INDIANAPOLIS – Relying on the axiom "leaders never loaf," Gov. Mitch Daniels on Tuesday used his eighth and final State of the State Address to press forward on economic development and other initiatives – showing no reaction as protesters tried to drown out his words.
Even inside the shuttered House chamber, shouts from across the rotunda could be heard, rising to a fever pitch when the governor reached the controversial right-to-work measure in his speech.
Daniels ended the address choking back tears before being greeted by a mass of angry, booing union members who were tightly guarded by state troopers as the governor headed to the elevator.
"It shows a total lack of respect for our governor," said Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington. "The governor is trying to move the state ahead and so is the General Assembly, and we're being outshouted by a minority."
Many House Democrats were fashionably late while about a dozen chose not to attend at all.
Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne, wasn't there but said he wasn't boycotting. He simply was having dinner with his wife on her birthday.
Others, though, chose to show their displeasure by not attending.
"He could have come here with a more bipartisan view, to say we want to work together to create real jobs with real opportunity and not a proven failure, right-to-work," House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer said.
Daniels started his speech by lauding improvements to state government efficiency, noting that tax refunds come back twice as fast as before and average customers got in and out of a license branch last month in less than 14 minutes.
He unveiled one new initiative: a $20 million Bicentennial Nature Trust, a project to protect natural spaces. It coincides with the state park system's 100th anniversary and will be led by Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. The money will come from three state agencies.
"The trust is intended to inspire others, and to match their donations of land or dollars in a continuing statewide surge of conservation," Daniels said.
One legislative agenda item he also pushed was a move to reduce "credit creep," or the increase in the number of hours a student needs to earn a degree in college. He cited some examples of schools going over the traditional 120-hour mark, such as IPFW requiring 141 hours in music education.
"Schools … have to explain why all that time and student expense is necessary," Daniels said.
But the meat of the speech was about right-to-work, the issue that has brought the Statehouse to a standstill in recent days and caused a few open boos during his speech even from lawmakers.
"Because economic opportunity, and building America's best home for jobs, is the central goal of all we do, every year should include a bold stroke to enhance it," he said. "This year the choice of actions has become obvious."
Daniels quoted an 1861 letter about two legislators who went to Kentucky for a duel after one slandered and abused another.
"And we think we have disagreements. When we do, I hope we'll keep them not only in state, but also in this chamber, where the people's business is supposed to be settled," Daniels said in the thinly veiled reference to House Democrats' flight to Illinois and five-week walkout.
During his pitch for right-to-work, Daniels said survey after survey shows Hoosiers supporting the bill by margins of 2-to-1 or greater.
But administration officials could provide links to only one of those polls, saying many of the others Daniels has seen are proprietary and confidential.
In early 2011, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce reported that 69 percent of Hoosiers supported right-to-work, whereas a December poll from the AFL-CIO said 67 percent of Hoosiers opposed.
The only publicly released non-partisan poll on the issue came from Ball State University in December. It found almost half of Hoosiers either don't understand or don't have an opinion on the issue. Among the rest, support was split almost down the middle.
The bill would prohibit unions and employers from including contract language requiring everyone covered by a contract to pay some sort of union representation fee.
Daniels asked that legislators make Indiana the 23rd right-to-work state, saying the additional protection for workers will encourage companies to consider Indiana for new jobs.
"We just cannot go on missing out on the middle-class jobs our state needs, just because of this one issue," Daniels said, while acknowledging the passion on the labor measure.
Opponents, though, claim the law is meant to bust unions. They also contend that right-to-work states have lower wages. And those opponents of the bill were loud.
"What we heard tonight: 15 minutes of historic back-patting, a few minutes of storytelling and a load of propaganda about policies that will harm working Hoosiers, set our state further behind," said Dan Parker, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party.
"Hoosiers make less than they did when the governor was elected. There are fewer jobs, and more people are struggling to get by. None of that was reflected in tonight's speech."