “What has happened about getting the members of these boards in for a thank-you and a spine-stiffening session?”

Shortly before he pushed the nation’s broadest use of school vouchers, changes in teacher preparation, new teacher evaluations and a raft of other ambitious education changes in 2011, Daniels and his team quietly lined up the votes in the General Assembly. Then-schools Superintendent Tony Bennett’s then-chief of staff, Todd Huston, delivered a spreadsheet identifying where Republican legislators stood on his plan in an Oct. 14, 2010, email to Daniels, Bennett and Republican mega-donor Al Hubbard. Daniels advised Huston should be careful.

“Tks. Will treat in total confidence. If it has headings, I’d delete them if I were you. We shd have for other key reform issues, too???” Daniels wrote.

The emails are a constant reminder that the man who presented himself as a master technocrat, more concerned with fiscal issues than social grenades, came up in Washington as an ace political operative.

Most notes are not as visceral as the Zinn exchange, and many reflect an incredible eye for political strategy that would be expected of Ronald Reagan’s former political director. In an Aug. 12, 2009, email, Huston suggested Indianapolis radio host and African-American leader Amos Brown should be placed on the roundtable discussing the governor’s education agenda because, among other things, it could keep a “loud mouth” opponent in check.

The point Zinn tried to make through an admittedly one-sided career was that the view of history in America’s then-whitewashed textbooks was incomplete. It wouldn’t be right, he argued, to talk about the Boston Massacre without mentioning the massacre of Pequot Indians in the 1630s in Massachusetts or any of the many other wars between colonists and Native Americans.

Likewise, Daniels’ public comments present an incomplete picture of a seminal figure in Republican politics, Indiana and, now, higher education. Talk of removing “execrable” texts from classrooms is not all Daniels ever said about education, but it is now a part of his broader discussion of a “broken” education system.

Tom LoBianco covers Indiana politics for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter @tomlobianco.

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