Cover Story

Bush's budget cruncher

Issue: "Bush's tax-cut plan," March 10, 2001

U.S. senators did not find any controversy in the Bush nomination of Mitch Daniels to direct the Office of Management and Budget: The vote in January was 100-0 in his favor. But as the new budget director tries to hold the line on federal spending in order to make room for big tax cuts, criticism may become intense. Mr. Daniels, who assisted Richard Lugar when the Indiana senator was mayor of Indianapolis, and then became President Ronald Reagan's chief political adviser from 1985 to 1987, has recently been a top executive at Eli Lilly and Co. in Indianapolis. Mr. Daniels, a conservative who believes in the free market and fiscal prudence, fits the Bush and Lugar style of knowing how to work amiably with political opponents. His friends like to tell stories about Mr. Daniels's personal financial prudence-some cheerfully label him a tightwad-and his compassionate conservatism. Mr. Daniels has been a key person behind the growing success of The Oaks Academy, a Christian private school that opened in 1998 in the heart of a tough inner-city Indianapolis neighborhood. With a half black, half white student body, and with many students coming from the immediate neighborhood and receiving scholarship help, the school provides a rare blend of classical academic emphasis, Christian commitment, and racial reconciliation. Mr. Daniels's compassion has gone beyond financial contributions and board membership at Oaks, the YMCA, and other community service groups in town, according to Don Fisher, an Indianapolis businessman and fellow board member at Oaks: "It wasn't just dollars with Mitch. It was the interest in quality, that we took the time to develop a child." Mr. Daniels took students to Indiana Pacers games or to other activities, and introduced civic leaders to the school. Indianapolis attorney Dan Evans said Mitch Daniels "seeks no publicity or reward" for his work with students, but "likes it because he is helping kids one at a time. Some folks that are involved in education reform never really touch or affect one child personally." Mr. Daniels has helped Oaks grow from 54 students the first year to 140 now, but, in Mr. Fisher's words, he "never wanted to be in the limelight. He wanted black leadership and black authority. He has a servant heart-how can I help to see this happen?" Mr. Daniels's behind-the-scenes approach at Oaks has been characteristic of his political service, of seeking to make others in authority successful without drawing attention to himself. Former Indiana Secretary of State Ed Simcox, noting that politicians are known for "allowing personalities to get in the way of progress and seeking credit or self-promotion," observed that Mr. Daniels "doesn't do either of those. Mitch Daniels may be the only high-ranking Reagan official to leave the White House and not write a book. He never went out of there and wrote a book and did the tell-all."

-Russ Pulliam is associate editor of the Indianapolis Star

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Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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